WFP Leads in Innovation

A mother in the Punjab region of eastern Pakistan helps her daughter eat a packet of Wawa Mum, a nutritious food developed by WFP nutritionists in Pakistan. The food was given to many of last year's flood victims. Copyright:WFP/Amjad Jamal

Last year for the first time the proportion of hungry people in the world ticked up one percentage point to 18 percent. With world population growing, WFP's head of private-sector partnerships Nancy Roman is worried that without innovation, hunger could get away from us. She explains three key ways in which WFP is innovating. 

ROME -- People have been hungry since the beginning of time.  Though people don’t often realize it – an enormous amount of progress was made between the sixties when I was a girl and 2009 when the proportion of hungry dropped from 37 percent to just 17 percent.  But last year for the first time that proportion ticked up one percentage point to 18 percent and with world population growing, I’m worried that if we don’t do something different hunger could get away from us.

We need to innovate. 

Though I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs intersecting with politics, Wall Street, think tanks, it’s at WFP that we are actually doing more real, raw innovation. Three quick examples:

1. Innovation in Food
Partnering with the Private Sector to develop tasty and nutritious ready-to-use foods during emergencies like the earth quake in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan.  The World Food Programme delivers food to 100 million people in 74 countries.  We use airplanes, helicopters, donkeys, yaks.  When Haiti struck, 2 million people were left homeless over night and we were within 48 hours getting food into them.   But we quickly realized in Haiti that there was little for the children under two to eat.   Parents were chewing up our high energy biscuits made from wheat etc. and spitting them into the mouths of kids.  So we turned to companies and asked what could they do:

  • One is making a nutritious cashew paste out of broken cashews and a nutritious bar out of those same broken cashews.
  • Another is working on developing a ready to eat food out of chickpeas.
  • A well known soup company is working on a meal in a can.
  • Another is making a nutritious drink that could supplement our food.

This is brutally difficult.  Because there is no demand yet for these products.  Yet the companies, who are moving fast into the developing world as markets, are realizing that it is in their interest to solve big social problems there.  Why?  Because the people in those countries are both their future customers and their future suppliers.
2. Innovation in Social Media 
Once upon a time, the only donors to world hunger were governments.  And even today most of the World Food Programme’s money comes from the United States, the European Union, Cananda and Japan in that order.  But our sixth largest donor now, is the private sector – and a good chunk of those funds are coming from the individuals one-by-one over the internet.  We are now in the process of rolling out a big bold project called WeFeedback that mobilizes individual, brands, celebrities and their networks of friends, fans and customers in a fun and social way. In short, you type into this cool-looking web site your favourite food and what it costs, it then calculates how many children that will feed for a single day.  It adds up quick because your cappuccino will feed 10 children.  You then share this food by donating the cost equivalent. You can then attach your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and Google and invite your friends to do the same. When they do, you see how many kids you are feeding together. Fun, social, with real results!

We will, in the next few months work with various companies to integrate WeFeedback in leading web platforms (starting with LG electronics).

Research shows that consumers today expect their favorite brands to be involved in major causes and WeFeedback is a perfect way for communities to work together. So . . . innovation in social media to fight hunger.

3. Innovation in finance
One of the neat initiatives we are working on now, how to creatively engage the World of Finance into the cause of hunger.  We are soon to launch our Anti-Hunger Famine Initiative will engage Wall Street firms (and firms on the Wharf) into the cause of hunger.  Our first batter up is Stratton Street, which is giving an average of 1 percent of funds raised to alleviating hunger in the Middle East and Asia where they are investing.  They are giving a percentage of funds raised.  Others might want to give a percentage of earnings or in other creative ways.  We want to let the financial community do the innovating.

                                                                     *    *    *
None of this is easy.  Every one of these things has been heavier in the lifting than we first imagined.  But as I took a walk with a colleague today, I asked him, after a year of doing this: where were you before and where are you now on the 10-point scale of optimism. He said he was at 6 when he came.  8.5 now.  That made me smile.  These things help a manager take the next step.  Thoughts?