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Innovation is the only way to end hunger worldwide by the deadline we have set ourselves. The secret lies in networking and sharing ideas – and several initiatives are already leading by example.
The international community has set itself an ambitious goal: to end world hunger by 2030. That means providing food security for the 800 million people who are chronically undernourished, ending the hidden hunger caused by vitamin and iron deficiency, and giving 165 million under-5s access to nutritious food in order to protect them from stunting and impaired physical and cognitive development.
According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI), which was developed by Welthungerhilfe and other organisations to measure and track hunger in the world, the situation is still serious or alarming in 50 countries. Although the number of hungry people has decreased by almost one third since 2000, a threefold increase in our efforts is required if we are genuinely to achieve a world without hunger by 2030.
Humanitarian and development organisations therefore have a key role to play by promoting innovations which maximise the impact of the available financial and human resources.
An idea only qualifies as an innovation if it is adopted and implemented in a broader framework. Experts call this ‘scaling up’. The Global Innovation Exchange – a global online marketplace – lists 4,671 of these innovations, and there are more than 16,000 innovators working on new ideas and the application of existing solutions across national and organisational boundaries.
Welthungerhilfe itself provides a platform – known as the Innovation Factory – for the scaling up of ideas. In 2014, for example, the in-house Innovation Award went to a project in the West African country of Sierra Leone, where more than 30,000 cocoa farmers and their families are already benefiting from efforts being made by local cocoa traders, the Ministry of Agriculture and European trading firms to agree on a joint plan and financing of essential investment. This includes setting out transparent land usage plans for the farmers, drawing up minimum standards for cocoa certification, ensuring full traceability back to the plantation – and, of course, promoting sustainable farming practices. Since joining the project, the farmers have steadily increased their incomes, and families are now able to lift themselves out of hunger by their own efforts.
It is a success story which Welthungerhilfe is keen to take forward through replication in other countries and for other product groups: pepper, cloves and ginger in Madagascar, chilli and sesame in Zimbabwe, and herbs in Myanmar.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations call for global partnership agreements between stakeholders from a range of sectors. Market-based approaches to cooperation with the private sector allow development organisations to access new funding mechanisms and assure economic sustainability. One example is Grundfos, a Danish supplier of equipment and solutions for water utility applications, whose contracts with non-governmental organisations around the world define specific targets for the provision of services to low-income groups. Save the Children is building on its cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry. And Welthungerhilfe is actively seeking to engage with German SMEs in the food sector.
‘We will only achieve a world without hunger if we bring stakeholders from a range of sectors together.’
We will only achieve a world without hunger if we bring stakeholders from a range of sectors together, analyse their skills and working methods and create new synergies and multiplier effects by combining their diverse strengths. With that in mind, development organisations are currently taking up the concept of innovation from the private sector and adapting it to their own needs. It is a step in the right direction.
Sharing ideas means increasing impact. That seems quite logical, but is by no means a given, even in the non-profit sector: all too often, organisations are too inward-looking and focused on their own agenda. However, there are some encouraging examples of how to do things differently: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed software, known as SCOPE, for biometric registration and provision of services to refugees, which is available for NGOs to use free of charge. The charity World Vision is developing software solutions which record the precise destination of aid deliveries. It can be accessed by all the agencies operating in crisis regions so that each can keep track of exactly what has been supplied.
The French NGO ACTED is making its own contribution to revolutionising emergency aid with open-access maps of crisis regions, produced using satellite images. Taken together, all three examples show emergency aid and disaster relief in an entirely new light – not as a tangled web but as a mosaic with intersecting lines.
In many partner countries, social welfare and charitable organisations are being set up to attend to the needs of the poorest groups. The sector is becoming more professional in its approach. This is made possible by the provision of long-term funding from the public purse – but also by private investment. Local civil society groups are often tasked with project implementation, but in many instances, international organisations such as the Red Cross or churches and mosques take on this role.
In its search for a new business model, Welthungerhilfe has developed a market-based approach in which the target group is viewed as a ‘consumer’ or ‘producer’, an ‘employee’ or ‘entrepreneur’. Examples are agricultural production centres, cost-neutral distribution networks and business models for micro-enterprises. As market-based models not only spend money but also generate a flow of funds back to the project, they appeal to capital markets and the private sector as well.
This in turn stimulates investment in local businesses which are expected to generate economies of scale, ultimately benefiting community development. In many instances, only a modest amount of start-up capital is required but is not available from local banks, which prefer to invest larger sums – with the result that the potential for innovation goes untapped. Recognising that there is scope to harness this potential, Welthungerhilfe and other organisations are steadily expanding their role: rather than contenting themselves with implementing time-limited projects, they are evolving into social enterprises which remain engaged in-country for the medium to long term.
This is also changing the way in which local projects are funded. Previously, Welthungerhilfe mainly relied on private donations and institutional funding. However, if innovative projects are economically viable and sustainable, they can open the door to private investment, perhaps through a Zero Hunger Fund that attracts investors keen to achieve a return on their capital. Coupled with public funding and donations, this creates a healthy mix of additional market-oriented financing mechanisms which can do much to leverage vital investment in combating hunger.
Development cooperation is probably one of the few economic sectors in which the ‘clients’ – in other words, the people whom the services are meant to benefit – are not systematically asked for feedback on their level of satisfaction. And yet development cooperation is surely an area where we should constantly cast a critical eye at our activities and develop indicators to measure their impacts. At Welthungerhilfe, we have taken this to heart and will be trialling a new set of 16 standardised success criteria from next year, based on questions like these: Who are we lifting out of hunger? How are conditions improving for our target group? How sustainable is our intervention? And where do we, as an organisation, need to improve in order to achieve our zero hunger target?
In our development cooperation, we have remained true to our goals, the first and foremost being to end poverty and hunger worldwide. In pursuit of these goals, however, our toolkit needs to evolve – and innovation is the keyword in this context.