Democratizing Innovation

From, by Sarah Small
Democratizing Innovation

John Fisk, director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International, opened the last panel of the day by defining “democratizing innovation as self-determination,” and connecting it to the food system as “our communities and regions tak[ing] back the responsibility so that the food system meets our needs.” This panel discussed the connection between industry and innovation, as moderator Tim Carman, food writer for the Washington Post, noted when he said that the panel was “full of innovators.”

Jill Isenbarger, Executive Director at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, described how people can bring innovation to the food industry by becoming active food citizens. Innovation is made possible by creating a space for people with different experiences and backgrounds to come together. She explained that this is being done  at the Stone Barns Center as they marry technology and biological sciences. Though it might bringing strange bedfellows together, “farmer, chef, scientist—all want to see people develop a pattern of eating that is more ecological.”

Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid, talked about innovation happening directly on the farmland, where “women farmers are asking for more public financing.” African governments are answering these requests, as they recommitted in 2014 to a 2003 pledge to finance women farmers. ActionAid has human rights campaign in 45 countries, and Hertzler emphasized the importance and innovation of this particular campain.

Jessica Rosen, Senior Sustainability Advisor to the Forum for the Future, changed the direction of the panel by taking a different perspective in regards to innovation, suggesting that people “treat democratizing innovation at the system level, working the manufactories and retailers, and trying to see how they partner with other industries.” In order for food innovation to be successful, it needs to reconnect people with their food.

Aaron McNevin, Director of Aquaculture at the World Wildlife Fund, took a practical stance on the meaning behind democratizing innovation, by discussing the necessity to offer incentives, like money, to help spur company participation. McNevin notes that there are “problems with all systems, but let’s take some risks and not be scared to innovate; let’s focus on the results, and it’s a bit more clearly justified in my mind.”

Steve Brescia, Executive Director of Groundswell International, suggested creating an alternative system. Groundswell works with eight countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Brescia notes that there are “2.5 billion farmers around the world, and we see them as real innovators. They help us with solutions.” With “population pressures of people, animals, and climate change…affecting soil, soil infertility, and hunger problems,” change, and innovative change at that, needs to occur.

Shen Tong, founder of Food-X, an international accelerator program focused on launching food-related ventures, closed the panel by saying that “people are looking for alternatives: four to eight oranges today is nutritionally equal to one from 50 years ago.” With this huge deficiency, there lies a huge business opportunity, where “small steps are real gains.” Tong emphasizes the importance of innovation in small steps, and surmises what might be the point of the entire panel: “If we know what the true innovation looks like now, it’s probably not true innovation.”

Written by Maggie Roth, Food Tank Volunteer

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