Here’s some food for thought: nearly 800 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished, while as much as half of all food is wasted. With the world population poised to reach 9 billion by 2050 and our natural resources under increasing strain, issues related to food production, distribution, and consumption will only become more serious and more complicated.
Although there is no easy solution to the global hunger and food security problem, a group of social entrepreneurs has spearheaded a movement to engage millennials in tackling the issue head-on. Thought For Food (TFF), an international non-profit organization, connects social entrepreneurs and young innovators around the world as it challenges students to architect solutions that provide adequate, safe, and nutritious food to the rapidly growing world population.
TFF began in 2011 as part of the social responsibility platform for Syngenta, a global Swiss agriculture company. Christine Gould, a Senior Public Policy Manager and Head of Next Generation Innovation and Engagement at Syngenta, founded TFF as an intrapreneur out of her passion for inspiring young entrepreneurs and finding innovative solutions to global food challenges. Once TFF had proof of concept, the organization became its own nonprofit.
Since then, the TFF community has quickly expanded to include more than 3,000 students and mentors from 51 countries, spanning 6 continents. The organization’s central event is the annual TFF Challenge, a competition in which university students from around the world develop solutions to food-related issues, such as how to reduce food waste and use resources more efficiently. The goal of the competition is to motivate students from all disciplines to learn about the complex challenges surrounding food security, to inspire them to action, and to equip them with the tools they need to bring their visions to life.
“Thought For Food is the best example I have seen for inspiring, educating, and providing a platform for young leaders to get involved in feeding the world,” said Julie Borlaug, who is responsible for Strategic Initiatives at AgriLife Research.
Student teams of 3-5 individuals have until December 2015 to come up with their solutions to the challenge. In March, ten finalist teams will attend a 3-day startup bootcamp in Zurich, led by TFF’s partner organization, Startup Pirates. There, students will work on refining their pitches and determining next steps for their projects. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend a number of intimate breakout sessions in which they can meet one-on-one with investors and other experts for feedback and coaching. The conference offers workshops on a wide range of issues; last year, sessions covered topics from the use of artificial intelligence in growing food to the benefits and pitfalls of GMOs in modern agriculture. The event culminates in a pitch competition, where finalists sell their solutions to a panel of experts for the chance to win $10,000 in seed funding.
Through the competition, TFF hopes to “take the high-level questions that students come in with and help them focus on one direct area of impact,” according to Jared Yarnall-Schane, Outreach Coordinator at Thought For Food.
The TFF Challenge is reflective of growing trends in social entrepreneurship—encouraging interdisciplinary projects, crowdsourcing ideas, using social media to increase collaboration, and emphasizing design thinking—and the organization provides a diverse set of resources to help students develop and implement their ideas in line with these concepts. One of the newest assets in TFF’s toolkit is the Design Lab, an online platform that walks students through every step of the brainstorming process, from defining a plan to pitching. The course, which was developed in collaboration with design experts around the world, aims to teach the principles of design thinking and apply them towards identifying solutions for food security. The TFF Design Lab also encourages students to collaborate and share ideas online.
The competition has served as a launching pad for a number of successful startups. Henlight, which won first place at the 2013 TFF Summit, aims to support small-scale poultry farmers by equipping them with the appropriate technology to sustain consistent egg production. Other notable examples include FoPo, which reduces grocery store waste by preserving near-expired produce through a freeze-drying process, and C-fu Foods, a company that transforms insects into a tofu-like protein.
“TFF was the catalyst for us to do something innovative,” said Lee Cadesky, a TFF Challenge Finalist from Cornell University and Co-Founder of C-fu Foods. “We are an early-stage start-up because of TFF.”
Although Yarnall-Schane, a TFF Challenge participant in 2013, was not on one of the finalist teams, the support of the TFF community enabled him and his team to continue developing their idea after the summit. With the help of TFF, GreenTowers—an urban agricultural design firm that aims to use design to reconnect individuals with their food and with nature—was brought to life.
“As a past participant, if you want to get into the impact food space, there’s no better organization to be a part of because of [TFF’s] expansive reach in the industry,” Yarnall-Schane said.
Beyond the TFF Challenge, the organization engages students throughout the year through their ambassador program and ongoing dialogue surrounding food-related issues. TFF is currently reaching out to student groups all over the world, as well as partnering with professors and faculty to see how the Thought For Food Challenge and Design Lab concepts can be incorporated into course curriculums. To join the TFF movement, visit www.tffchallenge.com.
 “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.
 “Food Waste: Half Of All Food Ends Up Thrown Away.” The Huffington Post UK. N.p., 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.