Championing Cross-Collaboration: The WFP Innovation Accelerator hosts its third flagship Global Champions Event

WFP Innovation Accelerator
8 min readNov 6, 2023

“Collaboration is not merely a luxury but an absolute necessity” — Dominik Heinrich

By Paul Ngosa Mboshya

In a world marked by ever-evolving challenges, pursuing innovative solutions becomes paramount. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has embraced this spirit of innovation through its Innovation Accelerator. This year, the WFP Innovation Accelerator marked another milestone by successfully hosting its third annual flagship Global Innovation Champions Community Event held virtually from 25–26 October 2023, under the theme “Collaborate to Innovate.”

A unique aspect of this year’s event was an inter-community networking format which was the result of a collaboration between the WFP Innovation Champions Community, the Knowledge Management Community and the SDGX Community providing a space for WFP colleagues from across diverse roles, units and locations as well as external participants to exchange ideas and collaborate in a curated space with input provided on topics related to cross collaboration and the role of innovation in knowledge management.

Third annual Global Champions Event in progress.

Collaborate to Innovate: The Event Theme

Head of WFP Innovation Accelerator, Bernhard Kowatsch, echoed Executive Director Cindy McCain’s sentiments in his opening remarks, emphasizing that innovation is deeply ingrained in WFP’s DNA. He urged the Champions to seize this event as a unique opportunity for knowledge exchange and to focus on tools that foster collaboration.

Bernhard Kowatsch — Head of WFP Innovation Accelerator

“As an organization, we are currently facing challenges in both operational contexts on the ground and with funding shortages. However, we view this as an opportunity where innovation, technology, collaboration with startups, and the ingenuity exemplified by the Champions Community in your daily work can significantly contribute to our goals,” he highlighted.

Kowatsch further underlined, “The Champions Community’s ingenuity can help enhance effectiveness and efficiency in emergency response, as well as drive the exploration of new partnerships and innovations on a global scale, supported by private sector partners, NGOs, and public-private partnerships.”

Additionally, Director of Innovation, Change, and Knowledge Management, Dominik Heinrich, emphasized that collaboration is not merely a luxury but an absolute necessity, especially in alignment with one of the organization’s core values — ‘commitment.’

“Collaborate to Innovate — Why now more than ever? We have witnessed a sharp increase in food-insecure people globally from 85 million in 2015 to a staggering 345 million. At this critical moment, with funding reductions affecting our organization, the most challenging moments are experienced by the people we serve, enduring ration cuts and even more precise targeting than our standard procedures,” Heinrich said, underscoring the urgency and importance of collaborative innovation in addressing escalating challenges and upholding our commitment to those in need.

Dominik Heinrich — Director of Innovation, Change, and Knowledge Management

In emphasizing the critical role of innovation, WFP Representative and Country Director in the Dominican Republic, Gabriela Alvarado, shared via a keynote video speech “It is crucial to diversify and discover new approaches to address today’s problems. Building networks, and sharing ideas that may seem unimportant today, could prove essential tomorrow, fostering diverse viewpoints in problem-solving”.

Gabriela Alvarado — WFP Representative and Country Director in the Dominican Republic

An Integrated Approach: Fusing Knowledge Management with Innovation

Caroline Legros, the Deputy Director of WFP’s Innovation and Knowledge Management Division, drew a comparison between the significance of Knowledge Management and the role of intelligence in a country. She emphasized the pivotal roles of intelligence and knowledge management in both preventing and resolving problems. Legros encouraged the Champions to utilize the event as a platform to share and document impactful ideas.

“Even if you perceive an idea as small or unimportant, it might hold the key someone else has been seeking. These two event days will facilitate community exploration, sharing, and networking. Seize this opportunity as a catalyst for further collaboration,” she said.

Caroline Legros — Deputy Director of Innovation, Change, and Knowledge Management Division

Event highlights: Keynote speech — In a spirit of cross-collaboration, the Global Event included a keynote speech from external speakers. Victoria Peter, Co-Founder and CEO of Sheznou and MakeSense Africa, presented “Utilizing design thinking for effective collaboration,” delving into three key aspects:

  • Design thinking is more about principles than methods.
  • She discussed her organization’s development of a toolbox for Design Thinking, aiming to transform societies rather than solely discovering solutions.
  • The approach of disseminating Design Thinking as a mindset was also highlighted.
Victoria Peter, Co-Founder and CEO — Sheznou and MakeSense Africa

Panel discussion: “Leading an organisation with a co-created community approach”

The Panel discussion was moderated by Melody Rolph from the WFP Innovation Accelerator and panellists included: Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram, CEO and Founder of Sehat Kehani; Ryan Gervasa, Founder and Chairman of Virtualahan; and Faith Kathoka, a Human-Centered Design Expert from the WFP-Kenya Innovation Unit.

