By Erin Lenhardt, 2015 MBA Candidate at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Co-Founder of Norm’s Farms, 2014 Kirchner Food Fellow, and 2015 Next Generation Delegate
As a Next Generation Delegate, I was thrilled to see that one of the minor themes of The 2015 Global Food Security Symposium was the role that private industry can play in helping to create sustainable food systems. As a Chicago Booth business school student who believes in the power of free markets to bring important innovations to the markets that demand them, business is a topic I feel is not breached often enough within the context of food security.
The Lightning Presentations, chaired by Allison Aubrey (Food and Health Correspondent, NPR News), were especially rich with direct and indirect allusions to the power of business to solve important problems. Salif Romano Niang (Cofounder and Chief Impact Officer, Malô) talked about the work his start-up is doing to address rice production issues in Mali. David Fleming (Vice President, Public Health Impact, PATH) and Shen Tong (Founder, Managing Director, FOOD-X) spoke more directly about the role business plays in creating scalable, lasting solutions to food security issues.
David Fleming kicked off the Lightning Presentations by sharing four examples of innovations that impact human health and nutrition on a global scale. What each example has in common, Fleming pointed out, is that they are all inherently scalable innovations that originated in the private food industry. Fleming’s point was that the world’s biggest problems require solutions that are “inherently scalable” and also “sustainable.” This is private industry’s specialty. Any entrepreneur can tell you that if you haven’t found a scalable, repeatable, sustainable business model, you have no business at all.
Shen Tong continued the business discussion when he introduced FOOD-X, a triple-bottom line (“people, planet, and profit”) accelerator focused on finding business solutions that will impact at least 100 million people. Shen sees the growing percentage of the population that cares about where food comes from as an opportunity, and envisions creating an alternative to the current state of our food system. FOOD-X works on creating this alternative food system, and is doing it “10 startups at a time” (the size of their accelerator classes). Like Fleming, Tong underscores the importance of scalability: “You have to be highly scalable to create a compelling alternative.” Again, this is where business can help.
While the Lightning Presentations were rich with commentary on the potential of business to solve health and nutrition problems, the topic was largely absent from the overall discussion of the day. This is not an isolated event. Shortly after the Global Food Security Symposium, I attended a panel discussion on “Sustainability in Agribusiness and Food Production” hosted by the University of Chicago. Panelist Timothy J. Andriesen (Managing Director, Agriculture Commodities for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) mentioned that a few years ago he had been invited to a food security conference in Rome. He stated that he was the first and only person in the room to represent the private sector.
Business has been only recently invited to the discussion when it comes to food security. While we often think of hunger, malnutrition, and food security as being domains of the public sector, and as problems that can only be tackled with the support of public aid and philanthropy, this simply is not realistic. Business—and entrepreneurship in particular—is very well equipped to solve existing and emerging world problems. This is because business, by its very nature, must be scalable, repeatable, and sustainable. Next year, I look forward to even more business people sitting at the discussion table.
Read previous posts in the Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series:
- Food Security from a Micro Perspective: Why Bigger Isn't Always Better, Elise Ellinger, MPP Candidate, University of Minnesota
- Nutrition Education as a Multisectoral Response, Matthew Graziose, PhD Candidate, Columbia University
- Africa's Great Potential for Increased Food Production and Improved Nutrition, Esther Nampeera Lugwana, PhD in Horticulture, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
- Leveraging Women's Empowerment in Agriculture, Soumya Gupta, PhD Candidate in Applied Economics, Cornell University
- Healthy Soils, Healthy People: Integrating Soil Science into Nutrition Security, Andrew Margenot, PhD Candidate in Soil Science & Biogeochemistry, University of California, Davis
- The Importance of Understanding Urban Food Flows, Dana Boyer, PhD candidate in Science, Technology and Public Policy, University of Minnesota
- Genetic Engineering: A Tool to Strengthen Global Food Security, Megan Fenton, PhD Student in Agronomy - Plant Breeding and Genetics, Purdue University
- Edible Insects as an Integrated Component of Sustainable Food Systems, Afton Halloran, GREEiNSECT and Social Science and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellow, University of Copenhagen