How we received 832 applications for the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa

WFP Innovation Accelerator
8 min readMay 6, 2024


What does it take to source more than 800 applications from innovative ventures across Africa working to end hunger? Our Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa sourcing team shares their best tips to engage innovation ecosystems for strong results.

By Jackie Negro, Bethany Plant and Nourdine Khalifeh

The Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa seeks to raise awareness for the potential African entrepreneurs hold to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. | Photo: WFP/Carita Marsili

At the WFP Innovation Accelerator, we often discuss accelerating impact. That is, how can we find the people and ventures making the most impact through innovation in their communities and bring them to new heights?

Central to this work are our end-to-end acceleration programmes, which source, support and scale high-potential solutions saving and changing the lives of vulnerable communities. To make these programmes successful, we must find the right solutions at the right time and provide them with the right resources to expand and deepen their impact.

The Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa, one of our end-to-end acceleration programmes, seeks to raise awareness of the potential African entrepreneurs hold to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and honour the late Kofi Annan’s legacy and commitment to a more just and equitable world. The award is supported by the Austrian Federal Chancellery and the Kofi Annan Foundation, and operationally supported by the Austrian Development Agency and the WFP Innovation Accelerator.

After a successful first edition focused on digital health solutions, the second edition of the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa is committed to identifying and supporting innovative solutions that enhance food security and food systems resilience throughout Africa.

This year’s edition of the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa garnered 832 applications, including from 49 countries in Africa. This exceeded our programme goals and left us with an unmatched opportunity to create a strong cohort to participate in the innovation bootcamp and, ultimately, award three innovative ventures up to US$250,000 to continue expanding their impact.

Achieving this did not happen overnight — instead, it took purposeful decisions and work from the WFP Innovation Accelerator’s SDGx team, who co-create programmes and projects with partners to provide platforms for innovation to achieve the SDGs. Led by the principles of community, partnership, inclusivity and equity, the SDGx team and our partners at the Austrian Federal Chancellery, the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Austrian Development Agency developed a tailored, strategic sourcing plan to energize more than 800 innovators to apply for the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa.

When reflecting on this sourcing process, we came to realize three key elements to success: listening, connecting and adapting. These elements, detailed below, helped us reach our goals and build an inspirational cohort for the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa.

Listen first to make the best programme

Taking inspiration from the start-up mentality, we know that to create a lasting programme, it does not matter how enticing it is if you do not have a high-quality offering to back it up. That is why we start our programmes by listening to the needs of the communities we serve and build every phase with the target populations at the heart of our programme design.

While 2022’s inaugural award focused on SDG 3: Good health and wellbeing, the second edition of the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa selected SDG 2: Zero hunger and good nutrition, based on the pressing challenges the African continent faces with recent food system disruptions, especially due to climate change and protracted conflicts.

MyPaddi, an awardee of the first edition of the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa, provides young people access to sexual and reproductive rights services, and products. | Photo: MyPaddi

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report, the proportion of the African population facing hunger is much larger compared to the other regions of the world. While progress has been made in certain regions since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global progress on hunger, hunger is still on the rise in all of Africa’s subregions. Innovative solutions present an opportunity for Africa to leapfrog and regain lost progress on SDG 2.

While exploring the current situation across the continent, two key challenge areas emerged as opportunities to innovate: circular solutions and reduction of post-harvest losses and the inclusion of marginalized groups in food security. With our partners, we identified that these challenges have great potential for innovative solutions to make a lasting impact.

To truly address these challenges, it was critical to us and our partners that our solutions were rooted in the local ecosystem and developed based on deep contextual understanding. With our sourcing approach, we were able to select a cohort with 100 percent locally rooted solutions, meaning they are headquartered in the same country in which they operate.

Finally, we believe that investing in women-led solutions is key to expanding our impact. Especially when it comes to hunger and malnutrition, where women are disproportionately affected compared to men, enabling women to develop innovations and expand their impact creates a ripple effect that expands the impact of our investments. In our finalist cohort, 66 percent of ventures are women-led and the ventures collectively have an average of 50 percent of women full-time staff.

