It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it – diverse partners coming together for impact

Nikki Feltham
Nikki Feltham

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At Wasafiri, it has been hugely exciting to support the World Economic Forum’s Georgie Passalaris and the Impact, Measurement and Management team in evaluating the progress of their new response to tackling some of the world’s most complex problems. The new grant-funded multistakeholder platforms are collaborations of diverse, cross-sector stakeholders with a shared ambition to deliver specific mission-driven outcomes.

Complex problems these platforms are tackling include mobilising climate action to reduce carbon emissions and striving for net-zero outcomes, strengthening nature-based solutions, improving water and ocean systems, and giving a focus to catalysing systems change. 

Using 13 of their multistakeholder platforms (including Global Plastic Action Partnership, Scale360 ̊, Sustainable Development Investment Partnership, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship among others), the joint team looked at the progress made and the key characteristics of the partnerships that enabled this.

For us at Wasafiri as we continue to develop our systems thinking approach Systemcraft, the following three insights have the loudest resonance:

  1. Topics have acted as door openers to more difficult conversations – By collaborating on a challenge that stakeholders can align on, such platforms can act as entry points into more complex and interconnected challenges, expanding scopes and evolving the collaboration further.
  2. Open and trusted dialogue is essential – Crucially, the production process can be as important as the products – joint development by public and private sector and civil society actors whose collective action is required to bring about change, builds trust for further action.
  3. The value of partnerships lies in their dynamic nature – They can adapt and respond to changing contexts and environments. Partnerships are helping to adapt to these changing conditions by launching innovations, fostering new partnerships, and mobilizing new sources of funding and financing. Ensuring that such partnerships have room to grow and evolve is fundamental to their success.

Making change happen needs unlikely bedfellows to work together. These platforms are leveraging the Forum’s global network to increase collaboration between diverse stakeholders. The insights tell us that it is not just the impact they have in the here and now, but the increase in real connections made that will make the difference.

Wasafiri supported the World Economic Forum in the production of this report detailing the contribution to SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement, and lessons learned. It was published as part of Day 1 of the Davos Agenda 2022.

Photo by Min An from Pexels

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Scoring a hat trick for the environment – Wasafiri’s own efforts to tackle the climate crisis

How can we go the extra mile as a business to do our part in the climate emergency?

In 2019, Wasafiri acknowledged the climate emergency and committed to reducing our carbon footprint. Every year we will calculate and offset our CO2; we do this with our carbon-balancing partner C-Level.

As an active participant working to create systemic change for Climate & Nature, we had to go further than offsetting. Luckily, C-Level being a pioneer in ‘net-zero by nature’, had the answer we were searching for; a chance to double and triple down on our contributions, or what I call, “The Hat Trick”.

Goal #1 – Carbon balancing rather than the limited ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘offsetting’

Carbon Balanced is a term C-Level coined and a certification they provide that offsets through natural climate solutions and is based on 3 core values:

  • Action on carbon
  • Action on forests
  • Working with communities

“As a term and a process, Carbon Balanced is larger than offsetting. Offsetting is a limited term that only addresses carbon emissions. While we work with verified carbon offsets, we always work with nature and people as well. So, Carbon Balanced is also about connecting people in business to the power of nature and local communities”, says C-Level.

Since a lot of our work is in East Africa, we chose the Hadza Hunter Gatherers, Tanzania for our 2020 carbon balancing project. Supporting livelihoods and strengthening land rights is one of the most effective and underused solutions to reducing deforestation. Working with the Hadza (one of Africa’s last tribes of hunter-gatherers), our partners Carbon Tanzania are reducing deforestation over some 32,000 hectares of forest in the Yaeda Valley.

This project is designed with the full involvement of the Hadza community, and they receive payments and livelihood benefits as money flows to them from the sale of holistic carbon credits. Capturing carbon through ecosystems which works for carbon balanced certification and for Net Zero emerging best practice.

C-Level Carbon Balanced projects are all verified under the global Plan Vivo Standard.

Goal #2 – Double down by compensating for 200% of your carbon footprint

Simply put, we need to contribute twice as much as we produce. We are happy to say that this will result in 216 trees planted through the Hadza community.

