Chapter 1: The dignity of empowerment

By Enrica Porcari, WFP Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology, and Dominik Heinrich, Director of Innovation and Knowledge Management

Nihaya, a widow and mother of three in Jordan, proudly displays her WFP-enabled hydroponics harvest, which in turn empowered her to pass the knowledge to her peers. (Photo: WFP/Julia Mills)

To be effective, innovation and technology should allow the people we serve to unlock their true potential.

When people’s lives are hit by conflict, disaster or famine, every second and every mile can be the difference between life and death. For decades, WFP has used innovation and technology to shorten the difficult last mile it travels to reach people in need. What’s new are the speed, scale and partnerships with which we are bridging that gap to bring people food security, stability and opportunities for sustainable development. This is the first in a four-part series revealing how innovation and technology have helped WFP to serve 90 million people and become a Nobel Peace Laureate in the midst of a global pandemic.

WFP and its partners will always aim to reach anyone in need, but solutions that don’t plug in to specific contexts or cultures can waste vital time and resources. After all, it doesn’t make sense to ship food across the world that can be sourced locally or to have talented young people depend on assistance when they can and want to earn a living. That’s why it’s a priority for WFP to empower those affected by crisis, by both saving lives and changing lives.

We’ve been moving toward this moment for decades. There’s a long way to go, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Take the smallholder farmers who grow most of the world’s food, yet often live in poverty and struggle to supply local markets. WFP’s Farm2Go app edges us closer to zero hunger by enabling thousands of them boost their productivity and their income, with initial work in Kenya and Rwanda set to scale up across 40 countries.

Or look at the communities who live with fragile food access because of conflict, harsh environments or upheaval. The H2Grow hydroponics initiative offers some stability by allowing them to grow fresh food using a soilless cultivation technique that has proven successful in Peru, Algeria, Kenya, Palestine and half a dozen other countries.

Yasser, a young Syrian refugee who fled from his home to Lebanon and eventually Iraq, found an outlet and an opportunity with WFP’s Empowerment in Action program — EMPACT. (photo: WFP/Sharon Rapose)

And consider the young people who don’t just lose their homes and belongings when they flee a crisis, but also their education, careers and hopes for the future. The EMPACT vocational programme has already helped more than 33,000 refugees settle into a new community by building their digital skills and connecting them with the global job market from Iraq, Lebanon and Kenya. Again, it’s another innovative solution on the cusp of scaling up.

That’s why putting the controls into the hands of those farthest behind drives us all forward — toward the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

More information on the themes explored in this series is available in a new WFP platform, which not only offers a glimpse of some of the innovation and technology behind the scenes of a 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, but also suggests practical ways that companies, entrepreneurs and individuals can work with us to achieve even more.

We have pride and appreciation for the hard work, commitment and generosity colleagues and partners have shown over the years to always find better ways to do things. Innovation is in our DNA, as is the desire to always do better in the WFP mission.

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: wfp.org/enablers and innovation.wfp.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and watch our videos on YouTube.

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