Carbonell Family Foundation Funds Global Food Institute Executive Directorship

Board of Trustees Chair Emeritus Nelson Carbonell Jr. and wife, Michele, have provided endowed funding for the new partnership’s leader.

June 2, 2023

GFI celebration

From left: Provost Bracey, José Andrés, Nelson Carbonell Jr., Michele Carbonell and President Wrighton gathered together at the celebration of the launch of the Global Food Institute. (Photo: Abby Greenawalt)

GW Chair Emeritus Nelson Carbonell Jr., B.S. '85, HON '21, is known for his accomplishment-oriented, transformative leadership and decades of deep commitment to the George Washington University. It is only natural that he and his wife, Michele, provided inaugural philanthropic leadership supporting the launch of the Global Food Institute. The Carbonell Family Executive Directorship endowment is $5 million and enables the institute to begin recruiting for the top position.

“The Global Food Institute is an amazing platform with an incredibly powerful mission,” said Carbonell. “Michele and I knew the first step to success is installing a leader with a passion for solving big problems. GW has the academic infrastructure and talent. José Andrés brings his vision, experience and international reputation from his life’s work to change the world through the power of food. It’s the perfect nexus. We hope our gift provides the financial underpinnings for GW to hire a proven leader to begin addressing these challenges in concrete and actionable ways.”

Officially announced May 23, the Global Food Institute is an unprecedented public and private sector collaboration to develop urgently needed systemic change to broken food delivery systems that imperil lives and the health of humanity.

Founded in partnership with renowned chef, humanitarian and long time GW instructor José Andrés, HON ‘14, the Global Food Institute will take a unique interdisciplinary approach to uncover and deliver practical, creative solutions to intractable issues: systemic inequities, hunger, climate change, and declining public health and nutrition. And philanthropic support is essential.

GW President Mark S. Wrighton stressed the critical role the Carbonell gift will play in accelerating the institute’s progress. "The Global Food Institute will create new knowledge and shape national and international progress on food system issues, and the Carbonell Family Executive Director will lead the institute in this important work. We are extremely grateful to the Carbonells for their generous support of the institute and philanthropic impact across the university.”

The Global Food Institute has three main pillars: policy, innovation and humanity, and the executive director will be tasked with translating its broader conceptual goals into the prioritization and execution of specific projects, said Provost Christopher Alan Bracey.

“We have a full range of resources ready to be deployed, but which issues do we start with, and who are our best strategic partners?” he said. “The executive director is our most significant initial hire, and we hope to have someone in place fairly quickly as we are eager to start having an impact on these issues so central to the human condition.”

Carbonell believes the time is right for the Global Food Institute. He is particularly concerned that growing post-COVID changes to global trade are affecting the global food supply and stressing already tenuous interconnections that increase the risk of starvation across the globe.

“But hunger is a byproduct, not the problem, it’s the consequence of not getting a lot of other things right,” Carbonell said. “I’m optimistic that the Global Food Institute’s multidisciplinary approach will provide solutions that prevent us from becoming a world that can feed its people but doesn’t, because we can’t get the right materials people need to grow their own food to the right place at the right time.”

Carbonell, an engineer and successful entrepreneur and business executive, is known for leaning into complex challenges, said Donna Arbide, GW’s vice president for development and alumni relations. “In addition to his success in business, he has had an indelible, incomparable imprint on GW,” she said. “We are so grateful for his leadership, his service and his generous philanthropy over so many years.”

Nelson Carbonell Jr.
Nelson Carbonell Jr., B.S. '85, received an honorary degree in 2021 at GW's Commencement on the National Mall.

Carbonell served on GW’s Board of Trustees for 17 years, including six as chair. “Nelson’s board leadership was transformative,” Arbide said, noting he spearheaded the building of Science and Engineering Hall, played a key role in two GW presidential searches, reshaped the Board of Trustees, reorganized GW’s academic medical enterprise, and enhanced the arts at GW with the addition of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and iconic Flagg Building.

She added that the Carbonells’ generous giving includes donations to athletics for the Nelson and Michele Carbonell Academic Center at the Charles E. Smith Center and scholarships, including the Nelson and Michele Carbonell Engineering Endowed Scholarship.

Michele Carbonell has cited their endowed scholarship as “by far the most rewarding gift” the couple has made to GW, a sentiment shared by her husband.

“As a donor it is really fulfilling,” he said. “You see the impact right in front of you. We’ve had a dozen or more recipients, and we’ve met them all, had lunch with them, you see them graduate and get jobs. We keep in touch and have even attended one of their weddings.”

He credits GW Engineering for his educational foundation for success, and the scholarship he received for opening the door to opportunity.

“People ask why I chose GW, and I tell them GW chose me,” said Carbonell, who has fond memories and lifelong friends from living in Thurston Hall.

Now retired president and CEO of the consulting firm Nelson Carbonell & Associates, Carbonell co-founded software company Cysive in his basement in 1993, growing it to 500 employees and annual revenues exceeding $50 million before taking the company public a mere six years later.

His relationship with Global Food Institute founder Andrés dates back almost two decades, including working with him to fund his company, ThinkFoodGroup, LLC, recently renamed the José Andrés Group. Carbonell also was instrumental in convincing Andrés to teach at GW and deliver the university’s commencement address in 2014. Carbonell cited Andrés’ involvement as an inspiration for other donors to join him and Michele in providing philanthropic support.

“José is a genius who also has this holistic view of food. He really puts his time where his mouth is, he walks the walk,” Carbonell said. “There are many long-term challenges that need to be met, and it’s a complicated path to navigate. The Global Food Institute sits at the middle of the conversations we need to have and hopefully also at the heart of the solutions.”