Goal #3 – Triple down with a contribution to C Level’s Wild Aligned program

“To change culture, not climate, we need to re-wild our people and our business systems.” Their Wild Aligned program gives the chance for communities and businesses to get involved in early-stage ecological and cultural regen and rewilding projects that have a metric of trees grown rather than verified carbon.

Deeper engagement and experience are key to this program that aims to have clients and communities participate in the projects and take part in experiential events. Wasafiri mirrored our 2020 carbon balancing budget for this initiative in three European locations resulting in 66 trees to be planted.

Carbon Balanced by C-Level
Wild Aligned

Thanks to C Level for their innovation and dedication to the climate and nature movement for over 20 years. They truly live Wasafiri’s motto, “Together, we can tackle humanity’s toughest problems”.

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Call for farmers to be in the kitchen at COP27

As negotiators endeavour to recover from the caffeine hangovers and civil servants the world over work out how to operationalise promises made, many groups are already turning their attention to COP27. One of these is farmers and producers.

World Food Organisation President Theo De Jager both recognised the progress made, and that Farmers had much more to bring to global climate action when he closed the UN Food Systems Summit saying, “let us not just be called to the table, let us be called into the kitchen for the recipes and solutions on climate”.

Progress has been made. With COP26 came a series of major announcements formally launching pledges and initiatives for food and agriculture featuring many key actors. Notably, the $4bn investment directed at climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation was supported not just by 45 National Governments, but also a range of philanthropic funds, corporations, academic departments and non-governmental organisations; the Policy Action Agenda for a Just Transition to Sustainable Food and Agriculture, was led by the COP26 presidency, the World Bank, and Just Rural Transition. and informed by civil society organisations.

This is great… and farmers are ready to do more. Wasafiri worked with Race to Zero on the Producers’ Showcase of Action which was delivered as part of the Action Track panel on Natureday at #COP26. Through this work, we saw how worldwide, farmers and producers are already implementing solutions to both adapt to and mitigate climate change and making them known. For example:

  • In Britain, the new Agriculture & Land Use Alliance, supported by the National Farmers’ Union, hosted the first-ever Countryside COP to showcase and inspire net-zero activity in rural communities and agri-food supply chains.
  • The Carbon Action platform led by the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG), is piloting accelerated soil carbon storage on 100 farms across Europe.
  • In the US more than 150 of the leading companies, organizations, individuals and governments from the food and agriculture sector have signed onto the Decade of Ag, the first sector-wide movement to align around a shared vision and outcomes for the sustainable food and agriculture systems of the future.
  • And globally, the Climakers Initiative brings together farmers of the world to promote their lead role and the best practices that farmers are already implementing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

 

In the spirit of needing to not just be at the table at COP26 but also in the kitchen generating recipes and solutions, at the close of the panel farmers marched to the kitchens.

Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of Eastern Africa Farmers Federation and Director of the Women Affairs PanAfrican Farmers Organization, Anne Meis and Erin Fitzgerald of the US Farmers and Ranchers in Action, and Mateusz Ciasnocha, Farmer and CEO of the European Carbon Farmers and Race to Zero Regenerative Youth Fellow (High-Level Champion Youth Fellow), thanked the chefs and those who served the meals across the week while honouring those who are taking action harvesting right now.

This spirit of involvement links to another announcement at COP26 that’s worth watching. Regen10 is a decade-long collective action plan targeting at scale regenerative food production systems worldwide. In the next six months, Regen10 is aiming to mobilise the global farmer community and engage stakeholders across the food system to design the first wave of interventions that will be delivered by COP27.

Look out for Regen10 and show your support for farmers and producers being in the COP27 kitchen. To scale up regenerative farming practices and shift to truly sustainable farming we need their energy, experience, and passion in the centre of collective action. Get in touch if we can help you with that.

Photo by Ali Yılmaz on Unsplash

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The African Food Fellowship welcomes 30 new Fellows in Rwanda!

Murakaza neza! Karibuni! Welcome!

I would like to extend a warm welcome and hearty congratulations to the 30 Rwanda fellows who have this month joined the African Food Fellowship. We begin our journey with reflection and celebration of the many invaluable contributions you continue to make in your impact areas. We are look forward to collaborating with you to transform Rwanda food system up to and beyond the SDGs! And to share these learings across geographies. Indeed, with Rwanda on board our pan African vision is now taking shape. I look forward to building the fellowship with you all.

