Sustainable Futures: Cities, Water and Cross-Sector Collaboration
Ingrid Andersson is a senior expert addressing issues related to “smart” solutions through community engagement and behavioural change at the International Organisation for Knowledge Economy and Enterprise Development (IKED). Her engagements include international projects linking smart cities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East – focusing around pioneering methods to boost citizen adoption of new social and environmental solutions and innovations. In particular, she has been working on tackling effects of climate change and desertification in Oman, where she has used the “Groasis Waterboxx”( https://www.groasis.com/en) to plant over 3000 trees in the last three years with a survival rate of over 90%. Her other areas of interest and project development include: ecological villages; behavioural change around health; and women’s entrepreneurship programs.
You’ve been working across sectors and exploring issues ranging from water management to urban sustainabilty. What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities of collaborating across sectors around issues of sustainability?
I think it’s definitely difficult to work with both governments and large corporations because there’s a big gap in their interests as well as some of the big companies this is about, you know, giving the shareholders what they want and for the government, it’s about managing resources, but also to manage the strategies that are put in place by the leadership of the country. So there is a sort of gap of understanding… We have to bring government, business and other actors together. And I think the best way to do this is to actually collaborate actively together.
The more diversity we can have when we start the collaborative project, the better.So it’s not only the big company and the government just sort of starting a very big project together – we should work across industry, government, civil society, research and NGOs.
You’ve been working on issues of urban sustainability across Europe, what are some of the biggest insights you’ve gained from that work?
In many ways, it comes down to demand – encouraging populations to create a demand for more sustainable solutions and ways of urban living. While there are new technologies that can help conserve resources, there are also many nature-based solutions out there that have been around for thousands of years. As time has gone by we lost some of these competencies and skills. So now it’s about both educating people around certain behaviors and forms of sustainable living and looking at how to sustainably use resources. We have to look at resource recovery that comes in terms of the management of waste, energy and, of course, water. So there’s a tremendous need to educate people, but also for organizations and for governments. So how can we drive the demand for services and products that can create more sustainable resource use? Because when people start to demand these services and products they will be implemented and put in place more rapidly, so that we will have a more sustainable future.
You’ve also been working on water conservation efforts around the world. Could you share a bit about your pilot project around water and reforestation in Oman?
We are engaged in a reforestation project in the south of Oman, where actually 75 percent of the forest has been lost. We’re using our waterbox technology as a tool for the planting of trees. We have a collaboration with Oman’s Environmental Authority and also some collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Water. And we have also BP Oman as the sponsor of the project, which is on land owned by the Omani environmental authority.
We plant on the land of the environmental authority. We have a mix of volunteers and professionals using this water box technology to plant trees. We only plant with native trees and we conduct research to see what kind of species are the most successful in terms of managing the dry and harsh climate there. These reforestation efforts also serve the need for the oil and gas industry now to start to mitigate what the CO2 emissions that they produce.
How can we best structure cross-sector collaborations to create the most successful partnerships? And what are the biggest trends you see driving cross-sector partnerships and collaborations toward achieving the SDGs?
It’s essential that everybody has a shared vision, that you’re working toward one clear vision. It has to be a red-thread through the project. There must also be complete transparency, that everybody trusts and understands the agenda and the nature of the collaboration. That way everyone can take ownership and contribute most effectively with the resources they have. In terms of trends, I think that digitalization can play a very strong role. I see that the communication between people is key in this way, and that we are able to communicate the goals very well.In this way, actors can apply their strengths and their own wishes in a very sustainable way. We should be able to create a sort of cross-border collaboration between people, between nations as well and between regions and across disciplines. In this way, we have a possibility of not only connecting with people in the same system, but also other areas of expertise and knowledge.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF FOOD INNOVATORS
Christine Gould – Founder & CEO – Thought For Food Christine is a global leader in agri-food-tech innovation. In 2020, Christine was invited by the UN Deputy Secretary-General to serve on the Advisory Committee for the UN Food Systems Summit. She also sits on various boards, including on reNature Foundation’s Board of Advisors. Christine holds an MPA in Science and Technology Policy from Columbia University, and is the author of the book “The Change-makers Guide to Feeding the Planet” (2021).
As the founder of Thought For Food, you work at the intersections of science, technology and sustainable food and agriculture – could you share a bit about what has driven and inspired you along the way, and shaped your journey? What are the core values, philosophies and ideas that motivate and inspire your work?
When I hear this question, there are a couple of books that pop into my mind as having influenced my thinking: Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital, both by Don Tapscott. These books talk about the power of mass collaboration to drive breakthrough innovation and how the next generations of digital natives will be an unprecedented force for transformational change in the world. I read these books at a time when I was working for a big agribusiness company, and I was becoming fed up with how hard and slow-moving it was to bring new ideas to life in the overarching construct of “business as usual.”
I joined the industry with an idealistic vision that I could make a positive difference in the world by advocating for radical openness, transparency and collaboration. I knew that the technologies and business models that were impacting other sectors – e.g. things like open source, sharing economy, DIY innovation, etc. – would eventually have dramatic implications in food and agriculture too, and I was excited to start to implement these approaches in my job so that we could see existing complex problems through a new lens of possibility.
But, reality turned out to be a little different than I had hoped. I soon realized how resistant to change this industry can be. And there are clear reasons why: the regulation that surrounds food and agriculture is extremely complex and any solutions in this sector need to be massively scalable before anyone pays attention to them. The average age of the world’s farmers is over 60 and agriculture is the least digitized industry sector there is. There is a concentration of power in the big companies and institutions, which leads to inertia. Back then, many of the industry experts I worked with believed that the innovations required to tackle global food challenges would only come from incumbents or from the expected innovation hubs like Silicon Valley.
