Invest in Women so #SheInnovates: Four ways WFP Innovation Accelerator invests in women

WFP Innovation Accelerator
6 min readMar 22, 2024

From the communities we serve to the innovators we enable and the teams we build, gender remains at the forefront at the WFP Innovation Accelerator.

By Sanjna Sudan and Lucy Bloxham

Illustration: Sanjna Sudan / WFP Innovation Accelerator

Considerable strides have been made in recent decades to enable women to meet their potential. However, despite making up half of the global population, women continue to confront challenges and are burdened by inequalities perpetuated by longstanding cultural norms.

Therefore, investing in women’s growth is crucial; it isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do. By supporting women’s education, health, and access to economic opportunities, we can create a ripple effect of positive change that transforms entire communities and brings us closer to achieving zero hunger and the Sustainable Development Goals. However, accelerated progress requires investment. Data from 48 developing economies shows that an additional US$360 billion is needed annually to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment across key global goals, including hunger.

“Across the world, I have witnessed women positively transform communities towards reaching zero hunger. WFP has been a consistent enabler and supporter through our teams, our partners, and with the people we serve.” shares Rania Dagash-Kamara, Assistant Executive Director of Partnerships and Innovation at the World Food Programme.

At the WFP Innovation Accelerator, gender is a key topic across all facets of our work, spanning operations, recruitment, innovation sourcing, and more. Here are some of the ways we’re facilitating this commitment:

WFP Innovation Accelerator Colleagues gather for conversations on investing in women across different facets of their lives during the ‘Invest in Women’ event in the office in March 2024. Photo: Carita Marsili/ WFP Innovation Accelerator

#1 Women colleagues at WFP Innovation Accelerator:

Within the WFP Innovation Accelerator, 65 percent of the employees are women, with 67 percent in leadership.

“Diversity and gender equality are crucial for innovation. Early on, we included gender equality as a selection criterion for all our innovation work. Similarly, hiring the most qualified colleagues globally who are also diverse is important to ensure the best innovation outcomes for the people we serve. “ shares Bernhard Kowatch, Head of WFP Innovation Accelerator.

#2 Sourcing Female-led Enterprises:

The WFP Innovation Accelerator actively seeks out enterprises led by women or those with a substantial representation of women in their workforce, especially in leadership positions. By actively sourcing female-led enterprises, WFP aims to foster economic empowerment for women and promote gender equality in entrepreneurship. This strategy not only enhances women’s financial security but also acknowledges their crucial role in addressing challenges related to food security and reaching Sustainable Development Goals.

For instance, one of our portfolio innovations Solar for Resilience (S4R), aims to use solar-based technologies to strengthen the resilience and livelihoods of women and smallholder farmers. S4R builds on a model developed by S4S Technologies, a company co-founded by Nidhi Pant that won the Earthshot Prize in 2023.

“Food waste, rural poverty and gender inequality are deeply intertwined challenges for the people of India. S4S’s innovative solution combines cutting-edge technology with the practical support and training needed to ensure women farmers can thrive and improve their livelihoods for themselves and their families.” she shares.

WFP Innovation Accelerator encourages female representatives from selected startups to participate in bootcamps and pitch their solutions during Pitch Events. Four out of the eight pitchers were women at our most recent Pitch Event in February 2024.

Regina Schmidt, Head of SDG2 Acceleration at the WFP Innovation Accelerator shares, “At the core of our startup sourcing and selection process is a commitment to diversity and female representation. We believe this fosters a richer pool of innovators, bringing a wider range of perspectives to problem-solving and ultimately leading to more effective solutions.”

#3 Innovative Finance for Women:

WFP is developing innovative financial mechanisms to empower women in their fight against hunger. This includes offering favourable terms on resources like grants or loans to women-led initiatives, aiming to dismantle financial barriers hindering their path to food security.

For instance, HesabPay’s Cashless Payments solution streamlines financial interactions for communities with limited access to traditional banking in Afghanistan by offering a dependable digital platform for fund management. With HesabPay, people can securely receive aid from WFP digitally, ensuring quick access to funds, even for those without smartphones.

HesabPay not only enhances financial accessibility but also promotes financial inclusion and women’s economic empowerment by providing women with access to a digital bank account, which wasn’t possible before. With this access, women can manage their digital credit and have the autonomy to decide whether they will spend it on food or other items, or save it.

“Investing in women to me has meant leveraging the frustrations or anger towards the gender inequalities and policies aimed at belittling women, and using that energy to change what we can, for the better.” shares Kelly Stablein, Digital Financial Inclusion Lead, WFP Afghanistan who recently participated in WFP Innovation Pitch Event to represent HesabPay.

Another WFP initiative, SheCan, enables female farmers to access the financial support they need to succeed. SheCan supports women in remote areas by increasing their financial literacy, enabling the use of digital banking tools and improving their access to markets. SheCan also helps loan providers offer affordable loans specifically for women farmers. The solution was initiated in 2022 and has already helped thousands of women in Rwanda, Zambia, Peru, and Malawi get loans. In 2023, SheCan reached almost 6,000 people.

Local women at a culinary school in Bairro 25 de Junho Metuge, Mozambique. Photo: Tenzo A. Abarto / Mother2Mother

#4 Keeping Women Central to Reach and Impact:

Zero Hunger is only possible when everyone has equal opportunities, access to resources and a voice in the decisions that shape their households, communities and regional policies. At the WFP Innovation Accelerator, we invest in gender-responsive solutions and women-led innovations to address the root causes of gender inequalities affecting food security and nutrition. Gender is a cross-cutting priority within our innovation portfolio and a key focus of many programmes.

For example, mothers2mothers (m2m) is an African primary health care organization part of our Sprint Programme portfolio. They employ HIV-positive women as “Mentor Mothers” who offer crucial health services like nutrition education, counseling, and referrals. By prioritizing women, especially young girls at risk of HIV, m2m addresses vital health needs in vulnerable communities, ensuring comprehensive care for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, children, and families affected by HIV.

In 2023, the WFP Innovation Accelerator supported innovations promoting gender equality and empowerment of women and girls to provide a route to economic development and resilience, reaching more than fifteen million individuals across the globe.

You too can support our efforts to enable the women we serve. Contribute to WFP’s SheCan initiative and learn more about our gender-focused initiatives.

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.