Murakoze cyane! Asanteni! Thank you very much!

Eunice Khaguli
Dean, African Food Fellowship

I am ecstatic! On November 1st, 2021, the African Food Fellowship welcomed 30 new Fellows in Rwanda to its world-class Food Systems Leadership Programme!1

This was a merit-based selection in recognition of their outstanding contributions towards making Rwanda’s food systems sustainable and inclusive.

The 30 Fellows include 12 access to nutritious food experts, nine sustainable land use and labour specialists and nine food entrepreneurship experts.

The newly selected 30 fellow cohort is geographically spread across all four provinces and Kigali city. Of those selected, 47% are women, 53% male, with an average age of 36.

Meet our new Fellows

Access to nutritious food

Aime Kayumba, Rural Development Initiative (RDI)
Aimée Kaze Ange, Kaze’s Kitchen
Christella Mukakalisa, KOPERATIVE CODIKA
Darius Bazimya, Health Relief and Development Organisation
Eugene Nzaramba, Benelliot Farming Company Ltd
Florence Mwashimba, Kigali Farmers´ And Artisans´ Market
Jean Baptiste Ndahetuye, University of Rwanda
Jean Yves Ntimugura, Caritas Rwanda
Joan Mutoni, Alight Rwanda
Josine Umuhire Munyentwali, Rwanda Agriculture and animal resources Board (RAB)
Liliane Mutuyimana, Kigali Farms ltd
Theogene Dusingizimana, University of Rwanda

Food Entrepreneurship

Abdu Usanase, AGRIRESEARCH
Epiphanie Karekezi, Eastern Africa Grain Council
Herve Tuyishime, Paniel Meat Processing Ltd
Janvier Ahimanishyize, SNV
Kate Ojungo, Kenya Seed Company Rwanda Ltd
Kelvin Odoobo, Shambapro Ltd
Paula Mutesi, One Acre Fund
Thacien Munyamahame, Three Mountains Learning Advisors
Valentine Uwase, Land O’Lakes Venture37

Sustainable Land Use

Alexis Rutagengwa, Rwanda Land Management and Use Authority
Assumpta Uzamukunda, HortInvest project (WUR)
Esther Ndungutse Mukundane, ASPIRE Rwanda
Francois Hakorimana, Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS Network)
Françoise Umarishavu, Assistance in Sustainable Agriculture and Certification (ASAC)
Innocent Bisangwa, Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources
Juvenal Kabagambe, Urban and rural farming development company (U.R.F.D.C) Ltd
Daniel Mutiganda, One Acre Fund
Petronille Dusingizimana, IFPRI

Our new Fellows of the African Food Fellowship join a community of now 57 leading minds that are actively transforming Kenya and Rwanda food systems.

Once a vision, now a reality! The African Food Fellowship is growing!

1The food systems leadership programme is a flagship programme of the African Food Fellowship, an initiative facilitated by the Wageningen University & Research and Wasafiri Consulting & Institute, with support from IKEA Foundation.

Learn more by subscribing to our fellowship social media pages:

Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

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The power of an invitation: learning about how change happens from those on the front lines…

Have you ever had one of those ‘lightbulb moments’, where you get an idea so inspirational that it creates perfect clarity for just an instant, and then afterwards you slap yourself in bewilderment at why it took you so long to realise it? Happily, (and embarrassingly), we had one of those epiphanies, if you will, in September.

Since our founding, Wasafiri has been grappling with the question of ‘how does change happen?” when tackling complex problems. Our practical guide to action (Systemcraft) was a product of this life-long journey of exploration.

Our most recent ‘aha’ moment was to ask, ‘why don’t we bring together some of our most diverse, dedicated and dynamic clients to learn from each other?’ Seems obvious, right? Well, that’s exactly what we did – and the joy, connection, and energy from our gathering have given birth to a new precedent for how we learn moving forward.

The virtual learning session brought together Wasafiri staff from four continents, and wonderful clients from four of our most recent projects.

We dove into the lessons from messy, real-world work together. We shared stories from the failings, successes and imperfections of our shared endeavours and together, identified some common themes and insights.