They weren’t seeing what I was seeing — that some of the most exciting solutions were coming from outside the traditional systems and from unexpected players. I went on a quest to connect with these new players and to understand their ideas and approaches. Through this process, I came up with this crazy idea for a new role in my company and pitched it to my boss – and, luckily, she accepted it. I became the “Head of Next Generation Innovation,” which gave me the chance to spend my days connecting with really cool startups and disruptive technologies.
During this time, I also founded my non-profit organization Thought For Food, with a mission to engage, empower and invest in the next generations of purpose-driven innovators everywhere in the world. Due to the globally-connected, digital world in which our world’s young people have grown up, they tend to naturally possess many of the skills, perspectives and tools that we need to really shake things up. This wasn’t about engaging with youth because it’s the right thing to do. For me, it was more about empowering and learning from the next generations because it’s the smart thing to do. They were creating the future, and I wanted to be part of it.
There’s a lot of misconceptions about millennials and GenZ’s and many people ask me why I would want to work with these demographics. Entitled, lost, narcissistic, lazy, and high maintenance are just some of the ways our world’s young people are described by the media – and, let’s face it, when your generation’s defining word is “selfie,” it’s easy to jump to unfair conclusions about what your priorities are. But, there is another side to the story. By the numbers, Millennials and GenZs represent the largest, most well-educated, digitally-savvy, culturally diverse, politically-progressive, and socially-engaged generations that the world has ever seen. They are thinking and acting in open and collaborative ways; they’re used to navigating our extremely complex and ambiguous world full of constant change; and they’re putting purpose and impact at the core of how they do business. These generations are also hacking their way around traditional rules and hierarchies. They are tenacious in getting what they want, and are finding these really creative bootstrappy ways to get things done. We have the chance of a lifetime by empowering and working with them.
The challenge of feeding 10 billion people on a hotter planet is going to be their responsibility. And, since most of this demographic lives in developing countries, they have the potential to leapfrog ahead of existing entrenched systems. So, to me, the next generations are the exact people we should put at the center of innovation and our solution development process: they are open-minded, naturally-collaborative, purpose-driven innovators who have real skin in the game.
Through your work with Thought For Food, you work to support emerging entrepreneurs and innovators working across the world at the nexus of food, agriculture, science and technology. Could you tell us more about Thought For Food and how you see TFF contributing to building sustainable food futures? What are some of the most promising trends and innovations you’ve seen emerge across TFF platforms? How would you like to see the work of Thought For Food grow in the years ahead?
Thought For Food is the world’s entrepreneurial innovation engine for food and agriculture. We bring together diverse minds from all disciplines and all parts of the world, and we have created this unique process to get them to develop and share truly game-changing innovations through a process of global collaboration for local impact.
We run the largest innovation challenge in the space, the TFF Challenge, which attracts thousands of applicants each year from every region of the world. We also work with our corporate partners to run “topical challenges” to drive targeted innovation in areas of strategic interest to them. As some examples, we have worked with Google and Danone on the circular economy of food, with Cargill on making the restaurant industry more resilient, with DSM on nutrition in Africa, with GFI APAC on diversifying the supply chain for plant-based proteins, and we are now helping to promote the Novozymes MYCO Innovation Open Call We then select the best teams to go through our fit-for-purpose accelerator program, the TFF Academy. This program takes promising startups to the next level through a very hands-on program of mentorship and coaching focused on business model development, pitch coaching and of course creating positive, systemic impact.
Everything culminates with our TFF Summit, which has been dubbed the “SXSW of Food and Agriculture.” It is a really special event unlike anything you have seen before in the food and agriculture space. We unite visionary startups from around the world with corporate leaders, investors, policymakers and creatives to experience an immersive and thought provoking program, infused with electronic music and larger than life energy. Prizes from TFF and our partners are awarded to startups coming through the TFF Academy, and connections and ideas really take off. You can’t help but open your mind and heart to all of the possibilities for the future when you experience the TFF Summit.
As an example, we just held the 2021 TFF Summit on October 2nd in Rome in partnership with the UN FAO World Food Forum. Since we couldn’t bring the startup teams we worked with to be there in person, we decided to take a different approach. We created a movie called Generation Food, which told their stories in an uplifting, cinematic and broadly-appealing “made for Netflix” format. Our goal was to inspire, educate and entertain our audience, helping more people in more places to care about and understand the types of challenges facing our food and agricultural sector. You can watch the movie for free here: www.thoughtforfood.org or https://vimeo.com/623371971
More than 10,000 viewers in 120 countries tuned in to watch the movie and take part in the TFF Summit this year. Our TFF Community leaders organized 12 Satellite Summits around the world in places like Colombia, Brazil, the USA, India, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, Malaysia, Australia, and Mexico – and there were more than 4000 watch parties taking place in people’s homes. At a time where large in-person events are not possible, using this fresh hybrid format united people around the world, inspired both old and young, and boosted the featured startups to continue what they are doing with renewed vigour. Even though the people watching could not be in the same place, everyone felt connected and was tuning in to the same energy – creating a unique, authentic, family-like experience during the challenging times of this pandemic.
Something else that sets us apart is that from the very outset – and well before Covid forced this onto the world – we have been a digital-first organization. This is due to our work with the next generations, who, as mentioned, are digital natives creating and consuming pretty much everything online. Our digital ecosystem integrates into the platforms that next-gen innovators are already using, like WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord and Twitch.
