WFP Innovation Accelerator launches critical collaboration with WFP Kenya Country Office

In conversation on Innovation
with Lauren Landis and Bernhard Kowatsch

Alongside the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, we sat down with Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of the WFP Innovation Accelerator, and Lauren Landis, Representative & Country Director for WFP Kenya for a conversation around the latest collaboration and investment dedicated to scaling innovation in Kenya.

Interview by Sandra Raad

WFP: The Innovation Accelerator & the Kenya Country Office are collaborating through the Kenya Country Office Innovation Unit. Why Kenya and what is the idea behind this effort?

LL: This is a very timely question in the backdrop of this year’s UN General Assembly theme “Building resilience through hope” primarily because the principal idea behind our collaboration is to leverage innovation to give feet to this hope. To rebuild sustainability, to respond to the needs of the planet, to respect the rights of people and to revitalize the United Nations.

The decision to invest these efforts in Kenya was an easy one. I have now been in Kenya for one year and as an agency that operates primarily in the field, everyday we come across real challenges but we also see a very vibrant and robust innovation sector. Kenya is a first-mover in innovation, with products such as MPESA — a mobile cash transfer platform. It’s our intention to direct this innovation infrastructure towards issues like resilience building to amplify the impact of our work.

Nelson Mandela once said, “a winner is a dreamer that never gives up.” In Kenya today, there is a generation of young people that refuse to give up and innovation is the tool that they are using to change their lives. It is the “hope” that this year’s UN General Assembly theme is talking about.

BK: The Kenya Country Office’s nature of operations, it’s forward-looking leadership paired with the solid structure and knowledge of its Innovation Unit, represents the perfect testing ground to pilot and scale innovations. As digital solutions and innovations in WFP Kenya are becoming increasingly important, there is an opportunity to further build up the capacity to identify and scale those solutions with the biggest potential for impact. It’s also great to have more dedicated innovation capacity close to the people we serve, which is one of the key success factors of our innovation programmes. For us, this is a strategic investment so that we can jointly create more impact, prove value, and attract enabling partners and additional resources in the long run.

WFP: How will this Innovation Accelerator/Kenya Country Office collaboration work?

LL: The collaboration revolves around a number of key activities that the Kenya Country Office will drive together with the global WFP Innovation Accelerator.

In a bid to bring services and development closer to the people of Kenya and set the base for the current our strategic plan, WFP Kenya will build on the strategic partnerships already forged with local County Governments in Kenya in the Arid and Semi-Arid (ASALs) areas by setting up Innovation Centers at the County level. These innovation centers will provide spaces for county government staff, end users, and innovators to get access to training on innovation methodologies and to develop, test and scale solutions to problems. The overall goal is the development of highly scalable, field tested, innovative solutions that strengthen the resilience of vulnerable populations in the ASAL regions. This is an excellent prospect to leverage WFP’s twin competencies of deep field operations and in-depth experience in setting up and running centers of innovation.

In addition, the Innovation Unit will host the testing of Innovative Financing through an asset-based loan pilot. The project builds on the success of H2Grow hydroponics in Kenya, directly targeting 20 households, 100 hydroponic farmers with 10 commercial-sized hydroponics greenhouses. The key idea here is to offer a lump-sum loan to selected communities that can then be blended with donor funding to make it adaptable for different contexts. This would provide flexibility to directly link country offices to funds for scaling.

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WFP: Lauren, as a longtime champion of innovation at WFP, what excites you about this strategy?

LL: Innovation is a strategic lever to work collaboratively and across functions; to create synergies among operations and teams; and is an undeniable door opener in our potential partnership with the private sector. The world is changing fast, and having a solid innovation portfolio allows us to be more agile and effective in our response. I think our vantage point at the local level can really be a bridge to delivering in the promise of innovation. We are well placed to deliver on both sides of the coin: from small-to-big, and big-to-small. Recognizing that innovation does not always mean digital technology, nor does it always benefit from a top-down approach.

Going forward: I am excited about the upstream effect of investing in county level and deep field innovation foundations; learning from the young innovators across Kenya; and discovering ways that ancestral/indigenous knowledge can be trickled up into our ways of working. I am excited to be in Kenya as it navigates its ambitious development plans.

WFP: Bernhard, why do you think WFP Country Offices and Regional Bureaux are investing in innovation locally?

BK: The influence and importance of innovation support capacity at a local level that can nurture early stage and scaling innovations and more broadly enable a culture of innovation across teams cannot be denied. No less important is ensuring that everyone is working in the same general direction, towards the same goals of SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) wherever they are, so we can generate positive impact exponentially, like a tidal wave of change. Innovation in breakthrough models and scalable solutions is one key outcome, but when paired with innovation as a way of working, a way of looking at the world, both become very powerful in generating paradigm shifts and system changes. We are seeing this unfold across WFP’s operations globally.

Through the WFP Innovation Community and our Scale-Up Enablement program, we are increasing our support of and investment in the different hubs and units, especially in countries where the evidence of impact is strong.

Globally, WFP is a key driver in the systems approach in food systems and innovation, notably in the World Economic Forum’s initiative of the Food Innovation Hubs. In fact, some of our hubs have already collaborated closely with the World Economic Forum and other private and public partners on the execution of the different pillars in the areas of operations, notably our upcoming regional hub for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in the WFP Colombia Country Office.

LL: And the Kenya Country Office!

To engage with the Kenya CO Innovation Unit please reach out to Federico Naccarato, Head of the Innovation Unit at federico.naccarato@wfp.org.

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.

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