Participating Projects

Africa Food Fellowship (across Africa) is a world-class leadership programme for food systems leaders, catalysing a professional movement for systemic change across Africa. Wasafiri co-designed the Fellowship in partnership with Wageningen University for Research & Innovation.

Project reps: Eunice Khaguli, Dave Okech and Winnie Yegon

CREATE (East Africa) Wasafiri works with Mercy Corps to lead the Knowledge and Learning Unit of this three-year, five-country regional program to counter violent extremism across East Africa.

Project reps: Catherine Mwendwa and Maia Blume

Feltham Convening Partnership (Greater London, UK) is a 7-year project that aims to use systems-based approaches to deliver substantial, sustainable improvements to the lives of local children, young people, and families in the Feltham community.

Project reps: Scott Hinkle, Mei Lim, Victoria Hirst and Teo Balint

United Nations Food Systems Summit (Global) To ensure the voices of SMEs were heard at the Global Food Systems Summit, Wasafiri was commissioned to help activate the global community of agri-food SMEs, profile those SMEs improving nutrition and sustainable consumption, and identify pathways for greater support.

Project reps: Ian Randall and Viliana Dzhartova

Key themes that emerged from using Systemcraft

It is difficult to harness, facilitate and measure the Emergence of a systemic effort.

Collective efforts and participation tend to unleash a domino effect of more participation and collective initiatives. This is often where the power and scale of system change occur.

For those leading systems change efforts, the challenge seems to be in how to facilitate the emergence toward a meaningful, constructive and measurable way.

There was also a question of how and when to merge collective efforts (new power) with more traditional and hierarchal leadership systems (old power), and what space is needed to be able to do that.

Genius insight from the session: “How do we host emergence?”

A mindset shift in the way people think about the issue is critical but requires a process of Unlearning.

One of the key aspects of effective systemic approaches is facilitating a process that effectively helps people shift away from what they are used to, and from their default reactions to problems and issues. Our practice should be to help clients and partners ‘unlearn’ practices that potentially perpetuate the problem. We need to hold this process of learning and embody the spirit of collective action.

Quotes from the session: “There is a big leap to bring other people along, whose institutions and mindsets are not set up in that way.”

Tensions exist between the time it takes to learn and implement collective approaches vs the desire to ‘see things getting done’.

Simply put, it takes more time to apply systems approaches; dealing with contextual and relationship sensitivities, power imbalances, and a much broader group of stakeholders.

The above systems learning/unlearning process combined with the time and resources necessary for collective action can be frustrating, but it is important that our teams, partners, and clients learn it, and then apply it themselves in their own organisations.

It can help to openly discuss the balance between collective engagement and required project deadlines and outcomes.

Good news, there is no right or wrong way to use Systemcraft.

It is important, but challenging, to know what parts of systems-based approaches to share, and how. Balancing the explicit and implicit use of them with the clients and partners can be challenging.

Some projects were using it and teaching it to partners explicitly, while others don’t mention it at all, but use pieces of it to guide their work.

This demonstrates that the Systemcraft framework is flexible and can be used in tailored ways to benefit diverse projects.

Quote from the session: “We are not saying to people that we are doing Systemcraft, but we are doing it in our work.”

As I sit here writing this and reflecting on the experience, I am stuck with one lasting impression, a quote I wrote down in my notes, ‘There is simplicity and power in an invitation to participate.’

I am certainly glad that some of my colleagues (George and Bhabz in particular) unearthed that revelation, as well as the moxie to follow it through. It raised the bar for all of us.

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Dying with dignity: time for palliative care for corporations?

Organisations do die; palliative care could reduce the destructive and increase the creative impact of their passing

I was recently working on a Forward Institute event with the rather brilliant Scott Morrison of The Boom!1 He asked the audience “what are the most heretical questions you could ask about your organisation?, This question has sent me off on all sorts of mental meanders and what-ifs. The latest being: Should our organisations really strive to live forever? Could it be a good thing for organisations to die off at some point?”

Much of management and organisational development is centred on the assumption that longevity is a good thing. That being able to reinvent, restructure and pivot are the practices we need. That endless regeneration and never-ending existence are the ultimate goals. That survival is the ultimate performance measure2. But is it? Everything in nature ages and ultimately dies with new growth flourishing in the space created. In reality, organisations will have their time in the sun and then pass on (with increasingly few passing the 60-year mark) and some suggesting as little as 18 years is a reasonable life expectancy3 yet the myth of immortality is a strong one. A myth that often seems to lead to painful deaths, heralded by increasingly bellicose claims of reinvention, promises of new dawns and possibilities and ending with dramatic and painful collapses.

