Feeding The World: Net Impact’s SolutionsLab at Tufts University

Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Education, Entrepreneurship, Measure Impact

IMG_6777Net Impact kicked off a new series of events on April 17, aimed at engaging students in tri-sector efforts to craft solutions for the world’s most pressing social issues. The inaugural event was hosted by Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Net Impact chapter, and brought together a crowd of approximately 50 undergraduate and graduate students with representatives from the public, non-profit, and private sector to answer the question:

“How will we feed Earth’s 9 billion people by 2050 using social innovations to help farmers grow more food with more profits and less water?”

Speakers with varied experience from Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition, Monsanto, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Conservation International provided unique perspectives on the topic at hand. Afterwards, students and professionals brainstormed a list of the most pressing challenges together.

One of the challenges on the list was knowledge management and transfer throughout the agricultural supply chain—that was the group I joined. Approximately 10 of us joined together with a Monsanto representative to use CollaborateUp’s problem-solving framework in creating an actionable solution.

While the problem was big, we broke it down to focus on knowledge management and transfer amongst subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who have the potential to progress into profitable business ventures.  We agreed that most of the knowledge they are missing is information about competitive market prices and best practices for growing crops. Time, money, technology, and economic incentives often prevent them from managing and sharing the bits of information they do have.

Our solution uses community organizations to bridge the gap. We suggested that Monsanto and other big companies and governments invest in cooperative-like community organizations that collect farmer members’ cell phone numbers and sell them to traders for money that can be re-invested in farmer training. The way it would work is this:

  1. Farmers give their cell number to the cooperative for membership.
  2. The cooperative sells that number to traders who pass through the region.
  3. The trader uses the list of numbers to send SMS messages about when and where he or she will be passing through; what products the trader is interested in buying; and at what price. This delivers competitive market price information to farmers where they are, at little cost, using technology they already have.
  4. The money the cooperative receives from the traders is then reinvested in local trainings for member farmers on best practices for growing local crops.

The presenters had positive feedback for our solution, which will be aggregated with others’ from this event and from events held across the country over the coming months. It will then be shared with the larger Net Impact community of students and professionals at the 2015 annual Net Impact conference in Seattle.

Overall, this series of events boasts an innovative partnership model that has the potential to produce private-public partnerships, corporate talent pipelines, and most importantly, real solutions to global social problems that once felt too big to tackle. Like the world’s population, those problems are growing by the minute, and it’s up to us to solve them now.

By Alexandra Edelstein

Image Credit: Desiree Lyons

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