Leveraging academic expertise: Students of Vienna University of Economics & Business support WFP’s innovation mission through AI-driven solutions

WFP Innovation Accelerator
4 min readJun 24, 2024


WU students and WFP’s Innovation and Knowledge Management team after the final project presentations in May 2024. Photo: WU/ Barbara Sporn

By Brittany Persinger & Julia Dalibor

In an evolving partnership that marks its third year, the World Food Programme (WFP) continues to integrate the sharp minds from Vienna University of Economics & Business (WU) into its mission to combat global hunger. This collaboration involves the Strategy, Innovation, and Management Control (SIMC) Master’s Programme under WU’s Department for Strategy & Innovation, which provides significant support in enhancing the knowledge management efforts at WFP.

Deepening collaboration with AI and innovation

This year, the partnership has taken a strategic turn towards artificial intelligence (AI), with WU students tackling three critical areas: curating e-learning experiences, enhancing knowledge capture and discovery, and improving knowledge storage and retrieval for WFP. As AI is a key enabler for knowledge management and knowledge management is a key pillar of WFP’s Zero Hunger Strategy, the students’ recommendations on these initiatives will have tangible impact on informing WFP’s current efforts to revise its corporate knowledge management strategy.

Caroline Legros, Chief of WFP’s Knowledge Management and Library Unit, emphasized the value of this ongoing academic collaboration: “The fresh perspectives and AI-driven solutions provided by WU students are vital in shaping our knowledge management strategy, ensuring that our responses to global crises are as effective and informed as possible.”

A three-year milestone of academic excellence and humanitarian impact

Over the past three years, more than 100 students from WU have engaged with WFP, offering over 70 targeted recommendations that have significantly supported the organization’s approach to innovation and knowledge management. These contributions have spanned crucial aspects such as cultural change, governance, and the adoption of innovative technology.

“We’re incredibly proud that our students are repeatedly contributing outstanding work for WFP,” said Bernhard Böhm, Lecturer of the Business Planning and Performance Management Course. “Manifesting this collaboration and taking it to the next level is of key importance to us.”

Bernhard Böhm and Professor Barbara Sporn jointly teach the Business Planning and Performance Management Course as part of an offering by the Institute for Higher Education Management, part of the Department of Strategy and Innovation at WU.

WU students and WFP’s Innovation and Knowledge Management team after the final project presentations in 2023. Photo: WFP/Johannes Schade

The 2024 cohort’s focus on AI-enabled solutions marks a pivotal enhancement in how knowledge management can drive WFP’s humanitarian and development work forward.

“This year’s recommendations were particularly interesting, as in addition to discussing the Tech components of AI, they also all emphasized the importance of the People side, including proposing interventions like an AI Buddy Programme to promote meaningful connection and learning,” said Brittany Persinger, Knowledge Management Officer at WFP. “This aligns perfectly with WFP’s culture of preferring to ask our connections and networks for help when solving problems.”

Student impact and professional growth

This partnership does more than contribute to WFP’s mission. It also gives WU students invaluable professional experiences. By tackling real-world challenges, students get to see the impact of their work firsthand.

Johannes Schade, a WU graduate who now works as a Consultant at WFP, shared his perspective on the partnership with the new cohort: “It has been incredibly rewarding to witness the students’ enthusiasm and dedication in solving this year’s case study. As a WU alumnus, I look forward to more projects that will challenge the students with real-life problems while helping WFP achieve its mandate.”

The collaboration also goes beyond classroom activities. The student presentations create opportunities for ongoing conversations with WFP’s international team. This interaction encourages a lively exchange of ideas and has led to internship and career opportunities at WFP for many students.

Looking ahead: Innovating together

As WFP and WU prepare to expand their collaborative efforts, WFP and WU are setting a standard for how academic institutions and global agencies can work together to address some of the most pressing issues of our times.

The evolving partnership is just one example of WFP’s broader engagement with various stakeholders in Austria. Additional key initiatives include the Kofi Annan Award for Innovation in Africa, launched in collaboration with the Austrian Federal Chancellery, the Austrian Development Agency and the Kofi Annan Foundation in 2021, which is aimed at supporting social entrepreneurs in Africa who are using digital or technology-driven solutions to scale their operations effectively and the Humanitarian Innovation Accelerator Programme (HIAP), co-funded by Austria and Luxembourg, which aims to discover and assist locally-led innovations that can address urgent challenges faced by vulnerable populations and humanitarian workers.

WU is one of the largest educational institutions for business, economics, and the social sciences in Europe. To learn more about WU and their Master’s Programme on Strategy, Innovation, and Management Control (SIMC), visit their website: WU.

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.



WFP Innovation Accelerator

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