The next steps in IRRI’s journey

 Matthew Morell, director general, International Rice Research Institute   |  

Our journey is not just a challenge of technology—it is a journey of humanity. For a science organization, our mandate comes close to being a sacred commitment of a secular organization.

Mathew Morell


This issue of Rice Today signifies many new beginnings for IRRI. As I begin my term as the institute’s director general and reflect on the legacies of IRRI’s past and opportunities that lie ahead, it would be remiss if I did not recognize those who came before me.

It is said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. When I reflect on the directors general of IRRI, from Robert Chandler, Jr., to Robert Zeigler, it is striking how each director general took an individual approach to leading the development of the organization and shepherded the delivery of its mandate during their terms. Yet, through this history, IRRI has retained a consistent focus on our mission and vision. My approach will necessarily and frequently differ from my predecessors’ approach, but our focus on our core mission will remain.

I pay particular tribute to Bob, my immediate predecessor, who was at the helm during one of the most successful periods in IRRI’s history. I have been in the unusual position of coming into the organization as deputy director general for research, and so I have had a unique opportunity to work closely with Bob. I saw firsthand his passion, his commitment, and his vision for the organization. His mentorship and wisdom have been of incredible value. There is a great sense of humility at being the custodian of this wonderful institution as it continues its critical journey. IRRI has an irrefutable mandate to address global imperatives to lift people out of poverty and hunger, enhance nutrition and health, and ensure environmental sustainability. Our mission is compelling and our work is paramount. We serve hundreds of millions of rice farmers. A billion people rely directly on the livelihoods generated by those farms; a further two billion rely on rice as a critical part of their diet, in which rice provides not just calories but essential nutrients for health and well-being. In so many areas of the world, rice is much more than a commodity—it is part of the fabric of life.

Our journey is not just a challenge of technology—it is a journey of humanity. For a science organization, our mandate comes close to being a sacred commitment of a secular organization. There is no room to be less than successful, there is no time to waste, there are never enough resources to smooth the way, and we have to harness our collective passion and creativity to find the path forward.

Current international events remind us that the world faces challenging times. We see migration crises across the globe. We see political unrest, conflicts, and wars. We struggle with economic stringencies. We see science and economics under attack from those who express opinions as though they were facts. As we navigate through these uncertainties of an ever-changing operating environment, IRRI must continue to retool, evolve, and differentiate as an organization to advance our mission.

There are many paths to differentiation for IRRI such as leveraging developments in biology, leveraging information and computing technology, influencing policies, building novel partnerships with those who share our values for delivery and adoption, and providing comprehensive solutions tailored to local needs. IRRI is in an excellent position to forge ahead. We have a deep history with an enviable track record of delivery and impact, a pipeline of science and technologies to deploy, riches in our germplasm and tools, strongly supportive donors and connections, a passionate and talented workforce, and an extraordinary global network of partners. But, in 7–10 years’ time, the assessment of that time must not be that all was done was to exploit these gifts. IRRI must build on this legacy to renew itself in all areas. We must surprise our stakeholders and partners and surprise ourselves.

I look forward to engaging with the beneficiaries of our work across the globe, our donor community, our broader network of partners, and our staff as we embark on the many futures of IRRI to achieve our shared commitment to a common good. Through Rice Today, IRRI’s flagship publication, we aim to illustrate further impacts of our work and collaborative efforts to improve the lives of the one billion, and also share their compelling stories that remind us why we do what we do.

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