WorldFish executive director of Strategy, Innovation, and Communications, Tana Lala-Pritchard, is the 2020 recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Award by the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society in the USA. The award recognizes past high-achieving university students— across all academic disciplines—who graduated in the top 10 percent in the US and have used their academic excellence and scholarship to build a career of outstanding service and leadership for the greater good. Lala-Pritchard is the first international student alumna and youngest woman to receive the award.
Past recipients of the prestigious Alpha Chi Distinguished Alumni Award include highly accomplished professionals from all walks of life, including politics, art, science, law, journalism, technology, literature, etc.
“The Alpha Chi National Award Committee agreed that the trait that made Tana’s nomination stand apart was the match of her character and background with the tenets that Alpha Chi espouses as a society of scholars. She has excelled professionally in numerous areas that require her to possess pan-academic prowess in various disciplines. She has worked with an impressive array of international development organizations to improve the human condition and advocate for human rights, gender equality, climate action, environmental sustainability, and humanitarian causes. Her work in these organizations is replete with character and scholarship being applied for the greater good,” said Dr. David K. Jones, president of Alpha Chi National College Honor Society.
Recognition for the outstanding scholarship for the greater good
From a high-achieving student in the US and later in the UK, Lala-Pritchard has grown into a dynamic transformational change leader who has spent the past 19 years working on international development issues and implementing various strategies at corporate, business, and functional levels to advance the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. She has worked for a host of international development agencies, think tanks, and global research organizations across Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe, and the Pacific.
“As a society, Alpha Chi has a global reach. Tana’s ability to communicate in multiple languages, work and engage with diverse people and cultures worldwide, and lead and advocate with passion for vulnerable communities and well-known international non-profit organizations made her an ideal candidate to be recognized among our Distinguished Alumni. People who have studied and worked with Tana described her as a bundle of energy and curiosity, a powerhouse of strategic vision and creativity. She is an inspiring leader. She is a passionate storyteller who combines scientific data and evidence, emotion, cool design, and innovative technologies to convey and communicate big transformational ideas to inspire meaningful positive change in the world, ” said Lara Noah, executive director of Alpha Chi National College Honor Society.
Lala-Pritchard was recognized for her outstanding communications and advocacy work at the intersection of science, policy, business, and social entrepreneurship—across the public and private sectors—to shape evidence-based programs, development interventions, policy recommendations, investments, and innovations, in response to critical issues of our times, such as climate action, food security and nutrition, ocean governance, gender equality, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
In 2015, her strategy and advocacy work supporting the global Economics of Land Degradation initiative led to the adoption of specific evidence-based targets on Climate Action (SDG13) and Land Degradation Neutrality (SDG15.3) under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the 70th UN General Assembly. It was a watershed moment for her career and the culmination of tireless multidisciplinary teamwork with 35 partner organizations in 22 countries to facilitate greater science-policy collaboration under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Building character and leadership through adversity and learning
Delivering the Distinguished Alumna Address to this year’s virtual Alpha Chi Convention themed ‘Justice for All,’ Lala-Pritchard described an inspiring and incredible personal journey of overcoming tremendous adversities as an immigrant child in the US fleeing civil unrest, socio-economic collapse, and conflicts that came with the fall of the iron curtain across Eastern Europe in the 90s, including the toppling of communism in her home country Albania.
“Pouring myself into my studies was my salvation and the thing that always got me noticed. The pursuit of academic excellence was my only way to succeed and take charge of my life, the thing from which you can only grow – both personally and professionally – if you work hard at it, ” said Lala-Pritchard.
Reflecting on her Albanian upbringing, the values of her family of literati, her American experience of community service and leadership, and stories from her international work and travels in more than 120 countries, she explained the influence of her most formative academic experiences in political philosophy, civil rights, and liberties:
“I still remember my first day of class on Introduction to Political Science. We used the Socratic method of inquiry to explore Plato’s cave allegory. It is essentially an exercise that teaches you that the real world is much bigger than the immediate world of ‘your cave.’ To find the true meaning and purpose of existence and come to terms with who you truly are, you must abandon ‘your cave’ and learn to challenge your own beliefs and assumptions through the constant pursuit of knowledge and experiences that stretch you.
