Innovation and engineering for Zero Hunger: Meet Raul Saenz from WFP

Jonathan Eng
4 min readAug 16, 2017


Every year the World Food Programme (WFP) assists some 80 million people in over 80 countries — making sure, they have access to the food and nutrition they need to live their lives at their fullest. Dedicated staff across the globe carry out this crucial task. Raul Saenz is one of them, working with engineering and innovation to reach those furthest behind. During two weeks in August, Raul is one of the WFP talents participating in the global innovation lab UNLEASH in Denmark.

Photo: WFP

– Having the chance to work for over 10 days with 1,000 of the most brilliant minds of my generation is a golden learning opportunity, and will be a great inspiration to continue our fight towards a world with Zero Hunger, Raul Saenz says when describing his expectations for UNLEASH.

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab, gathering for the first time ever people from all over the world in Denmark to find innovative, scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals. The aim is to transform 1,000 personal insights into hundreds of ideas and build lasting, global networks around the Sustainable Development Goals.

According to estimates, 5–7 trillion USD is needed every yearto reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Not only is more funding needed. Innovative solutions are crucial for reaching the goals by 2030.

– I am thoroughly impressed by how open WFP is to innovate, try new ideas and walk the extra mile to improve our results. Since I arrived at WFP I have witnessed the significant impact that our work has. Not only in supporting food insecure populations through providing emergency food assistance, but also in longer-term development programs such as school meals, resilience and nutrition. I am driven by WFP’s mission to not only save lives through immediate provision of food assistance, but also in addressing the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity worldwide, Raul Saenz says.

In 2016, WFP opened the Innovation Accelerator in Munich, focusing on finding innovative solutions to reach a world with zero hunger. Innovative solutions are vital to reach this goal.

Across the globe, UNLEASH has sourced top talents with the vision and drive required to disrupt conventional solutions and create a better and more sustainable world. From WFP, five young talents and one expert have been selected to participate in the UNLEASH Lab 2017.

­– In my role as an innovation focal point, I strive to develop new solutions to increase the efficiency of our programs, with a special focus on school meals. As such ideas crystalize into tangible actions, I build local partnerships with governments and private companies to jointly operationalize the ideas. My primary innovation project is currently being piloted in collaboration with the WFP Innovation Accelerator and if successful, aims to reach self-sustainability of local school meal programs through home-grown food production and market sale of surpluses, creating jobs on the way to sustainability.

Photo: WFP

The sustainable development goals are all interlinked, we need to address all issues at the same time in partnerships. This is something that Raul Saenz is working on every day, when trying to advocate for a gender agenda in engineering.

– My proudest moment came from managing construction activities for the school meals program in Malawi. I observed that there was a large number of female workers, which is quite unusual in construction. Together with our gender focal point, we conducted an assessment and concluded that virtually all of them were driven to work on our projects, despite many social and cultural barriers. They were seeking for survival during the lean season as they were the breadwinners of the families. We were inspired by their passion to work and learn, Raul Says.

– In an attempt to support them, and through strong partnership with the government agency in charge of construction training and certification, we organized a training for the female workers in different construction subjects. At the last day of the training we organized an award ceremony and gave them their training certificates. It was obvious, how the training empowered them, and made them feel as valid as anyone else, male or female. For most of them it was the first diploma or recognition they had ever received, and I will not forget their faces while giving out the certificates. In this moment, I felt incredibly proud to belong to an organization that facilitates and supports such empowering activities, and where teamwork among different units is encouraged and results in such impactful changes.

UNLEASH Lab 2017 started the 12th of august and ends at the 21st of august. Do you want to meet WFP? Come to the UN tent at the side event Be the Change in Aarhus 20th-21st of August.