WFP once again amongst Fast Company’s most innovative!

The WFP Innovation Accelerator adds 2021’s Most Innovative Companies (#2 Not-For-Profit) to its list of distinguished awards

WFP Innovation Accelerator
4 min readMar 9, 2021
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By Jonathan Simms

It all started with six people, listening to analog pitches, squeezing into a couple of black leather couches in a rented office in Munich. If it wasn’t for the World Food Programme (WFP) banner taped to the wall in front of them, it may as well have been a college dorm room, or a bootstrapped startup in Silicon Valley, Lagos or anywhere else in the world…and in a way, it was.

The humble beginnings of WFP’s Innovation Accelerator

It was the end of 2015, and no other UN agency, let alone most non-profit organizations globally, had even attempted what they were trying to do: bring a private sector accelerator methodology to support startups and non-profit innovations in humanitarian and development work. At the beginning, the WFP Innovation Accelerator was set up to support WFP innovators and startups to implement and scale new approaches and technologies to create positive impact for the world’s most vulnerable people.

Just over one year later, the Accelerator was recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for 2017, in the Food category. Two years after that, three of its supported projects — ShareTheMeal, Farm to Market Alliance and the moonshot WFP-X — were chosen as World Changing Ideas. Finally, after that initial six-member team had grown to nearly 60, the Accelerator was presented with Fast Company’s 2020 Best Workplaces for Innovators and Innovative Team of the Year 2020 — one of only 10 organizations globally to be recognized with both awards.

Women in Chad show off their incredible hydroponic fodder harvest

Of course, the most important thing about innovation is impact. Accelerator-supported innovations positively impacted the lives of 1.4 million people globally in 2019, and that number nearly tripled to 3.7 million in 2020 — an incredible 164 percent increase. Driving this change is not only the continued growth of its “scale-up” portfolio (projects rapidly expanding the number of people served or growing to other countries), but also the rapid growth and diverse expertise of the Accelerator team, which now numbers nearly 60 innovators from over 30 countries, with a variety of technical skills, innovation management strategies and humanitarian field experience. This allows the Accelerator to not only speak to the private start-ups of the world, who seek knowledge and access to WFP’s operations, but also to WFP humanitarians who may have a great idea to improve operations but are not quite sure how to best implement it. Leadership in the areas of innovation and technology is part of what has enabled WFP’s field operations. The daily pioneering work of WFP colleagues across the globe has earned WFP the honor of 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

WFP Innovation’s last in-person pitch event, mid-February 2020

In addition, WFP has leveraged five years of know-how in the area of innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger, and is now offering its unique innovation services to the wider humanitarian community, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge, and partner UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNFPA and the United Nations Innovation Network (UNIN), amongst others. Ultimately, the goal is to scale innovations in action — making a meaningful impact on millions of lives.

The 2021 Fast Company Most Innovative list “…honors [teams] that have not only found a way to be resilient in the past year, but also turned those challenges into impact-making processes”. In the wake of COVID-19, for example, the Accelerator adapted its programme to go fully virtual, running eight bootcamps in the past twelve months — both for WFP and the organizations mentioned above — while continuously supporting projects globally in their impact and scaling trajectory. “We will continue to push boundaries, accelerating the brightest and best startups, companies and non-profit innovations globally to disrupt global hunger. Our innovations already positively impacted 3.7 million people in 2020. Systematically improving the way we work, using cutting-edge technology such as blockchain or artificial intelligence and with WFP colleagues globally, we have a chance to make a significant impact for the most vulnerable people globally,” said Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of WFP Innovation Accelerator. With an audacious goal of Zero Hunger by 2030, innovation and collaboration can help us get there.

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.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

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