Thought for Food: Mobilizing the next generation to feed 9 billion people
This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
The League of Intrapreneurs: Building Better Business from the Inside Out competition.
Thought for Food calls on the brightest, most passionate students around the world to develop bold, game-changing ideas to help solve the biggest challenge facing their future: how to feed 9 billion people. Student teams are called on to disrupt the status quo and become visionary champions for a new generation.
Tell us about yourself/your team.
I'm on a mission to make a positive difference in the world. My career is dedicated to shaping public policies and perceptions that help address some of our most pressing global challenges (such as food security). I have spent my career working on ag and food policy issues in various organizations in the USA and Europe. I have a passion for sparking disruptive innovation by using powerful social media tools to inspire collaboration and game-changing action. I hold an MPA with a concentration in Science and Technology Policy from Columbia University in New York City and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from American University in Washington, DC.
What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?
I thrive in an environment where I can bring new ideas forward, create dialogue and challenge conventional thinking. I create edge by challenging my company to adopt new initiatives and approaches, even if it causes friction at first. I push through resistance and traditional heirarchies to build a culture of innovation that supports creativity and risk-taking. I collaborate across organizational boundaries to leverage diversity, maximize impact, and produce high-impact results. Although I enjoy being a changemaker, I work best in teams and I am strongly motivated to lead through inspiration and sharing, I am a curious learner and visionary thinker, with a strong belief in the power mass collaboration and openness/ transparency to change the world.
About Your Organization
Switzerland, BS, Basel
Primary country where this project is creating social impact
Additional countries or regions
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Select the stage that best applies to your solution
Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)
The Need: What social or environmental problem are you trying to solve?
Every day, nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry or malnourished, while 1 billion over-consume. This perverse imbalance has dire consequences for our already strained natural resources and healthcare systems. By 2050, the planet’s population will increase from 7 bn to upwards of 9 bn. More people will live in cities and demand resource-intensive foods, like meat. Well over 30% of food is wasted along the chain. Despite a century of dramatic technological advances, today's agricultural systems aren’t sufficient. This represents a massive opportunity and an even bigger responsibility. We need inspired solutions to ensure everyone has access to adequate, nutritious and safe food - particularly women, who often carry the main responsibility of cultivating food and feeding children.
The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!
The initiative I started in 2011 is called Thought for Food (TFF). TFF is inspiring a new generation of digital natives to develop bold, meaningful solutions to food security through a yearly business plan competition. There are several different elements to the challenge that involved learning about the issues, brainstorming ideas, developing projects and putting together robust project plans (including objectives, partners, funding sources, and KPIs) for implementation. Student teams were given “missions” . To create emotional peaks, the missions were limited to short time slots, with breaks in between. The competition lasted from March – June 2012. Along the way, each team received the free support of mentors from Syngenta, as well iStrategyLabs, a radical creative agency with vast experience using technology to trigger social change, and Sandbox, the foremost global network of social entrepreneurs between the ages of 20 and 30. Final projects were judged by a panel of experts.
The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?
The future of agricultural innovation lies with young people. Instead of relying on the problem solving skills of a few, we are engaging many creative minds in an interactive innovation process, crowd-sourcing ideas and promoting critical issues globally. Food security is a problem too complex for one solution, therefore we are enlisting the brightest and most passionate minds from every field of study – be it science, engineering, communications policy, etc.
The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities.
From March until June 2012, talented students from top universities in countries as diverse as Canada, Korea, India, Nigeria, Uganda, the UK, the USA and Taiwan were selected from more than 50 teams as finalists in the Thought for Food Global Challenge. Each university brought together a cross-disciplinary team of five students, representing a breadth of knowledge and experience.
We asked them to create projects that 1) investigate new disruptive forms of agriculture and farming for the future; or 2) educate people about the dual challenges of hunger and obesity and spark behavioral change; or 3)help people understand food waste, and the steps they can take to reduce it. Students were expected to push boundaries, merge their creativity and imaginations, and develop visionary ideas that educate, inspire and empower people. From campus awareness campaigns and smart phone apps, to agriculture reality shows, virtual games and educational urban gardens, all of the projects generated by the TFF student teams have not only been grabbing people’s attention, they are helping to change the world. Through our focus on leveraging social media, in less than 20 months since its launch, TFF has managed to engage over 6,000 young people around the world in an active discussion around food security and the future of agriculture. The participating students continue to stay actively involved in realizing their projects and act as ambassadors for TFF.
The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?
There are several organizations like Farming First and Future Agricultures that work towards addressing the issues of food security. There are also business plan competitions of all kinds that strive to reach new talent and tap into innovative ways of thinking. What makes TFF different, however, is our complete dedication engaging young people in solving the food crisis - for the long term. We have a strong focus on community - students connect with each other across campuses and countries using social media platforms and stay friends long after the competition finishes. We equip students with world-class mentors, give them financial support and a world stage to share and build on each others ideas. They truly become friends united by a common passion.
This Entry is about (Issues)
Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world.
Universities are filled with young people driven by a passion to make the world a better place. However, the next generation is increasingly becoming disconnected from agriculture, and therefore does not understand the complex challenges and opportunities facing this sector. Social media gives us opportunities to change this – to inform, inspire, connect and engage more people than ever before. I want to listen and learn from some of the brightest young minds today, to look beyond the here and now and focus on a long-term vision to improve agriculture, the environment and communities around the world. I want to listen and strive to learn new changemakers. I started this program so my company could build strong new relationships with university partners and other thought leaders around the world. I also wanted to help attract top talent and other passionate problem solvers to work for this important cause.
