Blog How innovation ecosystems can enable systemic change of food systems; A Side Event at the FAO S&I Forum

The virtual panel “Co-creating responsible innovation ecosystems that enable systemic change of food systems” during the side events of the 2022 FAO Science & Innovations engaged panelists and participants to generate new insights and connect for strengthening and building between complementary initiatives.

On Wednesday October 12th, the 2022 FAO Science & Innovation Forum side event “Co-creating responsible innovation ecosystems that enable systemic change of food systems” convened a live audience and initiatives taking complementary approaches toward bridging the demand for food systems transformation.

The panel convened perspectives from the Innovative Food Systems Solutions (IFSS) Portal, CGIAR, CGIAR’s Accelerate for Impact Platform (A4IP), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Glocolearning, Cornell University, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and Finalists of the EatSafe Innovation Challenge. The event was moderated by Roseline Remans, CEO of Glocolearning & visiting researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. “The setup of the session really originated from different conversations across the panelists and across these processes that came up, and that we wanted to move forward also engaging different participants like you all in this conversation and in this thinking moving forward,” Roseline Remans said during the introduction to the event.

Key Takeaways

To empower food systems transformation, at least five elements have been flagged across initiatives and in discussion with participants as key for food system innovation ecosystems: 
1.    Working towards a shared vision (e.g. transformative change of food systems for larger equity, nutrition, environment & resilience), common goals (e.g. SDGs), value or impact, and to make that explicit and assess innovation ecosystems accordingly. Different types of collaborators need to align to a shared ambition: early on in these partnerships, there needs to be consensus that a prioritized outcome is positive impact for the community
2.    Nurturing a collaborative mindset and collaboration with fit for purpose across innovations, sectors, platforms, and different types of players (communities, entrepreneurs, researchers, government). It is not about who wins what, but about the linkages made and the impact/purpose at community level
3.    Innovation and scaling should not be objectives in themselves. The focus for innovation portfolios should be to nurture a diversity of solutions and boost those in demand and with high potential to achieve sustainable impact
4.    Democratizing innovation processes, access and engagement and reflecting on and investing in mechanisms to do so
5.    Adoption of innovative solutions for system transformation requires significant change across multiple social, economic and governance areas. To not let the complexity of food systems be paralyzing, but instead see it as an opportunity to connect and contribute.

The event showcased discussion around the lessons learnt on the need for systemic change of food systems, a supportive nexus of research and entrepreneurship for responsible innovation, and future barriers and enablers for linking innovation ecosystems with demand. Participants contributed feedback on the discussion questions throughout, and had the opportunity during the latter portion of the event to ask the panelists’ questions of their own. Read on for panelists’ reflections on major discussion themes:

On shared scaling ambitions:
“You’ve probably heard the phrase, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – I always think it sort of takes a village to create an innovation,” said Oliver Camp, Senior Associate, Nature Positive Actions for Healthy Diets at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). “If you can unite a group of people, a group of organizations around a shared ambition, even if they have slightly different goals within that ... you can still have this overarching shared ambition which everyone is working toward and everyone is pulling together to achieve, and that can then combine into something which is a really kind of practical roadmap which factors in all those different goals.”

On making innovation systems more accessible:
“There's something about these innovators, that often these brilliant, creative thinkers that need just a little bit of support in the process, and access to some of these mechanisms to get involved,” said Heather Zornetzer, Coordinator, Innovative Food Systems Solutions (IFSS) Portal; Research Consultant, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. “That can really help drive some of this, and sort of pull this innovation ecosystem into a more democratized space.”

On participatory scaling processes for all actors:
“We’re really striving to engage partners across all perspectives, because to truly be responsible to all of the actors in the system, its necessary and important for them to have a voice in the scaling process – that's something that’s important to the Accelerate for Impact Platform when we work at this nexus of science and entrepreneurship,” said Megan Steele, Innovation Ecosystem Engagement, Accelerate for Impact Platform, Alliance/CGIAR.

On underrepresented perspectives in innovation ecosystems:
“If you look at who is behind most of the patents, you start seeing that there is a type of person who is behind most patents, which means there is a whole bunch of people who have ideas and see problems and they're not currently engaging or being a part of the innovation ecosystem. That’s something that some of these exciting initiatives can help to improve – create a pull-factor to getting these perspectives and viewpoints more into the mainstream of the innovation process,” said Daniel Mason-D'Croz, Senior Research Associate, Cornell University’s Wild Futures Initiative.

On stronger, persistent support for scaling:
“It shouldn’t just be about who the winner is – it should go more toward sustainable linkages,” said Jennier Idogun, EATSafe Innovation Challenge Finalist; Marvy Auto Dryers. “I think there should be more: After a while check up on, how far are your marketing strategies, what have you gained by partnering with this person. There should be more deliberate follow-up. You shouldn’t just be left hanging.”

On intentional design of innovation ecosystems:
“’Who defines when is an innovation system is successful?’ – we all have very different ideas about that, and if you would ask a certain NGO, company, farmer or scientist this question, it’s 100% sure that you will get different visions of success,” said Marc Schut, Senior Advisor Innovation, Scaling and Stage-gating with CGIAR and WUR. “What is very important is that we are conscious of the fact that innovation systems are set up to produce certain types of innovations and innovation processes, and if you want to change that, it starts with political commitment, investment and new incentive structures.”

The Initiatives and participants of the session continue to connect for co-creating innovation ecosystems for food systems transformation and welcome others, too, in this process. Through more participatory and collaborative efforts, we can strengthen innovation ecosystems toward delivering responsible food systems transformation. 
For more insights like those featured above, watch the side event, “Co-creating responsible innovation ecosystems that enable systemic change of food systems” 


See the resources below to learn more and get involved.


Innovative Food Systems Solutions (IFSS) Portal : Explore, connect & contribute: Collaborate with people around the world and recreate food systems that ensure both human and planetary health for the global population

CGIAR : A global research partnership for a food-secure future dedicated to transforming food, land, and water systems in a climate crisis

The Accelerate for Impact Platform (A4IP) : CGIAR’s venture-focused Research for Development space to co-design and scale science-driven breakthrough solutions for sustainable agriculture and climate action while making sure that innovations are accessible to all – contact [email protected]

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) : Working with governments, businesses and civil society, aiming to transform food systems so that they deliver more nutritious foods for all people, especially the most vulnerable

Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability : the hub of collaborative sustainability research at Cornell University, forging vital connections among researchers, students, staff, and external partners

Wageningen University & Research : a collaboration between Wageningen University and the Wageningen Research foundation ‘To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’

EatSafe Innovation Challenge Global Finale : how food system innovations can be adapted and applied in traditional food markets and along value chains to solve food safety issues in Nigeria and Ethiopia