Student finds life-long passion through World Food Prize competition, pursues social entrepreneurship for third world-countries

By Abby Godard ’13 and Carly Tovell ’13

Anxiously waiting at The Ohio State University, junior Ashley Williams stands before a panel of distinguished judges. With the eyes of the audience upon her, Williams’ shaking hands grasp the 3,000-word essay to which she dedicated her summer, working on her project for the World Food Prize. Throughout the seemingly endless process, Williams took extraordinary measures to make it to this point. She met with OSU professors, worked with UAHS science teacher and mentor, Lynn Reese, and spent countless hours in the library.

All of these steps were necessary to find a resolution to help end pest infestations in the country of Ghana, which was the subject of Williams’ project. Actions taken by Williams, among other youth leaders of this year’s World Food Prize, would all result in coming closer to ending world hunger.

According to their website, the World Food Prize was founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient and father of the “Green Revolution,” Norman E. Borlaug, in 1986.

“The World Food Prize is basically the Nobel Peace Prize but for agriculture,” Williams said. “There is this Youth Institute within the World Food Prize that is dedicated to students. Dr. Borlaug believed the focus should be put on the youth, in order to ‘fix’ future generations.”

Williams explained that the Youth Institute is the branch of the World Food Prize where students are able to research a topic on a third-world-country, and create a resolution for world issues.

“Basically, you can run with anything. If you’re passionate about economics, you can talk about economics. Or you can [even] go the agricultural way,” she said.

Williams chose to study Ghana due to the country’s long history of famine and lack of improvement over the years. She said that Ghana was originally a country based entirely off agriculture, but once harmful pests and weeds got to the country’s main crop of maize, the nation entered into a long state of famine. As a third-world-country, Ghana remained in the state of famine because there were no innovations yet proven to stop such detrimental factors.

Determined to find a solution to stop infestations that took over Ghanaian’s crops and lives, Williams concluded that push-pull technology was the best way to prevent future famines from occurring. Williams found that push-pull technology is a farming practice that allows farmers to use crops that they already obtain, without introducing genetically modified organisms or pesticides.

“The push-pull system consists of a push crop, a pull crop and a main crop. The pull crop’s importance in this system is to attract the stem borer pest. Napier grass is an effective pull crop for controlling stem borers,” she said.

Williams spent the rest of her summer formulating her findings into a research paper that she would present in September.

“The structure of the competition is writing a paper, submitting it in September and going to OSU in October and competing,” Williams said. “I competed against 50 other kids and I was one of six delegates chosen to go on to Iowa.”

After Williams was selected to represent Ohio at the World Food Prize’s Youth Institute, she and Reese flew to Iowa and met with various other delegates from across the globe. There, Williams spent three days meeting with influential world leaders, attended various seminars on global issues and shared her passion for ending world hunger with many.

“The World Food Prize is a huge learning experience to meet people from around the world who have similar interests to you,” she said.

Williams explained that once finalists made it to the World Food Prize conference in Iowa, they had all achieved victory.

“Youth Institute wise, there are no winners. There is no winning paper. There is no winning presentation. It’s people coming together to conquer world hunger,” Williams said.

With her experience as an Ohio delegate, Williams realized she could use her talents to continue to fight world hunger. She participates in science research programs at OSU, has held hunger banquets at the high school and is currently selling hand-crafted jewelry at a non-profit organization. Her business raises money for a children’s orphanage in Bolivia. Williams said that her passion and determination to give back to others has all stemmed from the World Food Prize.

“After the World Food Prize, I’ve been inspired from world leaders to take on the challenge of ending world hunger,” Williams said.

Through an independent study art course under UAHS Designing with Materials teacher Alicia McGinty, Williams used art to help raise awareness about global concerns. She was inspired by an article during her findings that would spark her interest in jewelry-making.

“The article was centered around the significance of jewelry in relation to specific African tribes, explaining what each piece symbolized,” she said. “With this inspiration, I started to think about how I could make my own original jewelry.”

Williams continued to expand her project in a way that would benefit others. Each necklace helps make a difference by drawing awareness to global issues.

The new jewelry is sold at Global Gallery on High Street in the Short North for $10.00 each. Like all art sold at the gallery, the money made from each piece is donated to different communities in need around the world. Money raised directly from Williams’ necklaces will be donated to a children’s orphanage in Bolivia.

Williams said that she created the line as a multi-purpose venture, to draw awareness to both the city of Columbus and for people suffering in poverty around the world.

“In Columbus there’s thousands [of people in need]. “Yes, we do live in America, yes, we are wealthy, but if you look around the corner there is always somebody that needs help,” she said. “Every necklace I make is made from a newspaper or magazine article that describes a story where global concerns are met by local discoveries.”

Williams added that on top of the symbolic meaning behind each necklace, there is also an original style to them.

“With my necklaces, they all are unique in their own way because they are handcrafted,” she said.

With the trendy look of the jewelry, Williams found business flourishing with support from the student body. Williams put together a day that would have the utmost effect on promoting her designs. Girls of all grades and styles wore the handcrafted pieces on March 2, 2012. The attention drawn to her brand catalyzed substantial awareness within the community.

Junior Madison Means was among 30 students and faculty members who participated that day and believes that the event played a big role in the popularity of the necklaces.

“I think the necklaces are really creative and are something that has never been done before,” Means said. “Today has definitely been successful in drawing awareness to Ashley’s cause.”

Williams’ devotion to reach out to people in need sparked from simply entering in a competition.

“From this experience, I’ve learned if you go out of your comfort zone, you will be rewarded. Even if you fail or are humiliated, you are going to get something out of the experience,” Williams said.

Not only has the World Food Prize introduced her to a lifelong passion, but a new outlook on life as well. She now lives by the belief that every individual has the chance at a prosperous life—no matter their socioeconomic background.

“Sometimes, you’re just born into wealth. Others are born into starvation and poverty. I believe that everybody should be able to earn their way,” Williams said. “Before you receive, you must give. Power and privilege should be earned by passion and determination.”