We have also built the TFF Digital Labs as a first-of-its-kind collaboration tool offering world-class resources and masterclasses in areas like entrepreneurship, leadership, and science and technology, as well as direct access to peer collaborators and expert mentors. At TFF, we live life in “beta mode,” meaning that we are constantly experimenting and adjusting based on real-time feedback and changes in the market. This keeps us nimble, agile, and relevant.
There are many ways that we are contributing to sustainable food futures. First of all, through engagement, inspiration and action, we are creating a groundswell of momentum and change across the food and agriculture sector, which desperately needs it. We work not only with people already working or studying food, agriculture or related sciences, but also with architects, engineers, artists and designers. We purposefully seek out all kinds of people with all kinds of skills and perspectives, because with challenges so big and urgent, we need all hands on deck caring about, thinking about and taking action.
The TFF Community has grown to comprise 30,000 people – this is growing every year. Once we ignite their interest, we support these creative innovators in developing and accelerating their solutions no matter where they are in the world. Everything we do is free and digitally-available. And, we help to make sure these talents and their solutions can be successful by connecting them to jobs, partners and investment opportunities. In the past ten years, we have helped to launch more than 60 cutting-edge startups that have raised millions of dollars in capital, are creating hundreds of new jobs, and are working with industry leaders. In 2020, I joined the Advisory Committee of the UN Food Systems Summit, and with this opportunity, I was able to elevate and amplify the voices and needs of our next-gen community to world leaders.
In terms of trends, I think it is important to point out that by working with the next generations, we get a front row seat to see the future as it is being shaped. This is really exciting and a big opportunity for our partners too! As an example, we have been talking about alternative proteins and regenerative agriculture since 2011. We get signals in the market before trends become mainstream.
It is clear that the values that young people represent are taking root in the food system. They are calling for more transparency and traceability in supply chains, for decentralized structures, empowerment of smallholder and female farmers, and an increase in localization and diversity of foods and crops. They are also open to bringing together solution spaces that have previously been seen as at odds with each other – e.g. biotechnology and regenerative agriculture, or lab grown meat and veganism. A trend that I am personally diving headfirst into is the world of blockchain/smart contracts, NFTs, DAOs and crypto. There are some really interesting things happening at the moment that will fundamentally transform the world as we know it. We in the food and ag sector should be paying attention and even getting involved.
As we work toward the 2030 agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in building sustainable food futures? What are the biggest challenges and opportunities to fostering deeper collaboration across diverse industries and geographic food systems? What voices and perspectives are missing from global conversations and collaboration around sustainable food futures and how might we more actively engage them in collaboration?
The biggest challenges we have in building sustainable food systems is thinking and acting incrementally. I think they next generations can get us past that. Many of them have almost exclusively known a world in which all kinds of people, ideas, and a sea of information is available quickly at their fingertips. As a result, they naturally approach problem-solving on a grand scale – with an openness and audaciousness that those outside of their generations often don’t (or can’t) comprehend. They also naturally possess a mindset that helps them to transcend the nearsightedness that has historically plagued our problem-solving efforts. And as I watch this mindset in action at TFF, I truly believe that, no matter your generation, it can be learned. In my forthcoming book “The Changemakers Guide to Feeding the Planet”, I talk about the ways we can all adopt this next-gen innovation approach in what we do, no matter age, job or position in life. At TFF, we call this mindset “multispectral thinking.”
The name is inspired by multispectral imaging technology, which allows us humans to see wavelengths beyond our visible light range. Similarly, multispectral thinking pushes us to seek out and see new perspectives and influences that can uncover the hidden layers and vast color spectrum of creative innovation opportuntiies that we need in order to solve our most complex global challenges. Multispectral thinking recognizes that, when examining a problem, the more perspectives included, and the greater the diversity of those perspectives, the better the chances of uncovering a richer, holistic picture – including what isn’t apparent at first glance. As if we could attach a multispectral imaging sensor to our brains, it’s about having the courage to open our minds to understand the intricacies and complexities of the challenges we want to solve, and then pushing ourselves to “see beyond” so that we can uncover these hidden opportunities, and then act purposefully to maximize benefits and minimize any negatives.
The main skills associated with multispectral thinking are:
Seeking nuance: This includes being mindful of the media and information you consume, and actively seeking out new and underrepresented voices when you are thinking about issues;
Flipping dilemmas: This is about looking at issues from other vantage points. By using a lens from other domains, you can explore all kinds of scenarios and “what ifs?”
Building bridges: This is one of the hardest skills to master in today’s world. It is about being vulnerable, asking questions instead of providing answers, and actively listening. Most importantly, it is about keeping the bigger picture and end goal in mind instead of fighting for one point of view or one way to get there.
There is a famous quote from Steve Jobs that I love, and that sums up the idea we are trying to normalize through our work at Thought For Food – that extraordinary things can happen by the action of ordinary people:
“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much…. But, life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
By working with the next generations and building TFF with them, I have been able to do things I never thought possible. And so my mission now is to help more people everywhere to understand the power they have to get involved, to join our supportive community and innovate and build better food systems. There is a bright future ahead for our work at Thought For Food, and we are excited for all that is to come as we continue to grow, collaborate, and unleash the power of next generation innovation into the world.
Finding ways to provide fresh, clean water to communities across the world is paramount to building sustainable futures. 4Life solutions has pioneered the SaWa bag, to help provide clean drinking water in local communities, in a low-cost and sustainable way. We highlight their new pilot project in India, in collaboration with Novozymes, Nordin and the Anarde Foundation. See the video below to learn more.
Stay tuned to HelloScience channels for more updates on the pilot in the months ahead!