Both of these indicators — locally-rooted and gender-inclusive — were present in the original pool of applicants, meaning we did not need to specifically select for our diversity indicators. This is representative of a successful outreach period and an indication that external innovators recognize our programmes as inclusive and welcoming spaces for all.

Once you have a plan, you need a team to bring it to life. The WFP Innovation Accelerator SDGx team establishes sourcing, programme management, programme design, metrics and evaluation, events and communications focal points for each programme who work together throughout each phase of a programme to deliver high-quality support to its ventures. Establishing consistent team rhythms and channels for communication is one thing, but fostering a team culture of trust, transparency and respect will propel your impact further.

Have the right partners, build the right community

With the programme design and team in place, the next step is finding innovative solutions that will be able to reach greater impact through the support and resources granted by the programme. To reach innovators across Africa, we knew we needed a strong outreach plan.

Once again, we turned to our partners for collaboration. The Kofi Annan Foundation is an extremely well-known actor in Africa regarding SDG 2, and they supported our outreach by sharing the call for applications with high-level innovations through their channels. In total, nearly 250 applications noted that they learned about the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa through the Kofi Annan Foundation.

Similarly, the Austrian Federal Chancellery and Austrian Development Agency have worked to elevate the programme since the inaugural award’s inception. Several other partners in the SDGx community also engaged to share the call for applications, representing the value of building strong ongoing partnerships and fostering a community dedicated to innovating for the SDGs.

Outside of partnerships, we leveraged the WFP Innovation Accelerator channels to get the word out about the call for applications. The Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa has a strong visual presence, drawing attention to our audience and encouraging them to learn more. Across our social media, newsletter and targeted ads, we garnered 179,237 impressions and views over two and a half weeks for products related to the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa.

A critical element of this outreach strategy was the use of LinkedIn ads targeting demographics relevant to the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa. By leveraging these tools, we ensured we reached not only our existing audience but also opened the playing field for innovators across Africa to apply. This not only increased our final number of applications but also created a more inclusive applicant group.

By combining personalized outreach from ourselves and our partners with a strategic communications plan, we were able to greatly exceed our goals. While we originally aimed for 700 applications with 30 percent eligibility rate, we were able to receive 832 applications with a 61 percent eligibility rate. In addition, we received eligible applications from 49 of the 54 African countries, providing a wide array of African-rooted solutions to engage.

Adapt and grow

Even with goals and plans in place, we strive to never stop listening to what the communities we serve and innovators believe will make a positive impact on their lives.

By working proactively to review applications and respond to applicants, we recognized an opportunity to connect with French-speaking ventures and evaluate their language skills. As a result, we have a much stronger representation of francophone countries in this cohort compared to previous programmes also targeting Africa.

Internally, we continued refining our workstreams with flexible team working rhythms, strong cross-team collaboration and the implementation of smart tools like Airtable to keep the application pipeline flowing smoothly. By streamlining our sourcing process, we are able to move forward faster and get to the real work of supporting ventures as they work to end hunger and malnutrition.

At the WFP Innovation Accelerator, we believe in iterating to innovate. That means taking the time to learn from our work and that of our partners to continue pushing forward game-changing solutions. Pivoting as you go to stay laser-focused on bringing the most benefit to the most people is a necessary part of the work we do. For the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa and all of our programmes, we keep this close to heart as we push forward.

What’s next for the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa?

With the sourcing process complete and our nine finalists selected for the second cohort, we are blazing ahead towards the innovation bootcamp.

At the boot camp, venture teams will meet for four days to examine challenges, devise solutions and refine project plans. Teams will also be trained in cutting-edge innovation techniques, receive facilitation support and network with their cohort peers.

After the bootcamp, the nine finalists will present their solutions in a special pitch event to the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa panel. After this first phase of the innovation journey, three winners will be selected to receive the award this fall and beginning their innovation sprint to develop and implement their solutions.

Follow along with us next week as we announce the finalist cohort of the second edition of the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa and begin their journey together toward enhancing food security and food systems resilience.

Many thanks to our partners at the Austrian Federal Chancellery, the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Austrian Development Agency for their continued support.

Learn more about the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa.

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

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

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