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FNCE® 2023 Member Showcase Remarks

These are the prepared remarks by Academy CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, October 9 at the Member Showcase of the 2023 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo® in Denver, Colo.

"Leadership and defining our next evolution is a collective effort. I commit to do my part and I ask each and every one of you to do your part — stay engaged. And tell your friends and colleagues to do the same. We are embarking on an amazing journey that they will not want to miss." – Academy CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE

Remarks from Academy CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE during the Member ShowcaseThank you so much, Lauri. And thank you to the members of the Academy and our Headquarters Team, who have been so welcoming in the three months-plus that I have been with the Academy.

Clearly, I was determined to attend my first FNCE despite the circumstances. Why? Because I have looked forward to this opportunity to engage with you face to face.

I have enjoyed every interaction I have had with members and all attendees here in Denver. And wow, what an event.

The other reason I needed to be here was for you to have the opportunity to get to know me. I recognize that CEO changes are met with a host of emotions — excitement, fear, curiosity, hope, doubt and everything else in between.

I needed to be here to share with you what's in my heart.

Better than I or anyone, you know that the future of food and nutrition is constantly changing. This means the Academy and the professionals we serve must also constantly change and evolve. This isn't new. Throughout our history, we have evolved as needed to maximize our impact and ensure the vibrancy of the profession.

This time will be no different.

I want to know your hopes and dreams for the profession and Academy because it will be your hopes and dreams that help inform our future.

We can't go back and change the past. The status quo of the present is not an option. We have one choice: to move forward.

Within the choice to move forward there are two distinct pathways.

One pathway will require hard work, difficult conversations and letting go of certain things to make room for new and better things.

This pathway will eventually lead to the increased value and impact we desire and deserve, and it won't be easy.

This pathway is only a reality if we work together and create an environment where all feel heard and valued. This pathway will require that we shift our perspective and operate from a mindset of growth and abundance and not a mindset of scarcity.

We will need to believe that there is value in erecting a large table that accommodates us all and be willing to tear down any walls that separate us.

The other pathway is one that I hope we won't choose. It will not deliver on the promise of our purpose, mission or vision. It is a pathway that attempts to maintain the status quo because we fear the future, we fear change, we fear what we might lose.

As we think about the first pathway — the pathway of courage and unity — we need to draw strength and inspiration from our mission and vision: a world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.

These are not just words — they are our promise to the world. Our mission and vision signify our commitment to caring about what the future holds and being ready to courageously lead the way there.

We all have a role to play in delivering on our promise.

What's my role as the Academy CEO? To answer this question, let me first share my roadmap for leadership:

  • Focus.
  • Simplify.
  • Clarify.
  • Calmly approach challenges.
  • Embrace partnership.

Working in partnership with Lauri Wright, I promise to be visible to the Academy's membership and to the world beyond. My role differs from the President's and it is just as vital.

I will share my experiences and provide thoughtful and visionary executive leadership that is inclusive, transparent and empowering. To cultivate a growth and abundance mindset, I will work with member and staff leaders to foster a culture of collaboration and enhanced communications.

We will modernize our infrastructure, engage in hard conversations, own our mistakes and recognize the contributions of the many, not only the few. I will provide leadership and support to our members while managing and building consensus; and yes, at times, I will make difficult decisions you may not like.

Treating all individuals with respect, regardless of their professional standing and creating a healthy environment where everyone can thrive is at my very core.

Following and staying on Pathway One is not all dependent on me, nor the Academy Board or Headquarters staff. It is also dependent on you.

In recent weeks, we have been spending much time listening to Academy members and non-members. Thank you to all who have taken part in our valuable listening sessions. and let me tell you in no uncertain terms: We hear you. I hear you.

People are raising important points. You want your organization to demonstrate your value and power, and the public needs to see this demonstrated value and power from you.

In order to deliver on your hopes and dreams and keep us on a courageous, forward-motion path, I need something from you — to join me in shifting our perspective.