UNLEASH Hacks brings together young people around the world to address local sustainability challenges
This summer, 554 young people worked on finding local solutions to humanity’s most pressing needs, as defined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They were part of UNLEASH Hacks, which are 2-day events designed to encourage risk-taking, to nurture creativity and to boost creative problem-solving skills that may not surface naturally in our otherwise busy lives.
Collaboratively, the talents from 19 countries come up with solutions that can create real positive impact in their local communities, while gaining innovation tools and skills for the future. In only two years of existence, the 41 UNLEASH Hacks has already brought together 2000 people among participants, facilitators, organizers, experts and partner organizations.
Building community-oriented solutions
The magic behind the UNLEASH Hacks lays in its community-based approach. These are aimed at addressing key local sustainability challenges identified by the local community and aligned with the SDGs. To foster bottom-up innovation; the events are organized by UNLEASH alumni for local youth and invite local stakeholders and community leaders.
It was a wonderful and amazing experience working with the community. It helped us discover how so many ideas can be generated to solve problems if only one puts the mind to it. We hope to learn more and as well unleash our talents so together we achieve the SDGs by 2030
Solomon Boakye, UNLEASH Hacks Team Member, Ghana
UNLEASH drives creative problem-solving for social impact
UNLEASH’s 5-step methodology provides talents a strong foundation for those that desire to continue their social impact journey. In fact, the majority of talents (89%) report the hacks inspired them to actively work towards the achievement of the SDGs.
The fast-paced nature of the event is not by chance. Its design encourages risk-taking, nurtures creativity and boosts problem-solving skills that may not surface naturally in our otherwise busy lives. In fact, the word Hackathon is a combination of “Hack” and “Marathon”, where the first part stands for the creative problem-solving and experimentation; and the second speaks to the sprint-like nature of these events.
Partnering with innovation company, Novozymes, to mature solutions
In 2021, once the hacks were over, many teams opted for support from the industry to further develop their solutions.
The mentorship added a lot of value. Our mentor really encouraged us to look at the business viability of our project, and the sustainability of our business model.
Yu Fangling, Singapore
The mentors were employees of Novozymes, a biotechnology company committed to creating better lives in a growing world. Novozymes’ employees shared their experience in solution development and innovation to support maturation of prototypes towards long lasting local solutions to local sustainability challenges.
Stay tuned to UNLEASH and Novozymes channels to learn more about this collaboration!
Building the Future of Food: Myco-Protein Innovation Call
Novozymes Myco-Protein Innovation Call aims to drive cross-cutting collaborations to build the next generation of alternative proteinsolutions
Valerio Nannini, General Manager, Novozymes Advanced Proteins Solutions Valerio leads new business and innovation for Novozymes, the world’s leading industrial biotechnology company, and its Proteins and emerging solutions areas. He is a longstanding Transformative business leader and innovation enabler. Prior to his role at Novozymes, he was former SVP, head of Strategies and Performance at Nestlé global HQ.
In order to feed a growing population within planetary boundaries, we need to rethink how protein is made and sourced. Transforming food systems at scale will require radical new forms of collaboration, that bring together the most cutting-edge scientific and business expertise from across the industries and sectors.
Rethinking the Future of Proteins The recent U.N. Food System Summit set the stage to catalyze tangible, positive changes to the world’s food systems. Building on the strengths of the Summit, Novozymes, the world leader in biological solutions, wants to rethink the way we manufacture and source protein. Novozymes announced the launch of the Myco-Protein Innovation Call – a global platform to cultivate new business collaborations to scale up the most promising innovations and ideas around how to use fungi as a source of protein.
I believe we as a company are trying to put together cutting-edge science with business in order to rethink proteins for good – for planet, for health, for improved taste and experience. For that, we need a collaborative approach, working as fast as we can, and working across the whole ecosystem, with all stakeholders.
Valerio Nannini General Manager, Advanced Protein Solutions Novozymes
Novozymes has created a space where companies focused on new ways of working with myco-proteins can benefit from synergies across themes and functions. The Innovation Call invites start-ups, research centres, academics, industry players, NGOs, and public entities focused on new solutions using fungal mycelium and myco-protein in food ingredients and products. A selection of teams will be invited to co-create and innovate around the future of sustainable proteins in collaboration with Novozymes world-class scientific and business experts.
“We’re excited to see a great response from the ecosystem, we’ve already received a lot of great input and are starting to see submissions come in from around the world,” said Valerio Nannini of Novozymes. The Myco-Protein Innovation call will be open over the next few months and is inviting innovators and organizations to apply and explore possibilities for collaboration.
Valerio underscored the collaborative nature of building alternative protein futures, “It demands a change in the way we are going to approach the problems, where the mutual interests become more important than individual interests… Innovation is where business and creativity meet to create new value for society. And this new value is not necessarily only economic – it extends into the areas of sustainability and development, building a better planet for all.”
He also emphasized Novozyme’s commitments to building food futures, “At a time of accelerating opportunity demand across the protein space, Novozymes is strengthening its commitment to the area of Advanced Protein Solutions, built on a powerful portfolio of biotech solutions in the food and beverage areas. The Myco-Protein Innovation Call is a new commitment to the area, designed as an opportunity to leverage Novozymes’ global scientific and business leadership to support emerging innovations in the myco-protein space, and together we can build the future of food.”
For more details: https://helloscience.io/open-challenge/myco-protein-innovation-call/
START-UP GUIDES: Investments, Intellectual Property and Data
Kromann Reumert – as a key stakeholder in the HelloScience ecosystem – has created these handy guides for start-ups that are looking for insights into investments, intellectual property (IP) rights and personal data from a legal perspective – highlighting key areas to consider and pay attention to when running your business.