“Since then, my life and work have been a deliberate exercise to avoid what Socrates describes as “the unexamined life.” That is, a life devoid of meaning and purpose, which can only be overcome by constantly questioning ourselves and learning from others about justice, virtue, truth, love, loss, beauty, suffering, etc. Academic excellence is less about that top job you need to get and more about nurturing critical thinking skills for new ways of seeing things and connecting the dots between people, systems, organizations, and opportunities that align with your values of service and leadership…”
Leveraging academic excellence in professional life
In her address to students, professors, and researchers participating at the Alpha Chi convention, Lala-Pritchard described how her international development work and extensive travels over the past 20 years had exposed her to “the daily human experience of others,” in particular of the daily experience of many vulnerable and marginalized communities in low-and middle-income countries. This fuels Lala-Pritchard’s growing sense of obligation “to lead a meaningful life, to learn more and to do work that is full of purpose, so that her talent, creativity, and capabilities can contribute to somehow making the world a better place.
In her current job with WorldFish Lala-Pritchard’s work encourages more people and influential decision-makers to engage with the latest scientific evidence on aquatic food systems, climate change, and ocean governance and thus move them from words to concrete action.
She added: “The upcoming UN Food System Summit and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will be momentous events for decisive global action. The current COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more women, men, and children into greater inequality, poverty, unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition, particularly those living in developing countries. Meanwhile, the fortunes of billionaires, as you probably saw in the latest Forbes listing, continue to skyrocket. For me, the responsibility of service and leadership through my current work feels stronger than ever, as my team, my science colleagues, and I work to put together the compelling evidence and specific policy recommendations for how to build forward better a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.”
A passionate advocate for gender equality, diversity, and young people
Lala-Pritchard also spoke about the career challenges of often being the youngest leader or the only woman in the room. Despite some progress, she said women and young leaders — particularly those from diverse backgrounds and developing countries—face deeply entrenched systemic barriers and people’s unconscious biases related to gender, race, ethnicity, language, etc.
Many initiatives to progress gender equality have not delivered meaningful results because they focus solely on changing and engaging women alone—from how women organize, manage and network to the way women lead. Too many organizations look to women alone to transform organizational practices and cultures that maintain the status quo. Such an approach fails to recognize the site of most organizational power. In her view, achieving meaningful gender equality and diversity and inclusion in society, including in science and the workplace, requires a concerted effort from both men and women.
In particular, young women and men — driven to academic excellence, service, and leadership — must be supported and celebrated, for they are the ones to take on the mantle of building a fairer and more just and equal world. She described how her ‘personal and professional village of cheerleaders’, including her family, friends, professors, and mentors — over the years and all over the world – were responsible for recognizing her talents and abilities and creating opportunities for her to shine through her studies and her work.
“As the daughter of a highly-accomplished Albanian intellectual and political dissident in one of the most oppressive communist regimes in the world, Tana has embraced her father’s calling to push and advocate for transformational change of unjust and inequitable governance and socio-economic systems. Using her academic prowess to communicate vital plans and programs to a world that is sometimes indifferent and sometimes hostile to the message, Tana’s work in the world is making scholarships effective for good,” added Dr. Christine Pappas, ECU chair and professor of political science and legal Studies.
Lala-Pritchard completed her master’s degree (distinction) in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK and her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Business Administration (with a 4.0 GPA and the highest academic honors) from East Central University (ECU) in Oklahoma, US. In 2002, she was the first international student to receive the George Nigh Governor’s Award as the top graduating student. In 2020, she received a prestigious fellowship for Exceptional Women Leaders under 40 by the University of Oxford and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies on organizational Strategy and Innovation at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
She serves as an Oxford Ambassador for Strategy and Innovation to promote entrepreneurship and social innovation in the non-profit sector for significant societal impact. Lala-Pritchard’s work at Oxford has informed and shaped the new 2030 WorldFish Research and Innovation Strategy on Aquatic Foods For Healthy People and Planet. The strategy lays WorldFish’s science and organizational change agenda for the next ten years in response to the global call to action for a radical transformation of global food systems to end hunger and malnutrition, protect nature and biodiversity, and ensure shared prosperity and justice for all.
About Alpha Chi
Founded in 1922, the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society works to promote and recognize academic excellence among USA university students of all disciplines, to encourage a spirit of service and leadership, and to nurture the elements of character that make scholarship effective for good. With some 300 chapters located in universities in almost every state in the USA, the society inducts only high-achieving students in the top ten percent of their class from all academic disciplines. Alpha Chi is a member of the Association of College Honor Societies in the USA, the only national accrediting body for collegiate honor societies.