Scott Bowman is a co-founder of The World Innovation Network (TWIN) and Managing Partner at Clareo, a Chicago-based innovation and growth strategy consulting firm that helps leaders from a diverse array of global firms transform their organizations and create new ways to grow in rapidly changing markets. Bowman is also a regular faculty contributor to the Executive Education Program at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Management and has been a featured speaker on innovation for leading organizations such as Whirlpool, The Coca-Cola Company, The U.S. National Security Agency, and others. Within TWIN, Bowman leads such efforts as the Trust Your Food Challenge Session and TWIN Catalyst on Nourishing the World to 2050: Empowering Health through Food. He also contribute to Forums on Foresight, Automation of Work, Change at Scale in Health and Wellness, and sustainability-related topics. He recently spoke to The Innovator about the system-level challenge of nourishing the world in 2050 and a TWIN call to action merging the worlds of food, agriculture and healthcare.
Q: What is The World Innovation Network (TWIN), and what is a TWIN Catalyst?
SB: The World Innovation Network (TWIN) is a global community of innovation leaders that is committed to global prosperity through innovation. It involves businesses, government, the arts, academia, finance and defense. We have an annual summit in Chicago called TWIN Global that gathers 400 leaders from 25 countries who are committed to creating change. By contrast, TWIN Catalyst events are more intimate events that were specifically designed to activate global leaders and create alignment around common aspirations, shared visions and a platform for ongoing collaboration. In that sense, a TWIN Catalyst is not another conference; it is a coalition of the willing seeking to move from ideas to action, and foster unconventional partnerships that have the potential to bring about change on a global scale.
Q: Why has TWIN gotten involved in the future of food?
SB: We have actually been engaged in food and agriculture topics for the past several years :TWIN Forums on innovation in food and restoring food’s social license to operate; TWIN Global sessions and roundtable events on the exponential challenges to face in nourishing the world to 2050;ma TWIN Challenge Session in 2019 on Food Trust and this latest Catalyst event.
We’re getting even more heavily involved now because we have a global network of leaders who see that action isn’t happening in the right places, and they decided that something needs to be done. Solutions to multi-stakeholder problems require multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. In the case of food, we see massive global challenges looming, and while there are many conferences, we do not see enough cross-sector collaboration and action occurring.
We had a spark of this happening in 2018, held a roundtable event in 2019, and had nearly 100 calls with global leaders, all around the challenge of nourishing the world to 2050. We found that there’s a ton of discussion around how we feed the world, and increasingly around the sustainability aspects, but not nearly enough about how we nourish the world and empower human health through food. We do indeed have an exponential challenge — we need to feed 10 billion people by 2050, essentially producing the same amount of food in the next 30 years that we’ve produced in the last 10,000, all while dealing with issues of food loss, food waste, crop disease, soil degradation and other effects of climate change. However, the insight we came to in our work, and the challenge that sparked our convening in Amsterdam, was not merely that we need to figure out how to feed a world of 10 billion people; rather, it was that we cannot possibly feed a world of 10 billion people the way we are feeding a world of 7 billion people, or we’ll create for ourselves a crisis of human health unlike anything we have seen in human history.
Q: What do you mean by a crisis of human health? How does this relate to the challenge of nourishing the world to 2050?
SB: There were four big challenges that formed our case for action.
- We are both under-nourished and overfed, and by working to solve one problem, we’re creating an even bigger one. While it’s true that hunger remains an unacceptably large problem, we’ve been making great strides over the past 50 years that have resulted in steady reductions in the percentage of people who are under-fed. These improvements are projected to continue out to 2050. However, as we’ve been figuring out how to feed the world too little attention has been placed on what we feed them, and how we feed them. For the first time in human history more people are overweight than undernourished. Over two billion people — about a third of the global population — are overweight or obese. It is a massive pandemic and the data suggests that the problem exists not just in wealthy countries, but also in middle- and lower-income countries. We are now seeing huge increases in obesity rates across Africa and southeast Asia, as well as in Brazil, China, and Mexico, among others.
- Our diets are creating massive health consequences globally and represent a serious headwind to global prosperity. One in five deaths are attributable to diet, and diet is the number-one risk factor globally for morbidity and mortality. Diabetes alone, which we know is inextricably linked to diet and lifestyle, will cost us well over $2 trillion globally by 2030. If this were GDP, it would make diabetes the next G-8 country. McKinsey labeled obesity as one of the top three global social burdens created by humans — on par with smoking as well as armed violence, war, and terrorism.
