Innovation with a Purpose: Strengthening Innovation Ecosystems for Food Systems Transformation

Food systems are complex and currently unsustainable for both people and planet. Sustainably nourishing 9.7 billion people by 2050 requires a transformation in food systems to meet the needs of people and planet. Technology innovations presents a significant opportunity to enable and accelerate food systems transformation to meet the aspirational goals of efficiency, sustainability, inclusivity, nutrition and health. However, food systems are behind other sectors in adopting and scaling technology innovations due to lack of innovation ecosystems – an environment focused on policy, investments, capacity and partnerships that can enable technology solutions to meet local challenges and that can have scalable impact. While several of these technologies and innovations in the early stages of development, these technologies could deliver significant positive impacts in food systems by 2030, if scaled properly. 

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Food Systems Initiative launched the Innovation with a Purpose platform in 2018 with the aim to leverage the role of emerging technology innovations to accelerate food systems transformation. In January 2018, the Forum produced an insights report that highlighted twelve transformative technologies that could deliver significant impacts by 2030 – including on boosting farmer productivity and profitability, increasing supply chain efficiency and transparency, and improving consumer nutrition.

Capitalizing upon and further developing the value of these existing and new technologies will require “innovation ecosystems” – including key elements such as investments, enabling policy, infrastructure, capacity building and research and development. Since 2018, the Innovation with a Purpose platform has worked with over 50 organizations to catalyze and support several regional and global initiatives by creating leadership alignment and commitment, developing new insights, and facilitating an “innovation ecosystem approach” to scale up technology solutions for food systems transformation.


The next phase of the platform is now focused on strengthening innovation ecosystems to meet localized impact through regional Food Innovations Hubs that can enable continuous innovation and adoption of technology innovations to empower stakeholders across food systems. Aimed at enabling technology and innovations to meet local needs, the regional food innovation hubs will:

•          Foster and cultivate food systems innovation for localized impact

•          Support delivery and adoption of technology innovations at scale

•          Develop a community of practice to share learnings and build capacity

The Food Innovation Hubs are aimed at being neutral, multistakeholder and pre-competitive focusing on market based solutions and linking those who need technology with those who are developing it, and those which might finance and scale it, across traditional boundaries, with the goal to bring solutions that can address systemic challenges. Key outcomes envisioned:

·        Equitable access to innovation and technology solutions for smallholder farmers and consumers

·        Increased investments in inclusive and scalable technology solutions and enabling policy incentives

·        Enable use of the Fourth Industrial Revolution solutions to improve resiliency of food systems and promote job creation, economic growth and stability

·        Mitigate unintended consequences of technologies

·        Unlock institutional bottlenecks in support of systemic change

The Food Innovation Hubs will be a flagship initiative of the Forum’s Food Action Alliance (FAA). FAA operates as a collective institutional platform to develop, align and scale gamechanger/flagship initiatives where there is an opportunity to advance on various functions of the food system and act as a vehicle to deliver on the aims of major agenda setting processes, in particular the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021. The ambition is to catalyze 2-3 regional/country Food Innovation Hubs leading up to the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021. Currently work is underway in Latin America (Colombia), Africa, India, and ASEAN.  The Food Innovation Hubs are guided by a multistakeholder global Partners Group of 15+ organizations who are contributing with resources, expertise and leading on one or more of the hubs.