President of the World Food Prize to retire after 20 years of leadership

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn recently announced that he will retire as president of the World Food Prize Foundation on Jan. 3, 2020, after 20 years leading the organization.

“Leading the World Food Prize and endeavoring to fulfill the vision of Dr. Norman Borlaug and John Ruan Sr. has been an extraordinary privilege. It is an honor that I never could have imagined when I arrived back in Des Moines from Cambodia in 1999, having literally gone from The Killing Fields to The Field of Dreams. What at first seemed an impossible quest, to have the World Food Prize come to be seen as the ‘Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture,’ has over the last twenty years become a dream come true,” Quinn said while making the announcement this evening at the Hall of Laureates during a reception commemorating the 105th anniversary of Dr. Borlaug’s birth.

Foundation Chair John Ruan III recognized Quinn’s long and exceptional service. “I am sincerely grateful for the leadership and vision that Amb. Kenneth Quinn has brought to the World Food Prize. During his time leading The World Food Prize, he far exceeded our most ambitious expectations, ultimately creating an extensive program that includes a week-long set of events each October. The World Food Prize Foundation and the Ruan family are truly thankful for Ken’s passion and unwavering commitment to ensuring the longevity and impactful legacy of the World Food Prize.”

When Quinn assumed leadership of the World Food Prize in January of 2000, he had a one-person staff and the World Food Prize was a one-day event, drawing only 25 to 30 participants from outside of Iowa. He was given the goal of fulfilling two dreams:

Norman Borlaug’s vision that the World Food Prize would become recognized globally as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture;” and

John Ruan’s idea for a prize that would promote central Iowa as the “food and agricultural capital of America.”

In endeavoring to fulfill these goals, Amb. Quinn has built the annual World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony and the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium into the “Davos of Global Food Security;” an event that has been attended annually by over 1,200 people from 40 to 50 different countries. Speakers at the World Food Prize programs in Iowa during Amb. Quinn’s tenure include: Chinese President Xi Jinping; U.N. Secretaries- General Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan; Princess Haya bint Al Hussein the U.N. Messenger of Peace; former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill Gates who, from the stage of the World Food Prize Dialogue in 2009 launched his multi-billion dollar global effort to eradicate poverty.

The Ambassador’s vision to have the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony take place in the magnificent Iowa State Capitol and to combine it with renowned musical performances, caused Dr. Borlaug to say prior to his passing – “this ceremony exceeds the one at where I received the Nobel Prize in Oslo.” Others have called it the “Oscars of Agriculture.”

Amb. Quinn is immensely proud that he has brought more international agri-business and food company CEOs to Iowa than any other organization in the state, and that the World Food Prize Youth Programs have become an unparalleled educational experience.

When he assumed leadership of the World Food Prize, its youth program attracted only about 25 high school students, all from Iowa, for a one-day event. Twenty years later, the World Food Prize youth education programs inspire over 10,000 students a year from 30 U.S. states and 10 foreign countries and provide extraordinary experiences for Borlaug-Ruan International Interns and Wallace-Carver Fellows.

“If there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to the World Food Prize there would have to be room for Amb. Ken Quinn’s likeness along with that of Dr. Norman Borlaug and John Ruan,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “Ambassador Quinn took the World Food Prize to new heights with a passionate commitment to its purpose and its founders. He never lost an opportunity to expand the impact of the World Food Prize. By creating and building up the youth institute and fellowship programs he guaranteed succeeding generations would honor the legacies of Dr. Borlaug and John Ruan and accept the challenge of feeding the world and ending hunger. Iowans, in particular, should be incredibly proud of how Ambassador Quinn along with the Borlaug and Ruan families have brought the world to Des Moines every year allowing us to showcase our capitol city and state.”

Catherine Swoboda, now a faculty member at Iowa State University, said she had the remarkable honor to know Ambassador Kenneth Quinn through her participation in the World Food Prize education programs when she was a high school student. She later worked for Ambassador Quinn as a member of the Foundation staff, leading the World Food Prize 30th Anniversary Borlaug Dialogue in 2016.

“Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug entrusted Amb. Ken Quinn to inspire students across Iowa, the nation, and the world to join the fight against hunger. Dr. Borlaug made a wise decision,” Swoboda said. “Because of Amb. Quinn’s unyielding dedication, there exists today a new generation of young people and professionals who have committed their education and careers to food security and humanitarian causes. All of us who have known Amb. Quinn have been touched by his vision, unrelenting fervor, optimism, generosity, mentorship and example. The entirety of Amb. Quinn’s life’s work is a singular expression of humanitarianism. What Ambassador Quinn has done to carry forth Dr. Borlaug’s mission will endure through the countless young people who have been inspired by his leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation. Because of Amb. Quinn’s leadership, these young people themselves have become humanitarians, leaders in the cause of ending hunger.”

Quinn received numerous awards and recognitions during his two decades leading the World Food Prize. He was only the 23rd person to receive the Iowa Medal, the state’s highest civilian honor, when Governor Terry E. Branstad presented it to him in 2014. In 2019, in a ceremony in the House of Lords in London, he was presented the Steven Krulis Champion of Humanity Distinguished Service Award for his role in confronting genocide in Cambodia. Other honors include the American Farm Bureau Distinguished Service to Agriculture and the FFA Distinguished Service Citation. Both are the highest awards given by those organizations.

CEO and past president of Bankers Trust Company Suku Radia said, “Norman Borlaug said ‘The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing a decent standard of living for all mankind.’ Ken Quinn, one of the greatest humanitarians of our time, took that Norman Borlaug statement to heart and found a way to connect the world through the Green Revolution. The World Food Prize is creating the future and Ken has been the architect of its great success.”

Echoing those comments, Strive Masiyiwa the chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa referred to Quinn as “… one of the greatest humanitarians of our time.”

Amb. Quinn will retain the title of President Emeritus of the World Food Prize Foundation for his lifetime. The World Food Prize Foundation Board of Directors has hired a national firm to facilitate the search for Amb. Quinn’s successor.

In summing up Quinn’s contributions over the past two decades, Vice President of the Foundation Mashal Husain said, “having had the privilege and honor of working closely with Amb. Quinn for more than a decade, this Iowa humanitarian exudes that rare balance of pure brilliance combined with a nurturing and kind spirit that inspires all those around him to learn, excel and make a difference in their own way. From leading a landmark restoration project to transform the old Des Moines Public Library building into the Foundation’s global headquarters to growing the World Food Prize programs to unprecedented heights and achievements, Amb. Quinn’s vision and insight has placed the World Food Prize in the international arena as the ‘Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.’ His lasting legacy, the critical role of “Peace through Agriculture,” is enshrined in the artwork in the Iowa Gallery of the Hall of Laureates. In my 24-year career, there has been no greater mentor or friend who has shaped and defined my professional life than Amb. Quinn.”

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In reflecting on his tenure leading the World Food Prize, Quinn said, “for the last two decades, I have felt that I was the luckiest person in Iowa. With the confidence of our Chairman John Ruan III, the support of four governors and the bipartisan leadership of the State Legislature, the generosity of our numerous donors, the wise counsel of our Council of Advisors, and the incredibly dedicated efforts of my amazing World Food Prize staff, as well as dozens of interns and docents who make all of our programs and the Hall of Laureates building so compelling and impactful we have achieved far more than anyone would have imagined possible.”