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A world of ideas

Canadian Nuffield scholars are seizing the chance to think differently

Travel is the best teacher. Anyone who has gotten off the main tourist routes will agree that time spent in someone else’s country is the finest form of education.

In bizspeak, though, there’s a question: Can you bottle it? Does it have to be an intensely personal thing, or can you capture the benefits of travel so that the rest of us can gain those benefits too, even if we haven’t got our passports updated?

There’s another question as well.

Let’s say that you can spread the benefits around. Still, can you design a system so that the benefits you get are the benefits you need the most? To put it another way, can you go looking for the answers that we need the most, so we all get help on the questions we’re most anxious to find answers for?

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Well, welcome to the rationale of the Nuffield Scholarships.

First, before we get into world geography, a bit of a history lesson may be helpful. Nuffield scholarships owe their beginnings to the son of an English farm labourer who, more than 70 years ago, started making it possible for thousands around the globe to learn by travelling, including just over 100 Canadians.

His name was William Morris, a brilliant thinker who, despite his own lack of education, became an industrialist and philanthropist, accumulating a fortune with the famous Morris Cowley automobile.

Morris knew his own success had been enhanced by his crossing the Atlantic and observing best practices in automotive manufacturing in Henry Ford’s America.

He then continued to travel, seeking new ideas and markets, and he offered travel to his key employees too, reaping benefits all along the way.

Then, after being made Lord Nuffield for his achievements, he established the Nuffield Foundation in 1943 with a scholarship program to enable some of the brightest minds in agriculture in Commonwealth countries, including Canada, to make their own forays into the world — and into the world of ideas.

Nuffield Canada has awarded a total of 104 scholarships since the program reached these shores in 1950 with startup funding from the original Lord Nuffield endowment.

The Canadian Nuffield Agricultural Scholarship Association (Nuffield Canada) was formally incorporated on March 5, 1986, and has since operated as a registered non-profit.

Becky Parker.
photo: Supplied

“It is an amazing personal experience,” says Becky Parker. She’s one of those 104 Canadians who have completed the two-year stint of travel and study, and in her case prepared a 2016 Nuffield report on how Canada can get more non-farm high school kids interested in farm and agricultural careers.

Along the way, Parker enhanced her own leadership skills and grew her professional network, so that today, living in Penticton, B.C., where she manages a public trust initiative with the B.C. Agricultural Council, she describes her time with Nuffield as a watershed moment. She talks of how she visited a variety of countries and saw dozens of different initiatives, including one in New Zealand offered through the country’s young farmers program to excite youth about agricultural careers — and now being emulated through a Canadian version this winter.

“As a Nuffield scholar you become a part of this global community,” Parker says. “It’s a great reason why people should consider applying.”

More in Canada are doing just that with each passing year. About five scholarships are awarded annually, chosen from 15 to 20 applications, says Whitehorse, Yukon-based executive director Léona Watson, who is herself a 2011 Nuffield scholar.

Applications are reviewed by a team of graduate scholars and others prominent in agriculture.

Applicants must be at least 25 years of age to apply, but can come from all types of agricultural backgrounds or roles within the industry. It is not an academic scholarship, notes Watson.

Instead, it’s a mid-career opportunity to further your knowledge. The award is for $15,000 and it provides individuals with an opportunity to access the world’s most extensive network in food and farming, to achieve personal development through travel and study, and to ultimately deliver long-term benefits to Canadian farmers and to the industry as a whole, not only with their reports but with enhanced leadership skills.

Leona Watson.
photo: Supplied

Costs vary but can be upwards of a total $30,000, says Watson. The most expensive parts are flight and travel costs; other expenses are reduced through the hospitality of hosting Nuffield Scholars in the study area who provide free meals and lodging.

Sponsorships also help participants cover costs, with most participants doing some fundraising on their own.

Then upon their return, they then re-pay this support through public speaking and consulting work free of charge. Lessons learned overseas thereby translate into direct savings in the farming operations of those who gave their support.

The Nuffield board works hard to foster relationships with industry so it’s aware of this opportunity offered to Canadians, says Watson, noting that a key objective of Nuffield is to provide long-term benefits to Canadian farmers and to the industry as a whole.

The organization itself depends primarily on sponsorship and alumni donations to support its scholarships and day-to-day operations.

Greg Donald

Greg Donald of P.E.I. uses the phrase “a new kick in his step” to describe what he came home with from his Nuffield travels, and his reflections of the travel he experienced echo the words of Henry Miller who once said “one’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”

The program’s requirement is that a minimum of 10 weeks travel be included within the 24-month period of the scholarship, and that six weeks of that travel be consecutive.

The Nuffield experience took him places and introduced him to people, and it effectively changed his entire outlook, says Donald, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board.

“It was a life-changing experience,” he says.

He was introduced to the program initially by colleagues who were scholars themselves, and he met other scholars during their global focus tours to learn more.

They impressed him with their unique perspectives, he says, and he began to think about how taking part himself might be beneficial both personally and professionally, too.

He already had an agriculture degree and an MBA, but this offered something different. He was especially intrigued by Nuffield’s emphasis on global travel and connecting to ideas and people around the world.

“I don’t think you can ever have enough education, whether it’s formal or in real life, outside a formal setting,” he says.

Donald’s scholarship was awarded 2015, and shortly thereafter he began making his own connections with industry leaders and farmers worldwide, taking on the road his study question: what makes other potato industries around the world successful.

