For a week this summer, 67 bright young students from six countries around the world gathered at Cargill’s offices in Amsterdam for a leadership seminar that would prepare them to be future leaders and decision-makers in the world of food and agriculture.
The Cargill Global Scholars come from Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and the United States. Every year, ten promising students from each country are selected for a two-year program that builds leadership skills through seminars, networking events and one-on-one mentoring.
The experience culminates in the annual global seminar in Amsterdam. Without fail, the participants say they walked away with experiences and personal bonds to last them a lifetime.
“It was the best experience I have had in my life so far,” said Maria Tavares, an economics student at the University of São Paolo in Brazil. “The most important thing I will take with me as a Global Scholar is to be concerned about others, to understand them, to respect them, and then to help them explore their own potential so they can achieve great things.”
Around the world in seven weeks
Hillary Kletscher was part of the very first cohort of Global Scholars in 2013. Today, she is a Senior Business Analyst in Cargill’s Corporate Strategy and Development department, where she helps guide some of the company’s most important business decisions. She was chosen to be a Global Scholar while concurrently earning her Bachelor’s Degree in biosystems engineering and an MBA at Iowa State University.
“One of my key takeaways from the first year of Global Scholars was how refreshing it was to be surrounded by people like me, with high aspirations, a desire to think globally and to make a difference,” she said. “People who wanted to work together, who all had a common interest in agriculture and preserving natural resources.”
With her group of U.S.-based Global Scholars, Kletscher worked on a case study that looked into the ins and outs of food security – making sure all people have enough to eat. “The most interesting lessons were not those about the countries we already knew, but from our international peers,” she said. “I will never forget learning about how much food is wasted in Brazil and India because the infrastructure doesn’t exist to get it to the people who need it.”
But for Kletscher, who grew up on her family’s farm near Vesta, a small town in southwestern Minnesota, being a Global Scholar also opened a world of personal growth. With the Cargill experience and completed college degrees, she traveled around the world for seven weeks before beginning her career. After a month in Europe, she flew from Rome to Vietnam and explored South East Asia.
“At the end of my trip, I flew from the Philippines back to Chicago,” she said. “I literally went around the world in seven weeks, and I never felt uncomfortable about being in all these new places. Looking back, I don’t know whether I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t had the Global Scholars experience.”
Kletscher is far from the only one who feels their life found its trajectory during her two years with Cargill. “The Global Scholars program has had a huge impact on my aspirations,” said Andrew Shea, an Ohio State sustainability student who completed the Global Seminar in Amsterdam this past summer.
Shea’s cohort worked on a case study that explored global sustainability in the soy supply chain and came up with a recommendation to replace plastic packaging with soy-based materials. “I now know that I want to work in an agricultural related field that has an international scope,” said Shea.
Seeing endless possibilities
“The level of talent we’re able to bring in with these Global Scholars is really humbling,” said Joe Stone, Cargill executive vice president and leader of the company’s animal nutrition business. “They come in with perspectives and experiences that are far greater than most young adults could ever imagine.”
To Stone, the Global Scholars’ distinguishing factor is their “exponential” way of thinking. Because they are immersed in technology, social networks and more readily available information than any cohort of university students ever before them, they see possibilities and solutions that prior generations don’t.
“They’re used to having the world at the tips of their fingers,” Stone said. “They come in with a natural curiosity. Their knowledge of the issues far exceeds what I could have ever imagined having 30 years ago. Where people used to tackle problems step-by step, they see endless possibilities and solutions that previous generations just wouldn’t think of, even ten or fifteen years ago.”
An excellent example of that mindset is Diego Celis, who studies computer science at Stanford University. Before becoming a Cargill Global Scholar, Diego was an intern at Twitter.
To Celis, who has already founded two technology start-ups, the latest of which is Vinterv, an outfit that aims to facilitate online job interviews assisted by artificial intelligence, it’s not strange for a computer scientist to find himself at a food and agriculture company.
“You can do a lot of crazy things with data,” he said. “We have 7.5 billion people in this world and Cargill is the largest privately held company in the U.S. That adds up to a lot of people and a lot of numbers. It would be huge to track all of that and find the probabilities of solutions that would work best. You can do that with computer science.”
Always looking for what’s next
“They call Millennials the ‘upgrade generation,’ because every two years, we get a new phone, so why not every two years get a new job?,” said Tristan Lipkie, a Cargill food scientist who is active in the company’s Young Professionals Network and used his experience guiding younger colleagues as a mentor for the Global Scholars. “You’re always looking for what’s next. It’s constant progress. Having the same job for your whole career is unfathomable for millennials – and the generation that comes after us.”
But with that wealth of possibilities and options comes the responsibility to make productive choices, said Global Scholar Troy Yamaguchi, who is a student of psychology and sociology at the University of Minnesota. “Being born into the information age definitely had an impact on us,” he said. “When you’re presented with so many opportunities, it can be kind of overwhelming. It’s very important to hone in on what you want to do and what really speaks to you.”
That’s where good advice comes in, said Lipkie, who, at only 30, has a vivid memories about what it’s like to start a career in a world where the next big thing is always right around the corner. “They’re full of confidence and ambition, but I remember being in their shoes, still not having a very clear picture of what you’ll be doing after school. The idea of being able to help someone out in that situation is great, because that’s something I wish I would have had.”
Recipe for solutions
For Dasha Veropakha, a biology student at Southern Federal University in Rostov-on Don, Russia, being a Global Scholar has opened a pathway to making her dream happen. She had always wanted to open her own lab, she said, but she never knew where to start.
“After the Global Seminar, I understood how to begin, how to recruit staff, how to behave in a team, and organize work activities most comfortable for each member of that team. The most important thing I learned is: If you want to do something to improve your life and the lives of others, you just need to try to take the first step, and be confident in your idea. You just can’t stop – only move forward.”
Meanwhile, Stone sees a way forward of his own. As the executive sponsor of the program, he keeps a close eye on the Global Scholars. He does that not only because he feels he can personally learn a lot from their perspectives, but also because he sees their potential contributions as key to Cargill’s growth.
“We are going to develop our strategic capabilities by better training the people that we already have and bringing in talent like these global scholars,” he said. “Combining the unique way they think with the institutional knowledge here at Cargill is a great recipe for creating solutions for our customers that we’ve never thought of before.”