The panel shared valuable insights on the significance of being intentional and not transactional when executing projects. Additionally, the panel explained the fundamental stages of Human-Centred Design: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Testing. Emphasizing the durability of initiatives, the panel highlighted the “build to stay approach” so that a project can be sustained even without the person who initiated it and to create projects with a lasting impact, placing people’s needs at the heart of it.

Panel discussion: Leading an organisation with a co-created community approach

Panel Discussion: “Innovative Partnerships”

The panel discussion highlighted takeaways for building successful innovative partnerships and alliances. Facilitated by Anna Ericksen, Partnerships and Innovation Officer at RBN, the panel consisted of Moritz Tränkner-Tuborgh from Netlight, Camila Alguilar of the Alpina Foundation, Radek Halamka representing WFP’s Innovation Accelerator, and Charles Wetherill from UNCDF.

One takeaway from the panel discussion is that collaborations with diverse organizations demand careful attention to shared values, and understanding varying timeframes, geographical territories, and distinctive interests. These factors influence the strategic alliance formed and are critical to aligning goals and methods among all involved parties.

Another takeaway was that flexibility is key as changes in contexts, organizational structures, and different situations demand prompt adjustments. The ability to be agile and responsive in a rapidly evolving environment is pivotal in maintaining effective collaboration. Evaluation and systematization are vital in creating a substantial impact and extracting valuable insights from past experiences. These lessons learned pave the way for refining and enhancing operational processes, allowing for more effective strategies and approaches in the future.

Panel Discussion: Innovative Partnerships

Event highlights: Project Showcases

The Global Champions Event highlighted several innovations that involve cross-collaboration across different teams and are currently employed in WFP-supported operations to address global challenges

ETC Chatbot SolutionPresented by Marie Elena Bock, Partnership Engagement Officer, Emergency Telecommunication Cluster, HQ.

The Emergency Telecommunication Cluster (ETC) Chatbot serves as an automated software solution crafted to provide accessible, on-demand information for the communities we serve, accessible through their mobile devices in their native languages. This technological innovation allows country offices to seamlessly handle queries and dispense information as necessary, adopting a scalable and hands-off approach. In the context of Libya, the TawasulChatbot is designed to support both Arabic and English languages.

Tanzania Innovation SafariPresented by Tayamika Mattao, Innovation Advisor at Tanzania Country Office.

The Innovation Safari serves as a platform to explore ideas, co-create solutions, and foster an innovative culture within WFP. The aim of the Innovation Safari is to translate the winning ideas into projects and assist Country Offices interested in adopting the Innovation Safari concept. The Safari featured three winning ideas: the Automatic Electric Saving System, Agro Atlas, and Digital Trucks Access.

BancalimentosPresented by Sarais Tineo, Innovation Project Manager at Regional Innovation Hub for Latin America and the Caribbean (HZero), Colombia.

Bancalimentos operates as a social enterprise, transforming waste into digital currency that can be utilized for food and services. This initiative has reached over 12,000 people across 12 territories, providing a range of services including loans, savings accounts, and educational support. Notably, 72 percent of those benefiting from Bancalimentos are women and girls.

Far-Reaching Integrated Delivery (FARID) — Presented by Carlos Paniagua Ferrari, Innovation Consultant, Innovation Accelerator, Munich.

Far Reaching Integrated Delivery (FARID) is a multi-partner coalition brings together non-traditional Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) organisations, such as World Vision International, Save the Children, the Center of Humanitarian Dialogue, Acasus and WFP to collaborate in an ecosystem approach to assist children in hard-to-reach areas.

InitiatePresented by Gonzalo Rodino, Innovation Consultant, Innovation Accelerator, Munich.

Initiate is an initiative which brings together emergency response actors, as well as research and academic institutions, to develop innovative and standardized solutions towards health emergencies.

PlugPAYPresented by Nicolas Umuhizi, Innovation Consultant, Innovation Accelerator, Munich.

PlugPAY is a digital payment platform enabling humanitarian organizations to offer cash assistance through a unified solution. PlugPAY has reached over 600,000 people in Zambia and Sri Lanka, facilitating transfers exceeding US$ 7 million.

Kitchen In A BoxPresented by Haydee Paguaga, Interim Partnerships and Communications Officer, RBP El Salvador, San Salvador.

The Kitchen-In-A-Box (KIAB) improves cooking and storage facilities in schools in El Salvador by utilizing recycled containers and converting them into kitchens.

Annapurti (GrainATM)Presented by Ankit Sood, Head of Social Protection and Supply Chain, WFP India.

Annapurti or GrainATM is an automated multi-commodity grain dispensing solution which enables access to full entitlements with dignity and fairness.

This year’s Global Champions Event was not just an event but a commitment to forging a better future through innovation, knowledge exchange, and cross-collaboration. The shared passion and dedication demonstrated during the event signal a bright future for addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and watch our videos on YouTube.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.