What has been the impact of your solution to date?
To the people actively involved in the agriculture sector - from farmers to corporate professionals to academics, questions like “how are we going to feed the world’s 9 billion people by 2050?” are not unusual to ask. In our closed circles, we can spend countless hours talking about these topics when the people who have the real control over the future are the millions of young bright minds out there – the next generation of changemakers, thought leaders, and social innovators. Not engaging them on these topics and not tapping into their tremendous creativity, digital savvy and drive is like choosing to discard new answers and solutions. With TFF, we have made a commitment to change that. In less than 2 years, TFF has engaged over 4,000 young people in 10 countries on this crucial topic while generating over 50 actionable business ideas on how to make it happen.
What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?
Over the next 1-3 years, we want to make a meaningful contribution to the pressing issue of how to feed 9 billion people. We will do so by engaging the brightest young minds at universities and by equipping them with significant resources to bring their ideas to life. Specifically, we expect to i) generate over 200 actionable and implementable business ideas tackling the topic of food security, ii) engage 10,000+ young people in a conversation on the topic, iii) curate an active community of students, thought leaders, policy makers, corporate partners, sponsors and other key stakeholders who are passionate about solving this problem, and iv) create a world-class online platform to serve as the depository of knowledge and insights on the topic from brilliant minds around the world.
What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?
In order to deliver on our vision in its entirety, we depend on securing sufficient financial resources internally and by enrolling other changemakers to join in on our mission. Thought for Food is an initiative driven out of Syngenta and partially dependent on the company’s backing of the project. To manage this dependency, we are increasingly engaging external parties who are excited by our success. The most critical component of the impact we strive to bring about, however, will always be the students and their excitement, drive, and energy to make a difference for mankind. This is what motivates us every day and what drives all of our work. As long as students connect to the mission, to us and to one another, we see little room for failure.
What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?
Syngenta learns from some of the brightest young minds in university today. Through TFF, we are building strong relationships with university partners around the world. It is enhancing our reputation as a forward thinking company and helping us attract top talent and passionate problem solvers to work for us (we have hired 2 TFF participants). TFF allows us to enter into unexpected discussions on a wide-range of radical topics outside of our traditional business focus and to take risks in how we communicate and engage with this powerful demographic.
How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?
TFF started as my side project at Syngenta. By balancing the duties of my role as the Senior Manager of Global Public Policy, I used every free minute in the day to develop the concept behind TFF and gradually enroll my colleagues and key decision makers at the company. After running the competition successfully for 2 years and making the benefits of TFF clear to the heads of the company, I have managed to redefine my role to become mainly responsible for growing TFF and negotiate a significant budget and dedicated resources for TFF.
Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.
Syngenta has committed capital to get Thought for Food off the ground and run the “basic” version of TFF every year (specifically to support the business plan competition and the online platform and to run the annual TFF conference). To turn TFF into a globally recognized movement and to ensure its long-term success, we are actively engaging other organizations like the Sandbox Network, One Young World, iStrategy Labs, foundations, universities, and corporate partners to set up a supportive ecosystem for the initiative.
Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.
Through TFF, my company has had the chance to build partnerships with organizations focused on activating youth across the world, including Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and ONE. Recently, Syngenta was awarded the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Recruitment Marketing Award for “best graduate initiative.” Internally, TFF has partnered with our community of innovators, including R&D.
What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?
After overcoming some initial internal resistance and fear about engaging with young people, Syngenta now seeks to find ways to support the TFF participants in realizing their projects. We provide assistance in identifying potential partners as well as expert contacts should they have questions or need support. Students have presented their ideas to senior leaders at HQ. And, if they are interested, we are helping them to find roles within the organization.
|77 weeks ago Slavina Georgieva said: Hi Steph, For what it's worth, just wanted to collaborate what everyone else is saying about TfF. I was on one of the winning teams ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|77 weeks ago beau barnette said: Howdy Steph, It was my team that won from A&M last year. To be clear, A&M didn't win, we did. The university as an entity was unaware ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Christine Gould said: A couple of other quick points of clarification: In 2011, winning teams came from NL (Meatless Mondays) and UK (food waste app), and ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Francis Xavier Asiimwe said: *Steph, in addition to Texas A&M, there were several other winning entries, including my very own Ugandan team. My (firsthand) ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Christine Gould said: It is true that one of TFF's key partners s Syngenta and this is where I work - but this is a competition about intraprenuers so it is ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Steph Mertens said: This whole TTF challenge is a PR activity by Syngenta. One of the last year winners was Texas A&M University. The director of this ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Alice Lin said: Go Christine! about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Erin Ponsonby said: So excited to see what TFF'ers are going to come up with this year! about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Francis Xavier Asiimwe said: Intelligent foresight. Truly disruptive action. I am proud to be a part of the growing TFF global movement. about this Competition Entry. - read more >|
|79 weeks ago Thought for Food: Mobilizing the Next Generation to Feed 9 Billion People has been chosen as a finalist in The League of Intrapreneurs: Building Better Business from the Inside Out.|