“We know that not all of the legal considerations that go into starting a business are always top of mind for entrepreneurs – so hopefully these guides can provide a helpful overview. “
Anne Cathrine DahlgaardHansen Attorney, Kromann Reumert
Exclusive for the HelloScience community Kromann Reumert shares insights on how you secure intellectual property
1. Startup guides introduction
Question: Please give us a brief introduction to the guides: How they can be valuable to startups in the HelloScience community?
Answer: We hope that the guides can provide some key thoughts and high level points that they should have in mind: From our experience the areas we have focused on are the areas where we often see start-ups experience some difficulties – or in some cases are simply just not aware of them. Of course, it should be noted that the lists are not exhaustive, but they should give an overall idea of the pit falls, and provide some useful insights, from a legal perspective.
2. Kromann Reumert and HelloScience relation and offering
Question: You have an important position in the HelloScience ecosystem serving as a leading ecosystem stakeholder around legal support – what do you aim to offer to the HelloScience community/startups?
Answer: HelloScience provides a unique platform for fostering collaborations between various stakeholders and parties who each contribute with their own core expertise. Where Kromann Reumert’s core expertise can come into play is by offering legal guidance to selected start-ups in the HelloScience ecosystem. In practical terms, this means providing insight on areas including market standards and best practices, with a view to getting the business ready and accelerating the most optimal way from a legal perspective. The aim is to try limit future or unwelcome surprises and issues going forward, and to focus on creating the conditions for success.
“We are delighted to continue to have the team from Kromann Remeurt as a valued member of the HelloScience Community and Ecosystem, helping add real value to our approach to collaborative innovation.“
Justin Perrettson Head of Sustainability Partnerships, Scouting & Ventures, Novozymes
Question: Do you have any thoughts for a start-up that is looking into legal issues and considering getting legal advice or support?
Answer: A business where issues such as governance, structuring and legal considerations like IP have been addressed early can become valuable later on – especially if you plan to seek additional finance or to take on external investors.
From Blue Sky Thinking to Listening, Learning and Building with Communities
Richard is a bioengineer and entrepreneur focusing on making a positive impact on health and the environment. During his undergraduate studies in Biology at Emory University, he realized that his true passion is to enable other to solve their own challenges by designing new tools. He received a PhD in Bioengineering from University of California, Berkeley where he founded the nonprofit Future Scientist. He has led the Microengineering Team at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University for over 7 years, enabling rapid therapeutics development, disease diagnostics, and abatement of environmental contaminants. During the COVID-19 pandemic he co-founded Rhinostics to accelerate and automate diagnosis of respiratory illnesses. He is now spinning out of Harvard as CEO of the therapeutics company Unravel Biosciences he co-founded to develop treatments for orphan diseases.
“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” –Albert Einstein
“What on Earth am I doing?” I mumble to myself as the white wings dance in the water-soaked sky. Mangroves. Grass. Tarmac. Luggage carousel. I can’t tell if I’m sweating because of the pervasive blanket of humidity or because of overwhelming self-doubt. I know nothing about the challenges we are about to see… and somehow try to help solve.
It’s 2011 and I’m in Panama City, Panama on behalf of Future Scientist to begin working with coastal communities to help them identify and solve the challenges they deem critical. What do I know about them as an outsider? And now, 10 years later, I can’t claim to understand the challenges any better. Why would I? In my day job, I’m an engineer at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. I lead a team that designs instrumentation to enable new therapeutics. When we started Future Scientist, I was working on single cell analysis for my PhD at UC Berkeley. I guess at most that makes me a tool builder and, frankly, clueless about the needs of the towns we support. It also means that I do not worry when we don’t yet understand everything, because scientists and engineers relish the not-fully-understood problems that make for new scientific discoveries and help patients get better.
Although I cannot claim to know much about anything, I can proudly argue, however, that we have focused our organization on being a dependable partner to those communities willing to work with us. Dependability goes hand in hand with sustainability, our ultimate goal for every project we support. We founded Future Scientist as an organization that would provide education, tools, and a product engineering-inspired framework, to enable people to solve their own problems no matter their educational background or available resources (or lack thereof). We provide the technical support. This is an example of how scientists and engineers the world over can apply their skills and have a direct, immediate impact on health, sustainable agriculture, and other UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Communities provide the expertise around the problems. Our path is simple yet difficult: be available, listen, ask questions, listen, think big but act local, listen for feedback. Over time, dependability builds trust and trust empowers development, sustainably.
“Solving problems means listening.” –Richard Branson
Did I mention listening? Since we know nothing about a particular problem, involving those experiencing it is really the only way forward. And it goes well beyond asking questions. Part of what is required for dependably working with a community is to not work with a community as a whole but rather the individuals, stakeholders, within it. This is a long-term investment in a relationship between people with shared goals, a way to build buy-in in both directions.
We started by simply visiting villages along the Caribbean coast and asking questions. A little empathy and curiosity go a long way. It’s like being a kid, full of blue-sky questions and putting aside the adult tendency to shun awkwardness. We know nothing and so we must listen. With the right person, the “6 whys” (asking why 6 times, a classic method of digging into the root cause of a problem) take us deep into the daily lives of citizens of Portobelo or Nombre de Dios. We learn about the water reservoirs from 50 years ago that have fallen into disrepair, common health challenges and the resources to treat them… or not. We listen as the dynamics of local water committees, elected groups in charge of maintaining the town water infrastructure, impact everything from water quality to trust among neighbors. We listen to complaints about lack of trash collection, much less recycling, as the acrid smoke of burning soda bottles and other trash burns our nostrils, as if to make sure we remember what we hear. We listen some more, thinking about what it is that we can help with. We are not all that more knowledgeable, but we are getting a better idea of where we can focus. And we see better than ever that problems are hyper-local, sometimes to the level of a single street. We can’t extrapolate from one community to another. So we listen.
