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By Alice Sullivan '22
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  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture
  • Global Development

With a passion for sustainability and social equity, Alice Sullivan ’22 is blazing a path towards a better world. Guided by Engaged Learning experiences in Global Development, she has engaged in the struggle for farmworkers’ rights in New York State and the restoration of Malaysian rainforests with indigenous place-based knowledge. As an incoming supply chain analyst for a global company, she is using her Cornell CALS education to prioritize climate justice and sustainability in the development of products used by billions.

What are the grand challenges you want to solve in the world? 

I am dedicated to protecting people and our planet as we work to remediate climate change. Climate change is as much a social issue as an environmental one. Throughout my time at Cornell, I have learned mechanisms to reduce inequalities while promoting agroecological regeneration.

Global Development provides an incredibly diverse perspective on urgent challenges like climate change. I have been able to learn about market driven regeneration as a Guayakí Yerba Mate Ambassador; I learned how businesses can enhance social impact through my time with Cornell Social Business Consulting; and through the Cornell Farmworker Program I came to understand the importance of inclusive and racially just economies.

My research experience and education at Cornell CALS, coupled with own family background in migrant farmwork, led me to advocate for equitable and ethical supply chains. It put me on the path to become president of the Friends of Farmworkers on-campus, and helped launch my career with Unilever.

Tell us more about your new career and what excites you about this role.

The Unilever Future Leaders Program is a three-year rotational management program. As a supply chain analyst I am involved in all four pillars of the supply chain: plan, make, source, and deliver. Every day 2.5 billion people use Unilever products. The responsible management of our supply chains, and resources, is imperative to remedy climate change.

When I joined Unilever, I was encouraged to discover my purpose — what drives me to bring my best self to society. Climate change has the potential to disrupt agricultural value chains, threaten livelihoods, and further inequality. My purpose is to blaze my own trail and grow with the people and planet around me.

Photos from the field

What inspired you to pursue an education and career in agricultural development? 

I’ve always believed strongly in the value of citizen science and the need for community-based environmental leadership. In high school, I became the youngest certified Texas Master Naturalist. As a Texas Master Naturalist, I helped restore a Golden Cheeked Warbler habitat and organized bilingual outreach to elementary schools.

My interests led me to agriculture, and in the summer of 2017 I lived on a Paraguayan beef and soybean farm through the Texas-based nonprofit Amigos de las Américas. Living with my indigenous Guaraní host family in rural South America taught me the implications of neoliberal agricultural systems on smallholder farmers. Prior to knowing what “neoliberal,” “regenerative agriculture” or “community-based development” was, I grappled with how unequal access to markets and collapsing crop systems impacted smallholders.

I sought an undergraduate experience that would give me the technical skills and global experiences to help solve issues such as climate change. Ultimately, that is why I chose CALS and the training within international agriculture and rural development.

What has been a research opportunity that has made an impact on your career path?

During my second year at Cornell, I took part in the Global Citizenship and Sustainability program led by professor Shorna Allred. This research learning opportunity gave me the chance to travel to Malaysian Borneo to learn about indigenous place-based knowledge. From discussions with my indigenous Penan host family in Sarawak, I learned about the global palm-oil industry and its detrimental effects on Bornean rainforests and indigenous communities.

Engaged learning is a cornerstone of Global Development. Tell us about your engaged learning experience in the department.

I worked as a finance and investment intern with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. MCC has invested $13 billion since 2004 in nearly 40 countries across the Global South. The purpose of the organization is to implement cross-functional stakeholder investments to revolutionize benefit-risk frameworks and return on investment for U.S. foreign aid. My engaged learning experience allowed me to focus on how to utilize blended finance tools to catalyze public-private partnerships investments.

My research was on impact investments in Malawi, specifically on identifying top agricultural exports, mapping geolocations, and discovering more on growth corridors and best practices for Foreign Direct Investment. With a goal to reduce poverty through economic growth, I explored which regions were strategic for export potential for agricultural growth, processors, and producers, and purchasing power. 

What did you take away from the engaged learning experience?

My semester-long project with the Finance & Investment division at MCC gave me the opportunity to gain a breadth of knowledge of global supply chains. I learned about the complexity of climate, geopolitical, and economic challenges at hand. I was able to delve into the cross-functional collaboration — between corporation, financiers, and governments — necessary for effective innovation in our global supply chains.

Student spotlight

Alice Sullivan '22

Alice Sullivan is an International Agriculture and Rural Development major with a minor in Biometry & Statistics. At Cornell, she is president of Cornell Friends of Farmworkers, project manager at Cornell Social Business Consulting and a guide with Cornell Outdoor Odyssey. Additionally, she is a Cornell Algorithms Affiliate and a Harvard Engage Scholar & Social Justice Researcher.

Alice Sullivan headshot

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