Others have argued in favour of the value of corporate death. Joseph Schumpter is perhaps the most famous with his idea of ‘creative destruction’ and the argument that large companies are inherently inefficient, and ultimately suffer from ‘entropy’ where they spend more time managing themselves than doing whatever it is they are supposed to do in the world. But there is a long distance between what is good in principle and what is good in practice. Schumpter’s principle of ‘creative destruction’ often in practice means the destruction of people’s lives and livelihoods, and, especially when an organisation has a strong geographical footprint, their communities. But what if responsible leadership included knowing when your organisation’s time was up? What if with good palliative care organisational demise need not be ‘destructive’? Maybe palliative care could create a graceful decline and provide individuals and communities with the opportunity to move on in timely, happy, and healthy ways?

What might organisational palliative care look like?

Step one: Timely diagnosis

By acknowledging that the organisation has reached its twilight years we can all prepare for a transition. Customers have time to find alternative options with less risk of price gouging by unscrupulous competitors. Suppliers have time to diversify and employees can think about what new skills they might need and take the time to find new opportunities. Local markets won’t be flooded with a sudden unemployed workforce all competing with one another.

Step two: Managed decline

Our organisational models are built for growth – we know how to add and do more – but how about doing less? Perhaps staff move from full to part time employment or the entire organisation shifts to a 4-day workweek. There will undoubtably be plenty of puzzles to manage as we simply haven’t built organisations that are alive but slowing down; we will need markets not scared of big players that are doing a good job but reducing rather than expanding their activities. Customers need to value the old-age organisational citizens in their world and not just the young and new. There needs to be confidence in the provision of ongoing support for products whose life cycle may be longer than that of their producer.

Step three: Make good choices about divesting assets

Are there buildings, machines, or existing inventory to be sold off? The current mode of sudden collapse makes these sorts of assets easy prey for post-bankruptcy acquisition often allowing asset stripping by predatory interests. But what if these assets could be moved on with care and consideration – perhaps with the money raised forming an inheritance for the employees or communities that will be affected by their passing?

Step four: Celebrate the passing

I remember the passing of the British high-street staple Woolworths4; a final splutter of press attention and then a quick burn out… and with it a load of pain for the 30,000 people that worked there. I also remember the aftermath; the flurry of joy at shared memories of ‘the Woolworths bargain bin’- a place many of my generation bought their first music albums (Tears for Fears for me). At the time I hadn’t been in a Woolworths store for many years, but its passing brought back a nostalgic memory of happy time and ritual. Maybe palliative care would include a celebration of past success rather than glorifying in the moments of collapse?

The reality is most private sector organisations do, eventually, age and decline. And perhaps this is not such a bad thing. Perhaps we just haven’t yet learned how to responsibly help them age with grace and pass with as little pain as possible for the people that depend on them. All living systems include death as well as birth; as we face the climate crisis and the need to reimagine our economies, our modes of energy production and much else besides perhaps ‘organisational palliative care’ can help us create the new world we need?

Wasafiri currently works with the Forward Institute, a not for profit that works with many of the UK’s leading public, private and charitable organisations to make ‘responsible leadership the only form of leadership’. Through the use of Systemcraft we help leaders tackle the complex problems they and their organisations are wrestling with as they play their part in creating a more sustainable and equitable world.

Written with thanks to Adrian Brown, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Impact for the, as always, help to think about things a little differently.

https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/why-you-will-probably-live-longer-than-most-big-companies/

Photo by Jenna Beekhuis on Unsplash

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Small is powerful! (when it comes to changing food systems)

Change is imperative... but how?

I warmly welcome the near unity in voices across the world, calling for our food systems to better serve people and the planet. This will be the major cry too, at the UN Food Systems Summit in New York this month. But two important questions to consider are: ‘How to achieve this?’ and ‘What more do we need to know?’

Like many organisations, Wasafiri is actively seeking ways to help catalyse transformational shifts in food systems. Our desired outcome is simple: we want healthier and more sustainable foods to be grown and eaten everywhere.