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” –Steve Jobs
Fast forward to 2020. The SARS-CoV2 pandemic is raging and Panama isn’t spared. The country is shut down with police enforcing curfews for months. For nearly 10 years, we have been partners with Wilfredo Aguilar at the Colegio Jacoba Urriola Solís in Portobelo, where he leads the sustainable agriculture program for high school students. We have consistently built the relationship through many projects in the area and with the school. Now we are faced with an obstacle yet again, but one that has upended life along the Caribbean coast. Wilfredo has been attempting to teach his students remotely, but between limited internet access and the minor challenge of teaching farming without a farm, he is wondering if there is a better way to help his students. The pandemic will run its course eventually, but the missed education could be a permanent misstep on our path to sustainability.
Out of several brainstorms comes an idea championed by Wilfredo: Greenhouses for Learning, a program where the farm comes to each student. We mobilize our donor base and develop a greenhouse design we can package and drop off to students along with seeds, seedlings, and the power of peer pressure of a WhatsApp group to share progress among them. Our team works with Wilfredo to distribute the supplies, and the group chat is lighting up: photos of greenhouses, planted seeds, troubleshooting, and lot of emojis and encouragement from all. A teaching rubric of sorts, along with creative ideas for composting, microbial smell remediation, and the joy of growing one’s own food, fuel the excitement. This is sustainable development. It comes from within, catalyzed by the global community who will sink or swim together.
“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” –Amelia Earhart
In parallel, Future Scientist is working on an even more scalable concept that arose out of many discussions around financial sustainability: connecting the unbanked community members to enable financial sustainability of their towns. We call it ConectaRoo. It tackles trust the old-fashioned way: by linking it to money. Our app enables water committees to collect and track funds from homes within their geographic area connected to the plumbing infrastructure they manage. In one town, they should be collecting $300 per month in payments (at $2/household, an affordable rate here). How much do they bring in? $24 per month. Why? Depends on whom you ask, but mistrust of both neighbors and the committee and the lack of general convenience top the list.
Convenience is easy: the entire tech industry was built around this. But it’s also hard: the tech industry relies on banks and credit cards when it comes to financial matters, all out of reach of the vast majority of people we work with. What do we do to unlock these benefits for the unbanked? Well, we just did it. We leveraged funds from our gracious donor network and hired a local software developer and a volunteer retiree who used to build banking databases. And we built ConectaRoo to provide the unbanked with the convenience of the internet by effectively deputizing local vendors to accept cash from homeowners and transfer it to the water committee.
Trust is hard: ConectaRoo requires community-level trust around money and shared expenses. But it’s also easy: we realized that we need to not just require trust but reward it as well. Our accounting is fully transparent, so everyone can see where their money is in the community and how it is being used. Geographic restriction, stemming from a committee deciding who is part of the network, rewards incremental trust within the app by enabling convenience and accountability and extends it to other transactions and interactions. Slowly, we are building communities that not only want to but are able to achieve their development goals and have the financial means to do so sustainably. We will go beyond water payments, but for now, it’s a sign that tools, implemented with learning and listening and being a dependable partner, can bring us closer together while moving us forward toward a sustainable future.
About Future Scientist
Future Scientist is a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 in the USA with the mission ofteaching design methods to improve the long-term health and well-being of developing communities.The organization works closely with communities over years, bringing science and engineering education and tools to enable partnering communities to solve their own challenges. The organization has been active primarily in Panama in the areas of clean water access, trash disposal, sustainable agriculture, and financial sustainability.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” –Jane Goodall
The SDGs all make sense: they are aimed at a long-term, dependable relationship between humans and the planet. We really do not have the luxury of failing, and yet the difficulty lies in how we achieve these goals. It would be hypocritical of me to say anything other than “I don’t know.” But we have countless tools at our disposal, as well as a global community of exceptionally motivated and skilled people eager to jump in. I believe we can replicate the lessons learned in locally-led development and scale that to a global community. The scientists and engineers are members of this community and are empowered to take a stand and apply their immense technical skills. But as in any community, everyone plays a role and everyone has a vested interested in the outcome, regardless of skillset. Listen, learn, assume nothing. Innovate around building trust and shared accountability; like a town, the global community will get there little by little despite the physical distances separating us. And let’s do it quickly! As in engineering, prototype. It’s ok to fail if there is trust that everyone is working toward shared goals. And let’s work together dependably, reliably to build that trust that will let us meet the SDGs.
This month, we turn our Startup Profile to the issue of food waste. Clarity Mapengo is the co-founder of FruityXFusion – developing an innovative alternative to single-use plastics, using rejected fruits. In the following Q&A she shares her experience developing FruityXFusion and her thoughts on building more resilient food ecoystems.
Q: What problem or challenge is FruityXFusion working to solve?
South Africans use between 30 to 50 kg of plastic per person per year. Most plastic waste is single-use and usually ends up in marine ecosystems (entangling and threatening aquatic life forms). Single-use plastics take years to breakdown and even when they do, it is generally into smaller pieces of plastic. On the other hand, 44% of produced fruit and vegetables are lost to landfills, where they result in the production of greenhouse gases that further pollutes the environment. The perishable nature of fruits and vegetables makes it a more mammoth challenge for producers and retailers. Over the years, innovative technologies have been developed to curb the losses; however, the food wastage is still significant.
