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During a tense scene in the 1995 movie Apollo 13, someone at Mission Control stated, “This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced.” Flight director Gary Kranz, played by Ed Harris, replied, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.” He later went on to famously say, “Failure is not an option.”
Having lived through the last year and a half, many of us can agree that we collectively encountered tremendous challenges. When I began my term as IFT president last September, the pandemic’s end was nowhere in sight. Yet, despite the turmoil we faced, this was IFT’s finest hour. We could have allowed the pandemic and related economic, social, and organizational crises to defeat us, but instead we seized the opportunity to pause, reevaluate, and refocus. Very difficult decisions were made, ultimately helping us to accelerate innovation and set an exciting transformation in motion. Together, we were able to make some notable accomplishments.
As a culmination of efforts to explore the impact of diversity and inclusion on volunteer structures, systems, and approaches, it became clear that IFT needed to evolve its current nominations and elections processes. The IFT Governance Task Force recommended updates to the processes for board candidate development, nominations, and elections. These recommendations were unanimously approved by the Board of Directors, approved by an overwhelming majority vote of the membership, and used to select 2021–2022 President-Elect Chris Downs and four new members of the Board of Directors. These changes will help us more effectively attract, develop, and support strong, diverse volunteer leaders to drive our strategic vision for the future.
IFT also made significant strides in moving our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts forward in other ways. Through programs such as our virtual DEI Discussions workshops and the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, we provided opportunities for our community members to deepen their understanding, explore different perspectives, and shift behaviors to engage more effectively. We also finalized a three-year DEI roadmap, which takes a comprehensive approach across three elements of transformative change—structure, behavior, and hearts and minds—to enable IFT to increase diversity through equity and inclusion.
The crisis forced us to look inward and determine where we are delivering value to the science of food community and where we are coming up short. After conducting significant research to illuminate the needs of our members and the broader science of food community, we began assessing how our current programs meet those needs and where we can innovate to create more value. We are encouraged by the opportunities before us as we seek to provide best-in-class offerings to help you do your job, expand your knowledge, and/or grow your business more effectively, while becoming an even more resilient organization in the face of future crises.
One immediate outcome of this work has come to life through FIRST, IFT’s virtual annual event and solution showcase. We leveraged learnings from this research to reinvent our annual event with the needs of our community in mind. Held just last month on an AI-enabled platform, FIRST, which stands for Food Improved by Research, Science, and Technology, featured 116 scientific sessions and keynotes, 325 speakers, and 400 research posters, as well as nearly 100 suppliers showcasing their products and innovations. With a focus on fostering connections, building strategic relationships, and coming together to solve significant challenges facing the food system, the first FIRST laid the groundwork for our return to McCormick Place in Chicago for FIRST 2022.
It has been terrific to see that the pandemic didn’t stop IFT leadership and staff from staying engaged in events and activities outside of our organization that impact the food ecosystem. We have continued to be actively engaged in Codex. IFT’s Global Food Traceability Center has made significant progress through its partnership with the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability and work in support of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint. In addition, I had the pleasure of speaking at the American Heart Association’s Foodscape Innovation Summit in June and the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit in July, two excellent opportunities to amplify our voice and the criticality of the science of food in addressing global challenges.
I believe this past year has brought out the best in us! We have a terrific Board of Directors and talented IFT staff that did an outstanding job of embracing and making the most of these trying times. It has been my distinct honor to serve as president of this great association through it all. I look forward to working with incoming IFT President Vickie Kloeris as we create an exciting, successful, and sustainable future for IFT.