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World Food Center’s first hire: Associate Director Josette Lewis ’88

8.9.2013

By Dave Jones

The stars aligned for UC Davis and its first hire for the World Food Center.

Josette Lewis, who started as the associate director on Aug. 1, grew up in Davis (her father worked as associate librarian in the UC Davis School of Law) and graduated magna cum laude from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science degree in genetics in 1988, before going on to UCLA where she earned a Ph.D. in molecular genetics in 1994.

She had a 16-year career at the U.S. Agency for International Development, working in international research and development, then as senior biotechnology adviser and finally as director of the Office of Agriculture, where she played a lead role in developing the Obama administration’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.

In November 2010, after deciding “it was important for me to understand how the private sector works,” she left USAID for a job with Arcadia Biosciences in Davis. And so she was back in her hometown, this time with her husband, Timothy Gaffaney, and their two sons. Her parents, Alfred and Theresa Lewis, are here, too.

She served as Arcadia’s director of agricultural development, working on overseas business partnerships and technology licensing, and expanding technology collaborations with developing countries, among other duties.

After 3½ years at Arcadia, Lewis began thinking about going to work at the university. And guess what job opened up? At a center that had not even been thought of at the time she moved back to Davis?

“It was the perfect fit,” Lewis said. “I’m proud to have graduated from UC Davis. It’s exciting for me to be back and contributing to this new center.”

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said of Lewis: “She’s an alum with a distinguished career in global agricultural development at USAID, and now she’s come back to Davis — and we are pleased to have her join our team.”

Katehi consulted with faculty members and other experts inside and outside the university for nearly two years before establishing the World Food Center in June.

Then, in mid-July, she gave a briefing to the Board of Regents: “We did this to fully capitalize on our depth and expertise as the world’s leading university for education, research and scholarship on all aspects of food, but especially the nexus between food and health,” she said in her prepared remarks.

Lewis noted another important connection: agriculture as a tool for poverty reduction. “The majority of the world’s poor work in agriculture,” she said, so, they can improve their incomes by using improved farming practices.

“It helps the world’s food supply, it helps economies, it helps nutrition, it helps society,” she said.

‘Bringing different kinds of partners together’

The university is nearing the end of its search for the center’s founding director. Meanwhile, Lewis “will help support the World Food Center’s initial organizational development and provide senior-level administrative and programmatic leadership as we develop the center,” according to a July 31 memo from the chancellor’s office.

“With guidance and input from the existing World Food Center advisory committee, Josette will assist the committee and the center’s founding director in developing the structures needed to effectively support the center’s governance, research and external partnership activities.”

The UC Davis World Food Center makes sense, Lewis said, “because of the breadth of what the university has to offer.” As she meets with faculty and others, she is asking what the center can do to add value to their work and how the center can build on UC Davis’ already fine record of collaboration among disciplines

Lewis has breadth of her own, in science and policy, management and communication, and international relations, “in bringing different kinds of partners together.”

She started at USAID on a diplomacy fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The fellowship lasted two years, 1994-96, during which time she managed a $2 million-a-year international agricultural research and development program, and developed a monitoring and impact assessment for the program.

When her fellowship ended, she stayed on at USAID as the Middle East regional research coordinator, 1996-2008, managing a $7 million-a-year Israeli-Arab collaboration. She had responsibility for communication and cooperation with a broad constituency in the U.S. and Middle East research communities, USAID field offices, the State Department and Congress.

As a senior biotchnology adviser, 1997-2008, she managed agricultural biotechnology research and policy programs valued at $10 million a year, and reached out to foreign governments on biotechnology policy. In addition, she contributed to U.S. negotiations of international agreements.

She served as director of the Office of Agriculture from 2008 to 2010, during which time she realigned human and financial resources to increase the quality of services and leadership across the agency’s agricultural programs, and oversaw a budget of more than $40 million and a staff of 30 in the areas of research, policy, agribusiness development and natural resources management.

She also managed outreach to U.S. constituencies (Congress, universities, foundations, industry associations and nongovernmental organizations) to develop new partnerships.

In recognition of her work on the food security team, she received a USAID Superior Honor Award. The year before, 2008, she received a State Department Superior Honor Award for her work in food security.

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