- The challenges we face are exponential, complex, multi-stakeholder in nature and will require new approaches. First, we are growing exponentially. Reaching 10 billion people by 2050 means we will need to produce 60% more food in the next 30 years — roughly the same amount of food we produced in the previous 10,000 years. Second, we are rapidly growing older. By 2050, we will have 50 percent fewer children and four times the number of old people as we did in 1950. With age comes associated diet-and-lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Third, we are becoming more urban. By 2050, two-thirds of people will live in an urban setting, which means increased demand for processed, prepared and fast foods and a decrease in the number of agricultural workers.
- The way we ‘do food’ today is threatening the planet, and planetary impacts are threatening the future of healthy food. Organizations like the UNFAO, the World Resources Institute, and others have pointed out that the way we do agriculture and food production is impacting climate change. Agriculture is responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions — more than every car, truck, ship, train and plane combined. Agriculture also accounts for 70% of all freshwater use, and 10% of all agricultural water is non-replenishable. As this occurs, climate change will in turn impact the quantity and nutrient density of foods. By 2100, global vegetable and legume production could fall by 35%. Climate change may also affect crop nutrients; elevated carbon dioxide levels could reduce essential minerals and proteins in agricultural products. In short, we can’t possibly feed 10 billion people the way we feed seven billion people today — it’s simply not sustainable for human health, community health or planetary health.
Q: What happened at the October meetup in Amsterdam?
SB: We convened 35 diverse global leaders from continental Europe, UK, Ireland, Israel, Africa, the United States and South America, and with backgrounds spanning business, government, academia, NGOs and nonprofits, food and ag-tech VC, startup innovators and social entrepreneurs. Our delegates were applied scientists, leading researchers, food innovators and product developers, consumer experts, global public policy experts, social innovators and more — each with deep expertise in a given area, broad visibility and connections globally, and all possessing a shared vision for making change happen. Each came with a desire to re-think and re-imagine our approach to food, and each had unique perspectives on what it will take to nourish the world by making healthy food more functional, accessible, sustainable and scalable globally. Over the course of three-and-a-half days we framed these four cases for action, shared insights, discussed what is not being addressed in current conversations around feeding and nourishing the world, and identified opportunities to really move the needle through a new type of collaboration and collective action.
Q: Where is this going next?
SB: We identified three areas of exploration that will form the foundation of the next level of work. The first is a food-as-medicine coalition for action and the possible creation of an impact fund in this space. We know that diet is the number one determinate of morbidity, but companies from the food, agriculture, healthcare and pharma industries simply do not collaborate. They operate in totally separate spheres. There are pockets where the idea of food-as-medicine is starting to gain steam, but these conversations are happening in silos and mainstream players are not at the table. We hope to bring these ecosystems together in a serious and credible way to begin to tackle the challenge. A venture-oriented impact fund with a social impact mission for next generation technologies, foods and business models is also something we are considering because innovation in this area is still significantly under-funded globally.
The second initiative is focused on working to overcome the barriers the global food industry faces with regard to producing and driving adoption of more nutritious food options. On the one hand, we believe that there could be room in the market for a pre-competitive research and product development organization that would develop technologies and platforms to serve multiple players in the industry. On the other hand, we also see that significant work is needed on the demand side, tackling issues of human motivation and choice architecture. Once we increase access to healthy foods, how do we get people to actually choose them?
The third area is around re-imagining food systems and using a market-led approach to nourishing the undernourished in the developing world — increasingly in an urban context. To date, big food companies have focused on a product-led approach expanding into new markets with nearly-addictive high-calorie, low-nutrition products and building out the last-mile of their supply chains. Our question is how can the last mile become the first mile? How can we redesign our food system to focus on what consumers want and need to eat, in order to maximize their long-term health and also build out local supply chains to support these markets? In short, how do we make healthy food more accessible and affordable?
As a result of three powerful days with 35 global leaders, we’re forming working groups to advance these three initiatives and build action plans around them. There is going to be a call to action for each. We will identify other stakeholders, people who are interested and have expertise who might want to get involved. If some of The Innovator’s readers signal that they want to become part of a working group, they might be invited to participate in the next catalyst meetup on this topic in 2020.
Q: How can our readers find out more and get involved?
SB: We encourage readers to engage with us on Twitter at @Nourish2050. If they’d like to join our network, find out more about our activities, and/or are interested in getting involved in one or more of our initiatives, please email us at Nourish2050@twinglobal.org.