One means of transforming the food supply is to help those who run micro and small food enterprises to flourish. After all, they produce most of the healthy, sustainable, local foods for local markets. These are often used by low-income consumers.

Kenya is a case in point; as a country with strong market activity and therefore opportunity for entrepreneurial people, the country provides an important barometer for what is possible.

But surely, these tiny businesses are too small to make a difference? Ants or termites provide a useful analogy. Individually their impact is minute as they go about their work – but taken collectively a colony of ants or brood of termites can create dramatic physical change in the environment. Collective action counts. Small can be powerful when harnessed.

Small businesses count

Let’s get a bit more specific and evidence-based. Harnessing the domination of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) is essential for meaningful change of national food systems in Africa.

MSMEs constitute the key part of the food environment that enables or constrains consumers’ access to food. They are big players in the production, processing, and retailing of fruits and vegetables, animal-source foods, and cereals and legumes in Africa1. They play an essential role in food supply chains and in ensuring food and nutrition security of most low-and middle-income countries (LMICs)2.

In Kenya, MSMEs in the agri-food sector play a key role in enhancing food and nutrition security and constitute a significant part of the economy including in urban areas3.

A 2016 MSME survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that 96% of the surveyed enterprises were microenterprises. In addition, the Kenya Integrated Household Baseline Survey (KIHBS) 2015/2016 data indicates that about 96% of healthy and sustainable foods consumed by households was sourced from micro and small enterprise – a combination of open-air market traders, general shops, kiosks, specialized shops, other households, and roadside or hawkers.

The point is hopefully clear: many food businesses are small and taken together, small counts!

Do we know how to help small food businesses?

The barrier to making better progress is that the role and dynamics of micro and small enterprises within the food system in Kenya are not well understood, and this is particularly true when it comes to a fundamental question: how can we support micro and small businesses produce healthier and more sustainable foods at a large enough scale that is accessible and affordable to mostly low-income Kenyan consumers?

The answer is no, not yet.

Answering this question is an important challenge that Wasafiri is responding to in Kenya. We are working together with Village Enterprise and Shack Dwellers International on a two-year research programme that started in April 2021. We are supported in this by the IDRC – who, in turn, is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Canadian Government.

The focus is how to better shape an ecosystem of programmes, policies and interventions that can nudge small businesses to contribute towards greater volumes of good quality, nutritious foods to meet demand in the market.

Generating the knowledge that is needed

While managing COVID-19 risks we are excited to start this research with micro and small business owners in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, in September 2021. Our efforts will evolve over time to empower micro and small business leaders and those that establish the policy environment for such businesses in three counties: West Pokot, Bungoma and Nairobi.

The findings will inform thinking locally, nationally and regionally and we are rallying stakeholders who may be interested to engage with us on this journey. So, feel free to get in touch: alex@wasafirihub.com or george@wasafirihub.com.

This research will not be ready for the UN Food Systems Summit on 23 September 2021, so stakeholders must work with what is available. Policymakers and influencers can take account of world-class work by Wasafiri in July 2021, on behalf of the UN Food Systems Summit Secretariat, that engaged and sought the voices of small businesses from 137 countries in how to help them scale up their wonderful efforts to transform our food systems.

Led by my fabulous colleague Ian Randall with a wonderful team – see A Small Business Agenda and here is his blog.

  1. Demmler, 2020
  2. Nordhagen et al., 2021
  3. Owuor, 2020; Githiri et al., 2016

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

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Small businesses are the quiet revolutionaries needed by the UN Food Systems Summit

Our food systems must become more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient. This is the imperative set by the United Nations Food Systems Summit taking place on 23 September 2021.

Food systems touch every aspect of human existence, affecting the health of our bodies, our environment, our economies, and our cultures. Every day, each person on the planet plays their part in nourishing humanity; and, within decades, we must feed nine billion people.

This endeavour is a miracle of human collaboration, and yet, in critical ways, we are failing. Too many are underfed, overfed or poorly fed. We are degrading vital natural capital and biodiversity. We are ill-prepared for shocks such as pandemics and a changing climate.