He’d travelled to Belgium or “Land of Fries” as he dubbed it in his report, and to the Netherlands and Great Britain. His report published on Nuffield Canada’s website details all he saw and learned, and the conclusions he drew from his travels. In summary, he says, this broadened his perspective in a way nothing else could have. He engaged with potato industry leaders throughout those countries and it made him see both problems and advantages for Canada’s sector in a new light.

“It was a realization that, from the broader perspective, no matter where you go, other places have the same challenges, or worse,” he says. “And that we’re in as good a position as anywhere in the world to be successful in what we do.”

Nicole MacKeller

Nicole MacKeller became aware of the program in 2012.

She was working for Grain Farmers of Ontario. “My manager was a 2012 scholar and it was really through him that I became aware of the Nuffield scholarship and all the amazing opportunities that were available through it,” she says.

She did some research of her own into the program, and the more she learned the more excited she became about what prospects it might hold.

Through visits around the world she wanted to learn more about new opportunities to market grain. Her interest in Nuffield was also coinciding with the emergence of the local food movement.

“I was recognizing how difficult it is for grains to be recognized as being local,” says MacKeller. “So I saw this incredible opportunity to create a brand for Ontario grains to help consumers more easily identify the products that are being made with them.”

MacKeller’s Nuffield scholarship took her to Australia and the United Kingdom, and she documented her observations of other branding programs for grains.

“I was given this incredible opportunity to travel the world and study programs that have been put in place in other countries,” she says. Today, in her role as market development manager with Grain Farmers of Ontario, she’s excited about the prospects for implementing some of those ideas. “It was a way to learn how we might be able to adapt something to Ontario and Canada as well.”

MacKeller speaks as enthusiastically about the entire experience as if she was just off the plane. Anyone considering Nuffield should really look into it, she says, and if you think you can do it, you should.

“It really allows you to see the world that is out there past the farm gate,” she says.

“I say that because I know personally from our own farm experience, you deliver your grain to the elevator, and you don’t know where it goes from there. But travel to a number of different countries, and you’ll get exposed to all of the different market opportunities that are available and what is happening in those markets, and why it’s so important to do what we’re doing in Ontario and Canada, and why we need to be doing those things.”

Born and raised on a farm herself, MacKeller said the travels additionally made her realize what a global reputation farmers do have. Travel the world and say you’re a farmer and you’re going to have some very interesting conversations, she says.

“Farmers are very, very well received around the world for their passion and dedication,” she says. “It’s a very welcoming environment when you go to other countries and they hear you’re a farmer.”


Ready to go

No one signs up for a Nuffield Scholarship lightly, of course. It’s a commitment requiring support from family members and colleagues on the farm or at work. Farmers must take steps to ensure ongoing management of their farms during their time away. Supportive employers recognize what their employees will gain from the experience.

Even so, all the planning and organizing you need to put in to earn a Nuffield Scholarship shouldn’t deter anyone from applying, says Daryl Chubb, a 2014 scholar, who has his own agriculture consulting firm, DeNovo Ag Inc., based in Irricanna, Alta.

Daryl Chubb.
photo: Supplied

“Instead of looking at the upfront challenges of time and money, think of the rewards,” says Chubb, who travelled to parts of Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom and North America exploring different management techniques for increasing plant and nutrient efficiency to improve food production.

Chubb says he’d go on another Nuffield experience if he could. The experience far exceeded his expectations, he says, and he found it a very different kind of learning experience to see something first-hand versus reading about it or learning about it through any other metric.

Travelling and talking to others in the agricultural community taught him another valuable lesson, he says. Everyone is dealing with similar issues and struggles, but also trying to succeed because they love what they do.

One of the requisites of the 24-month program is that a minimum of 10 weeks be spent travelling, including six weeks consecutively with an itinerary established through contacts made with organizations and individuals overseas.

Part of the travel experience involves participation in a global tour with other fellow scholars, as well as independent travel. The reason for the latter is to “push you out of your comfort zone,” says Nuffield Canada’s Léona Watson,

Greg Donald, 2015 scholar, says the independent travel was good for him even if it did challenge him, too. He wasn’t roughing it, but that time certainly stretched him personally, he said. He missed his wife and family.

“All of a sudden I was alone,” he recalls. “And it was not for a few days. It was for a few weeks, with a suitcase and a backpack.”

But he wasn’t solitary, either. Like all other scholars, he’d made contact with farmers and industry leaders ahead of time as he planned his itinerary. He was actually a bit nervous about all the invitations to be a guest in the homes of those he contacted, not realizing how rewarding and memorable those visits would turn out to be.

“They welcomed me into their homes, allowed me to work out of their homes, welcomed me as a part of their family,” he says. “I learned about their farms and their culture.”

“That was, for me, probably one of the best parts of the experience.”

Others come back with the same appreciation. “The highlight is the people. Every night, every meal, every break, you dive deep into a conversation with the people around you in all parts of the world,” writes Alberta-based Matthew Hamill on the Nuffield website. He’s a 2017 scholar who pursued an in-depth inquiry into best practices in the barley value chain.

And, as Watson stresses, you don’t leave these folks behind when you go home, either. You’re then part of this global community for the rest of your life. The global Nuffield alumni network is now more than 1,700 strong, who continue to host and help current travelling scholars.

“You connect with producers around the world who are trying new things, pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box, trying to achieve the things that are important to the future of agriculture,” she says. “If they don’t know the answers to your questions, they’ll know somebody who does.”

Nuffield Canada’s community includes Australia, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe. In addition, Nuffield International leads efforts to support the engagement of the program into new countries including Brazil, Chile, South Africa and the United States.

About the author

Associate editor

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is associate editor with Country Guide. She has also covered agriculture and rural issues since 1995 as a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator and Farmers’ Independent Weekly.

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