richard rortvedt '69
Career field: International Agricultural Development
Job title: retired agricultural economist
Employer: US Dept. of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Svc.
In two to three sentences, please describe what your current position entails.
My career, spanning three decades, encompassed economic research, bilateral scientific exchanges, trade and investment in food industries, development assistance, and mutual government-to-government cooperation in the fields of agriculture and renewable natural resources management. In addition to U.S Government work, I was loaned, for four years, to the Inter-American Development Bank and was, for six years, a member of the Board of Directors of an agricultural university in Costa Rica.
What has been your career path to date?
A masters degree in Latin American Studies lead me to Washington to conduct research on agriculture in the Americas, followed by research on the global fertilizer industry. With that on-the-job training, I then spent 24 years in global agricultural cooperation and development, working in 28 countries. My most in-depth international work involved Latin America.
Which country(ies) has your work taken you to?
How did your interest in working internationally develop?
Contact with American Field Service exchange students in my high school in White Bear Lake introduced me to international students and whetted my appetite for traveling abroad. Studying Spanish in high school and at St. Olaf, and a summer living in Mexico City after my college junior year, provided the keys and opportunities to open the doors to other cultures.
Which parts of your St. Olaf education best prepared you to work internationally?
My history major (and broad liberal arts education), prepared me to learn about and appreciate the unique social, political, cultural and economic forces that shaped the countries in which I worked. I was often called upon by members of my delegations to provide background information to help explain how and why our foreign counterparts' perspectives were different from our own.
What is the most difficult or challenging aspect about working internationally?
Working in developing countries requires a great degree of patience before results can be seen. Often, a long time must be spent getting to know one another better and developing trust. People in many cultures are reluctant to say "no" directly to a guest, so one must develop acute senses to understand that "no" is what is meant in sometimes overly polite exchanges. Sometimes, internal consensus must be reached without the visitor present. Often, only after repeated consultations and development of long-term relationships, will agreements be reached and joint actions begin.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working internationally?
If I must choose one moment in my career that was the most rewarding, I would have to pick the morning in 1984 or 1985 when Soviet Agriculture Minister Valentin Mesyats visited the office of US Agriculture Secretary John Block. This was the first US-Soviet cabinet-level contact since the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. I was privileged to be present when the Soviet Minister observed that it was much better to be talking together about "filling grain silos instead of missile silos." I knew then that I was working towards peace and soon had the opportunity to travel to Moscow twice on missions of agricultural diplomacy.
What does being a “global citizen” mean to you?
A global citizen continually strives to learn more about the world and its peoples through reading from multiple news sources and books, and exposure to global media and film; travels abroad in ways that open one to new experiences and ideas; pro-actively welcomes people of all races, cultures, classes and religions in ones community, workplace and institutions; and is constantly mindful of the impact of ones own lifestyle on consumption of the earth's limited resources.
What advice would you offer current students interested in working internationally?
Get out there and get experience studying, traveling, volunteering, and working in foreign countries. Perfect your command of foreign languages by using them with native speakers. Work with immigrant groups at home. Work with the disadvantaged at home to prepare for working in development abroad. Go to graduate school in an international field and/or in a practical technical field which is needed in developing countries (e.g., health, sanitation, agriculture, forestry). Include overseas research in your graduate programs. Join the Peace Corps after you have some experience. Develop a career objective (not just a job objective); test all new opportunities for study, volunteering and work against that objective. Choose the opportunities that help you move towards and through full realization of that objective.
Please include anything else you would like to share about your experiences.
I was privileged to enjoy a career capstone experience. After 25 years of working in international agricultural cooperation and development, in 1999 the Western Hemisphere's Ministers of Agriculture elected me to the Board of Directors of the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education (CATIE). CATIE is a graduate school, research center, and manager of development projects in sustainable agriculture, forestry and watershed management in the American tropics. Its campus is in Costa Rica, but it works throughout Central and South America. As a member of CATIE's Board for six years, and, as its President for the last two, I was required to use all of my people skills and experiences in organizational management, agricultural development, non-profit Board administration, inter-institutional collaboration, fund raising, Spanish language and cultural awareness, and political and economic analysis, while learning many new things about the tropical environment and economy. I continue as a volunteer for CATIE and will be in Costa Rica during St. Olaf's International Career Symposium on April 14.
Home Address: 719 N. Ivy St. Arlington, VA 22201 RFRortvedt@aol.com 703-528-2993 (h)