Q: How are you innovating to solve that challenge?
Our ideology involves designing biodegradable packaging material/utensils made with commercially rejected fruits such as deformed, discoloured, overripe, mechanically damaged fruits. Most of these rejected fruits would otherwise eventually end up in landfills. This alternative environmentally-friendly solution will reduce the utilisation of single-use plastic and size of greenhouse gas-producing landfills. Since this solution is based on abundant raw materials of reduced or zero commercial value, their production and pricing will be comparable to single-use plastic.
Q: How did the idea and insight for FruityXFusion emerge?
As curious scientists, we are always researching the trends around biosciences. In 2018, my co-founder Humbulani Emmanuel Nekhudzhiga and I realised that the quantity of fresh produce disposed of as waste by the local market was too significant to disregard. Most of the products were deemed overripe and commercially unacceptable to consumers. In that very same year, the World Wide Fund for Nature released statistics on the usage of single-use plastics and its impact on the environment – primarily aquatic life. Upon gathering more information about the food waste problem in South Africa, we came across an overwhelming statistic, i.e. 10 million tonnes of food go to waste annually of which 70% is fruits, vegetables and cereals and about 90% of the waste is disposed of as landfills.
While there are technologies upstream (refrigeration, drying, modified atmosphere packaging) to reduce annual fresh produce losses, we realised that actions should also be implemented downstream to reduce food waste accumulation. FruityXFusion became a feasible idea to curb the bizarre statistics (in food waste, global warming and marine life). In 2020 we managed to have a viable prototype and proof of concept.
What are the biggest opportunities for collaborative innovation that you see in the food waste space?
Several key stakeholders in the industrial ecosystem could partner and foster a more practical approach in boosting the circular economy while curbing the challenges of food waste from various points across the supply chain. We believe that if the entire industry collaborates, impactful change is imminent. By entire the industry, we mean the full cycle – from the farmers/producers, companies supplying farming resources, retailers, food product manufacturers, research institutes, start-ups and consumers.
Q: How can we foster collaboration across sectors and across borders to grow innovation around food waste and creating more circular economies across food ecosystems?
Research institutes and start-ups play a huge role in such collaborations. Research institutes can play a decisive role in linking or bridging the gap between educational institutes and the industry. We are all parts of the same wheel seeking to promote sustainable and effective production processes. Within organisations in the food industry space, there is a need to refine the intrapreneurship environment to inspire and allow young minds to bring their ideas to light without feeling exploited. Science and technology are too complex to tackle food waste’s challenges from one angle without possibly neglecting/creating a problem in another space. Therefore collaboration across borders & sectors can assist in curbing the possible challenges from different directions. Governments, industries and research institutes need to make funds available for start-ups because effective entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship is the fastest way to foster innovation around food waste and create more circular economies across food ecosystems
Q: Are there any specific areas where you are interested in exploring collaboration with FruityXFusion?
Apart from already working with the University of Pretoria, we are looking into collaborating with our local farmers’ cooperatives and fruit & vegetable markets. This will help us effectively collect our raw materials and help local farmers get a small revenue from their ‘losses’ as they sell to us this commercially rejected fresh produce before it hits the landfills. We intend to initially reach out to all restaurants at our local the university to foster a partnership and pilot our product before launching it city and nationwide. Eventually, we hope to infiltrate global markets through franchising with some big names in the foodservice sector worldwide.
Q: Could you share a brief overview of your research background? You’ve also been participating in the InnoFood research project – could you briefly share more about your work and research there?
My research background is in starch modification and structure-functional property of food biopolymers. My work is centred on manipulating the structure of food biopolymers using green chemistry to promote micro-and nanostructural changes that will ultimately enhance the nutritional properties of starch and starch-containing food products. Currently I am working on the InnoFood project at the University of Pretoria , where I am working on developing low glycemic index (GI) flours from indigenous African crops (lower glycemic index foods are slower to digest and therefore leave one feeling full for longer). These flours will then be used to manufacture different food products such as instant porridges etc. There is so much potential in African crops, and we are trying to tap into that potential and develop products that can alleviate malnutrition. In a world rampaged by diet-related non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, low glycemic index foods could really positively impact health and well-being.
Q:How can we strengthen the links between research/academia and entrepreneurship/business in accelerating innovation around food ecosystems in Africa and internationally? How can we strengthen collaborative innovation across different sectors and geographies?
I think platforms, projects and programs like InnoFood and UNLEASH (a global platform for SDG Innovation – focusing on bringing together young people across the globe to collaborate on SDG solutions and part of the HelloScience Ecosystem) are already showing us the way by bringing diverse people from around the world to work together for a common cause. We need more of such projects and programs. We are obviously in different development stages and technological ‘savviness’, therefore if we establish projects that bring people from different settings to work together, our problems are half solved. Funding is another crucial part in strengthening the links, as it is difficult to make headway in anything if one has limited resources. Bi and multi-lateral aid can be helpful to strengthen innovation across different geographies.
What are the biggest insights you’ve gained from your work and research around food and food waste?
Everything is interconnected and innovation is vital in tackling challenges around food insecurity and food waste. The inception of FruityXFusion concept made us food scientists tackle food waste and marine life too and that’s just a fraction of how technology and innovation have no bounds.
What would you like to see achieved in building more resilient, sustainable food ecosystems by 2030?