Here is the initial invitation: Please raise your hand, or stand if you can, if any of the following apply to you:

  • If you serve in a leadership role within the Academy, Academy Foundation, CDR or ACEND.
  • If you serve in a leadership role, participate in or support a DPG/MIG.
  • If you lead, serve or participate in NDEP.
  • If you lead or serve in the House of Delegates.
  • If you lead, serve or support an Academy Affiliate.
  • If you serve as an Academy Spokesperson or State Media Representative.
  • If you pay membership to the Academy.
  • If you are a certified practitioner through the Academy.
  • If you work for the Academy.
  • If you support the Academy in any capacity not already mentioned.

Look around. We don't all look alike, think alike, practice alike; and yet, we are all the House of Nutrition and Dietetics.

We are the Academy — the good the bad; the great and the not so great.

I need you to own and help strengthen the House of Nutrition and Dietetics. Own it when we make you proud. Own it when we make you mad and disappoint you.

Look around and see and feel the power of this House. The same power that exists in the House of Medicine, the House of Nursing, the House of Physical Therapy is the same power that exists in our house when we set our mind and energy to a common direction, with alignment, purpose and commitment.

Will we be a House that reclaims its power and potential and find a way forward or will we choose to maintain the status quo? This is the question of the moment.

Please be seated or lower your hands.

Yes, I heard a lot of important viewpoints during the listening sessions. The key thing I heard is we need to come together as one and heal.

Today, here in Denver, we begin the healing process. If there was ever a time when you felt unseen, unheard or unvalued, I'm sorry.

Many of you told me you felt the Academy didn't defend the profession enough; that we didn't embrace inclusivity, diversity, equity and access, and didn't own up to our mistakes.

I'm here to say that will change.

I will continue to form deep and meaningful connections throughout the entire Academy community and learn more about opportunities for reflection and growth. I will listen and work with you to identify what is next for us. I will also, to the best of my ability, be candid.

In that spirit, let me share with you the key messages that I have shared with members and nonmembers in our listening sessions:

  • Change won't happen overnight. We are probably on an 18-to-36-month journey to reinvigorate our organization.
  • Healing wounds and addressing deep-seated issues won't be easy. Candid conversations must occur and they will make us all uncomfortable.
  • We will need to make difficult decisions about our current and future operations and priorities.
  • I will make mistakes. I will own those mistakes.
  • The Academy's Headquarters Team are your partners in service to the nutrition and dietetics profession.
  • Incivility should never exist in our organization. We can disagree and still be respectful.

Compassion and kindness cost nothing, but they can empower individuals to be the best they can be. Through unity and mutual respect, we are able to stand up and protect the profession and your professional association.

To heal our House and further demonstrate our external value, we must effectively leverage the power of the collective.

Yes, we will be civil and, make no mistake, we will defend our House.

We will hold each other accountable and we will leverage the power of our house to elevate you. And you in turn will deliver on the promise of our mission.

No matter where you are in your career, your voice can, should and will be heard. We need it to be heard. We will pay attention to the public's perception. We have to make sure that the inside is as strong as it can be, and the outside perception is equally strong.

And we must get there together with kindness, generosity and perseverance.

Join me on the journey to heal our house, solidify our foundation and find common ground.

There is no doubt that we will be stronger together!

In closing, leadership and defining our next evolution is a collective effort. I commit to do my part and I ask each and every one of you to do your part — stay engaged. And tell your friends and colleagues to do the same. We are embarking on an amazing journey that they will not want to miss.

Nutrition has the power to change lives, and you demonstrate it every day through your work.

Leadership is my passion. I firmly believe that to lead effectively, we must first reach the heart before we can reach the mind.

I look forward to earning your heart and your trust as we work together to achieve our shared hopes and dreams for the Academy and the profession.

As I shared during the listening sessions and Lauri also shared during the Opening Session: The world needs us to be our best. And I need you.

Look around. We are all the Academy.

Thank you very much!

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