The Youth Food Lab is bringing together young innovators to tackle food systems challenges facing their local communities. It provides a platform for ten teams to transform their visions into a developed business model.
The Youth Food Lab is a collaboration between the World Food Forum (WFF), Wageningen University Research (WUR), I4Nature, and the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences (IAAS). With their combination of global presence, facilitation, and academic and research backgrounds, the four partners serve as a holistic foundation for participating teams.
The nine-month program has three stages to support the teams. Janina Peters, Head of Innovation at World Food Forum tells Food Tank, “Stage one is analyzing the system that they are working on and coming up with their own systems map. Stage two is focused on the business side of things. Stage three is all around communication, marketing and storytelling.”
Teams will learn everything from fundraising and strategic planning to launching their own website for effective communication of their project goals. “In October, we have our World Food Forum Flagship event. We invite the teams to come here and present their projects at this global stage,” she adds.
This final phase will build on existing competitions including the Transformative Research Challenge (TRC), Nature Based Solutions Challenge and global project competitions. The Youth Food Lab adds a capacity development component to bring teams’ proposals to reality, helping them move from ideas to impact, and scale the solutions they are developing.
“Having a concluding chapter at the World Forum is crucial. We are showcasing that youth have solutions that are practical and implementable,” Vice President of Communications at the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences (IAAS), Florence Oberlin tells Food Tank. “They just need funding and the ability to learn from older generations.”
The Lab focuses on ongoing mentorship and educational training during the program. Students are offered modules, food systems e-courses, and workshops to develop their projects.
Oberlin adds, “We really want to emphasize that these teams will receive hands-on mentorship that is tailored to them.” The program aims to establish long-term support systems for participating teams.
Mirjam Troost, Youth Engagement Officer at Wageningen University Research explains “The strength of our cooperation is that we offer them mentoring from Wagingen Researchers and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) local, regional, and national offices. We can offer teams a network and if they mention this to stakeholders, it can open doors.”
The Food Lab aims to be inclusive and accessible to young innovators throughout the world and from varying backgrounds. Janina tells Food Tank “Inclusiveness is one of the big goals. We have 10 countries from all regions of the world represented within these ten teams that we selected. We also want to highlight countries of the Global South. We are looking for gender diverse teams but we try to have a good gender balance, as well as different languages represented.”
After the pilot year, the Youth Food Lab will look to understand how they can better support teams and identify gaps in the market. In the coming years, they hope to expand to different regions, have different topical cohorts, and establish actual physical Youth Food Labs.
“Global youth are the ones inheriting all the world’s problems,” Peters tells Food Tank, “but they are not responsible for these challenges, yet they are the ones that have to address them. The ideas are amazing. They can have such a huge impact if we support them.”
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Photo courtesy of Team Bees and Trees in Uganda.