I would like to see young food science innovators being financially supported because I believe they hold the keys for effective transformation. The gaps between various sectors, especially research and the industry must be bridged, yielding a rich, effective and diversified market. I would be elated if by 2030, the global food systems’ key barriers such as fresh produce waste, low productivity, and food insecurity have been tackled. Ultimately we must be a part of a world and communities where improved sustainable food production technologies, food waste management, and business skills are coercive pillars effectively anchoring food ecosystems.
We are developing the world first automated bio-upcycler (IntelliDigest) to process all ‘inedible food waste’ to 3-D printed biodegradable product…
Next Big Wave: The Future of Sustainability
An SDG Pioneer recognized by the UN Global Compact and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Claus Stig Pedersen has led Novozymes Global Sustainability activities for the past decade. He has been central to integrating sustainability into its corporate purpose and strategy and its core business and innovation pipeline, as well as developing the strategic and governance framework that helps Novozymes align and communicate its core business in line with the SDGs.
His own sustainability journey began backpacking and surfing through South East Asia as a student, where many of the beaches he visited were impacted by trash. From environmental activist to a business activist, today at Novozymes his goal is simple: to drive better business for a better world with biology.
Still an avid surfer, we caught up with Claus on the edge of the west coast of Denmark, where days of icy winter storms are often mixed with shorter periods of calm and sunshine. This was the perfect environment to get his perspectives on the next big waves on the sustainability horizon.
It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)
For decades, the sustainability agenda has largely been driven by environmental considerations and challenges, often for business as either as a risk to be managed, or as something to be documented and demonstrate positive, but largely incremental, improvements. That type of approach has served its purpose and served us well, but it’s also largely served its time. Sustainability has mainstreamed into value and supply chains; moved from risk to opportunity; is discussed in financial, societal and governance terms, and is receiving increased attention from consumers, governments and investors.
And businesses are responding in ever growing numbers, reflecting its changed role in society. Looking at the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, the implementation of the SDGs and responses to COVID-19, it’s also clear that the era of Corporate Social Responsibility is over.
Welcome to a new paradigm – the Socially Responsible Corporate. From the core of a business, driving profits and revenues, companies will be credited and rewarded for making positive social and environmental impacts, based on strategy and on business models that deliver solutions to the world.
All this makes the current “State of Sustainability” an exciting place to be and it’s something that both inspires and energizes me, especially as we can build on strong foundations. That’s also why I have always been an advocate for integrating sustainability into all elements of a business, including strategy and investments in innovation, so that we can understand and incorporate the changing world around us. It’s also why Novozymes has used the SDG parameters for new product development, created internal boards and committees to drive decision-making and, of course, supported the development of initiatives like HelloScience.
If everybody looked the same (we’d get tired of looking at each other)
For leading companies like Novozymes, it’s fantastic to be able to experience how much a positive a contribution gender, diversity and inclusion can make to an organization, especially when it comes to sustainability and innovation.
I’m fortunate to work with a team of experts and, as important as their technical competences are, they represent a whole range of ages, life experiences, nationalities, languages and cultures and we have a strong gender balance as well. This combination brings an amazing range of ideas and perspectives to what we do, and perhaps most importantly keeps us anchored in real-world realities and encourages us to think differently.
If there is one thing that the team members have in common, it’s the value that they place on demonstrating kindness and respect for each other, building relevant boundaries and understanding together. I see a similar approach reflected in the HelloScience community and especially where new ideas are celebrated and championed, regardless of where they have come from. These might be intangible values, but they have a massive positive impact on creating an impactful collaboration.
It’s OK (to not be OK)
The global sustainability community has grown from a physical ecosystem where almost everyone knew everyone personally to also incorporate a digital network – very much like HelloScience.
With Covid-19 and the restrictions this has placed on our ability to interact with each other in real life, a “digital default” has helped many of us stay in contact. But it’s also reinforced the need for us to recognize the way we look at what could be termed Social Sustainability, a nexus of well-being that considers mental, physical and emotional health aspects. This will evolve further and businesses like Novozymes are already developing their own approaches to these issues.
Having this foundation to work from, which also builds confidence and comfort within a community –especially one that is seeking to pushing new ideas forward to make real and radical change through creativity – has some additional upsides.
The single largest sustainability challenge – and opportunity – we face is how to create a carbon neutral world by 2050 in line with Paris Agreement objectives, which require innovation, action and the courage to succeed. So, the more we create a caring, positive and holistic environment to work, collaborate and innovate in, the more we give everyone the confidence and comfort to experiment, learn from both failures and successes, and help us reach that goal.
The kids are alright
I am very conscious of my responsibility to help empower the next generation of leaders and I thrive on the energy that engaging with students brings, as part of my Professorship at Aalborg University, in Denmark. I think it’s important to harness, nurture and support that enthusiasm and curiosity, and especially to encourage different ways of thinking. It’s far too simplistic to call this a “Millennial Mindset”:
Within my own team, I have noticed I often learn the most from the newest and youngest team members, and that some of the freshest, most creative and inspiring ideas come from the oldest ones.
How to best describe this dynamic? Well, I like to think that we work for a cause and not just a company. It’s a great mantra to have and its one that I’m fully committed to as we build next-gen Sustainability together.
Its times like these
With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out, the US re-engaging on climate change, and the world’s largest investors driving focus on sustainability, 2021 is off to a cautiously optimistic start.
As the world works to “build back better”, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to spot the next sustainability waves that will shape society, innovation, the environment and the economy.
This isn’t a given, and it requires collaboration and commitment, but I’m more excited than ever by the possibilities in front of us.
Because the world needs business to be sustainable, and that means opportunities for business. For Novozymes, that means better business with biology.
And whilst we work hard to make this happen, let’s enjoy the ride.