Poverty is a daily burden for so many who labour to provide our food. Over the last year, the Summit process has brought the world together to ask how we must collectively act to transform the way we produce, consume and think about food.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute at least half the food system. Each country is different, but SMEs usually make up over 90% of businesses in the agri-food sector, create half the sector’s economic value, provide more than half its jobs, and handle more than half the food consumed. They are incredibly diverse, from bakeries to farm suppliers, coffee co-ops to digital start-ups. Some will grow exponentially to become renowned giants, but the vast majority are hidden heroes labouring to provide food from their niche in the food system.

SMEs must be at the heart of efforts to provide “Good Food for All”. Lift the lid on the food system, and SMEs are everywhere. Sector transformation is simply unimaginable without them. At the centre of SMEs are entrepreneurs, who together make billions of decisions that shape the future of food.

They are pioneers, innovators, and influencers. On a daily basis, they acutely feel the global tensions: how do we provide our end-consumers with affordable food, whilst ensuring it is nutritious, paying fair wages, maintaining our natural capital, and being ready for shocks?

On behalf of the United Nations, Wasafiri was contracted to ensure the needs and potential of SMEs were brought into the Summit process. We asked thousands of food SMEs and their expert supporters, “How to boost the role of SMEs in providing good food for all?” Their response, with input from 137 countries, was inspiring and compelling.

Food SMEs revealed themselves as quiet revolutionaries, working tirelessly to transform food systems in every corner of the planet. Listening carefully, we heard a shared vision for rebalanced food systems that sustain past efficiency gains, whilst no longer compromising nutrition, natural capital, equity, and resilience. Their stories tell of their collective commitment to drive positive change in multiple ways:

  • 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.

We ran the Summit’s competition to showcase the “Best 50 Small Businesses providing Good Food for All”. Watch this winners’ video to get inspired by the passionate, values-driven, innovative entrepreneurs in the ascendency.

SMEs are ready to reshape our food systems for the better, but this is a formidable challenge. They will only fulfil their potential when support systems, market incentives, power dynamics, and cultural norms shift in their favour. The ask by SMEs is for cross-sector actors to create conditions for purpose-driven SMEs to flourish.

Every country and value chain is different, and so are the constraints they present to SMEs. Hence, SMEs need the Food System Summit to catalyse action by coalitions working at national-level or within specific value chains. Listening to the SMEs in each discrete context will highlight priority actions to boost their contribution as change agents. Three pathways need considering when integrating food SMEs into the prioritisation, design and governance of efforts to transform food systems.

Pathway 1: Create a business ecosystem in which food SMEs thrive

The food sector is often burdensome for SMEs. Running a food SME is hard, and market elements are frequently wrong-sized for them. When food entrepreneurs have a business environment that gives them a fair chance to compete in the market, they then thrive to the benefit of consumers, producers, communities, nature, and investors.

Opportunities to act:

  • Reduce the cost of doing business by improving physical and digital infrastructure, regulations, and the rule of law.
  • Improve access to finance.
  • Ease SME graduation from the informal to the formal sector.
  • Leverage the power of large market actors.
  • Target business support at food SMEs.

Pathway 2: Incentivise businesses to provide “Good Food for All”

The best businesses are not always the most competitive, so they struggle to scale up. Most consumers currently prioritise price above all other factors, and good businesses cannot out-compete those who deliver their products whilst externalising their cost to public health, natural capital, or social equity. The food system will continue to fail us until these incentives change.

Opportunities to act:

  • Ensure prices reflect the true cost of food, while safeguarding affordability.
  • Create consumer demand for “good food”.
  • Fast-track innovative entrepreneurs.

Pathway 3: Increase the power of food SMEs within sector planning

Small businesses have quiet and isolated voices. Compared to government or large businesses, they are relatively underpowered in their ability to collectively influence decision-making, regulations, resource allocation, and cultural values within food systems. Only once power dynamics change can we expect to make progress on rebalancing food systems in favour of the SMEs pioneering good food for all.

Opportunities to act:

  • Elevate the voice of SMEs.
  • Structure SMEs into dynamic networks.
  • Plan and invest according to context-specific priorities.

These messages were presented by Wasafiri in the report “A Small Business Agenda” and in a session at the Pre-Summit that is available to watch.

The Summit convenes imminently. UN member states will share plans to forge better food systems. They are far more likely to achieve their worthy goals if they work in partnership with the small businesses that are already revolutionising our food day-in-day-out.

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