Ideas to combat hunger

The UN World Food Programme’s  “Innovation Accelerator” in Munich is committed to combating hunger. Can start-ups solve global problems?

Hydroponics Algeria: islands of green in the desert
Hydroponics Algeria: islands of green in the desert WFP/Nina Schroeder

How does the “Innovation Accelerator” – a social start-up – work?
“We are searching for new solutions that will help combat world hunger”, says its director Bernhard Kowatsch. Staff of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), start-ups and other ideas generators around the world can get in touch with the creative laboratory in Munich. If their concept looks promising, the teams will be invited to a one-week “Innovation Boot Camp“. They receive funding of 50,000 to 100,000 euros and are supported in the implementation of their idea by a coach and by the respective national branch of the WFP.

Bernhard Kowatsch runs the World Food Programme’s Innovation Accelerator in Munich.
Bernhard Kowatsch runs the World Food Programme’s Innovation Accelerator in Munich.
WFP/Innovation Accelerator

What ideas are we talking about?
For example a system that handles shopping purchases by refugees in camps via the same blockchain technology that is used for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Rather than having an account with a bank, refugees have an “e-wallet” stored in the system. “This saves us 98 percent of charges”, says Kowatsch. 100,000 refugees in Jordan are already profiting from this idea. In Algeria, hydroponics is giving rise to hope. An Algerian agricultural engineer who himself grew up in a refugee camp had the idea: hydroponics requires far less water than conventional means of cultivation. This method is now being used to grow barley as animal fodder at 80 sites in the Algerian desert.

The goal is for the idea to help as many people as possible.

Bernhard Kowatsch, director of the UN World Food Programme’s Innovation Accelerator

Can small-scale innovations actually have any impact on a problem as big as world hunger?
Unfortunately, the number of people suffering from hunger worldwide rose again in 2017 after a long period of positive development. “This is due primarily to conflicts”, Kowatsch explains. “If they do not end, we will never achieve a world without hunger. But if the right conditions are in place, it is possible.” The Innovation Accelerator supports only projects with a big impact. “The goal must be to help as many people as possible.”

Why is the “Innovation Accelerator” based in Munich?
“We looked at ten possible locations, including Silicon Valley”, says Kowatsch. Munich was first choice thanks to its strong start-up scene, large number of research institutions and innovative businesses.

Can anyone submit an idea?
Yes, online at innovation.wfp.org/apply.