Small business engagement for the UN Food Systems Summit

  • Client: World Food Programme
  • Location: Global

The challenge: How to boost the role of SMEs in providing good food for all?

Our food systems must become more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient. This is the imperative set by the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute at least half the food system, so are fundamental in efforts to transform the ways we produce and consume our food.

Despite their importance, food SMEs were at risk of under-representation in the Summit’s multistakeholder process. Entrepreneurs are focused on running their businesses, not turning up to be heard in global policy discussions. The Summit’s secretariat contracted Wasafiri to engage SMEs from all over the world, so their needs and potential were understood, and their entrepreneurial drive was mobilised for food systems transformation.

Our work: Engaging food SMEs globally

UNFSS Competition: Best 50 Small Businesses providing Good Food for All

On behalf of the United Nations, Wasafiri ran a competition that showcased 50 diverse winners from 42 different countries. The winning businesses contribute to healthier, more sustainable and equitable food for the communities they serve. Their inspiration sends a message to entrepreneurs and food system leaders everywhere – that SMEs are quiet revolutionaries forging better food systems.

  • 1700 +applications came from 135 countries, with half the winning businesses led by youth and nearly half led by women.
  • Every winner is featured on the UNFSS website and the VC4A website.
  • Every winner has a feature video on UNFSS social media and an online badge to laud their achievement.
  • $100k in prizes were distributed equally across all the winners.
  • Winners’ announcement was live-streamed at the Pre-Summit with celebrity chef Robert Oliver
  • Four of the winners represented their peers across multiple stages at the Pre-Summit
  • A video showcased their collective story, including at the Pre-Summit’s closing ceremony.
  • Extensive global press coverage included, for example, Sky TV, Forbes, the Straits Times, the Hindu Times, and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

Dialogues, Survey & Outreach: SMEs and Support Organisations mobilised globally

Regional dialogues, an SME survey, an expert survey and expert interviews all served to engage a global community of food SMEs and their support organisations, consulting them on their role in food system transformation, and rallying them to the Summit agenda.

  • 11 regional dialogues in 7 languages engaged a thousand people in discussion.
  • Global dialogues for Eastern and Western Hemispheres ensured validation of the report and the SME pledge, with hundreds participating via zoom and live stream.
  • 2673 SME survey responses received from 137 countries.
  • 58 expert survey respondents and 14 expert interviews.
  • Contact list developed of over 5000 food SMEs and ecosystem support organisations, with regular communications to update them of the Pre-Summit’s progress in relation to SMEs.

Small Business Agenda: Bringing the opportunity and needs of SMEs to the Summit

The consultation combined with a literature review to develop the report “A Small Business Agenda for the UN Food Systems Summit”. This highlighted the essential role of SMEs in food systems transformation and the importance of improving the enabling ecosystem to help purpose-drive food SMEs thrive.

  • The Small Business Agenda report was shared as Pre-Summit pre-reading and included with press releases, with the exec summary translated into all UN languages (Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish).
  • The SME Priorities session presented report findings to the Pre-Summit with responses from entrepreneurs and food system leaders.

SME Pledge: Committing to the decade of action

An SME pledge was launched at the Pre-Summit, committing SMEs to help forge stronger food systems, asking food system actors to create the conditions for food SMEs to flourish, and ensuring entrepreneurs offer to contribute to action coalitions and national pathways.

  • Pledge harnessed as the SME commitment statement during the Pre-Summit’s closing ceremony.
  • Over 700 SMEs signed the pledge.

The outcome: SMEs mobilised to inform and act upon the Summit’s ambitions

Wasafiri’s work for the UN Food Systems Summit successfully mobilised a previously under-represented constituency of dynamic change-makers – small and medium sized enterprises. The subsequent report, “A Small Business Agenda for the UN Food Systems Summit”, presents a compelling case for SMEs as drivers of positive change:

  • Integrating markets to reduce poverty and hunger.
  • Creating opportunities that improve equity.
  • Innovating and scaling solutions for nutrition and sustainability.
  • Elevating resilience to shocks, through embedded yet agile business models.
  • Influencing to passionately shape the future of food.

To deliver the Summit’s goals over the next decade, the report argues that cross-sector actors must create conditions for purpose-driven SMEs to flourish:

  • Create a business ecosystem in which food SMEs thrive
  • Incentivise businesses to provide good food for all
  • Increase the power of SMEs within sector planning

SMEs are hungry to see change at country-level and within specific value chains, where it will become tangible for them. As the Summit process moves from dialogue to delivery, food system leaders now better understand the potential scale of impact that SMEs can deliver and have a nascent global network of entrepreneurs ready to support the decade of action.

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