4 Things WFP Can Learn from South By Southwest

For football fanatics, there’s the World Cup. For all things innovation, music and film, there’s South by Southwest (SXSW). SXSW or simply ‘South by’, is the place to be for cutting-edge innovation and industry leaders, humanitarian aid organizations included.

Held annually in Austin, Texas, the conference draws in tens of thousands of guests. This year, WFP was invited to share their vision of a world without hunger and connect with future start-ups and multinational companies.

Hila Cohen from WFP’s Innovation Accelerator attended the event and shared four takeaways that can help us create a better future through innovation.


1. Innovation Exists In Every City

Although SXSW lives in Austin, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Tech communities from as far afield as Sierra Leone, Brazil and Thailand were represented, sharing ideas and opportunities. The Africa House was the source of much excitement, a place for entrepreneurs from across the continent to talk tech and share novel solutions to local problems.

SXSW is a meeting place for the world’s best new thinkers, regardless of background or origin. In cities all across the world, you’ll find innovation hubs and ‘maker spaces’ bursting with new ideas and entrepreneurs eager to solve global challenges. If you’re curious, why not check-in and say hello.

Discussing the Nigerian tech scene in Africa House. Photo: WFP/Hila Cohen

2. Gender Diversity = Better Innovation

The gender balance in the tech world is shifting and that’s having a positive impact on the quality and sustainability of innovation. At a session titled ‘The Company We Keep’, Melinda Gates explained how greater diversity is helping to create a more inclusive society that meets the needs of everyone. Working in over 80 countries worldwide, and with 60% of the people we serve being female, it’s essential we build innovations with diversity in mind.

SXSW also provided WFP with a platform to showcase female-led projects , such as Tech for Food, and connect with a growing community of women entrepreneurs whose passion and skills can help achieve Zero Hunger.

3. 2018 is the year of…

SXSW is all about trends and 2018 was no different, with artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain taking the headlines. Of particular interest was the discussion around how these technologies won’t just operate in isolation, but work together in a way that will revolutionise entire industries. Even more interestingly, it’s not just Silicon Valley to watch out for. African tech centers such Nairobi and Lagos are at the forefront of using ‘leapfrogging’ technologies.

WFP is already one step ahead of the game and pushing boundaries with blockchain and artificial intelligence.

4. The Food Chain is Ripe for Disruption

Not long ago, innovation was only about apps and mobile. But at this year’s SXSW, ‘ag-tech’ (or agriculture technology) took center stage. In front of an audience of private partners, founders and up-and-coming social enterprises all aiming to change the food industry, WFP was able to showcase some of our best ag-tech innovations, such as:

Robert Opp (left), highlights the use of AI in the humanitarian space. Photo:WFP/ Hila Cohen

Joined by experts from Google, XPrize, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Robert Opp showcased AI’s potential in humanitarian aid through the session “The End of Global Hunger? AI Will Make it Work”. More than anything else, this panel illustrated the power that combining forces from diverse industries can have while solving one of the world’s most dire challenges.

Didn’t make it to the session? Listen in on what the panel had to say here.


About the WFP Innovation Accelerator

The United Nations World Food Programme’s (WFP) Innovation Accelerator identifies, nurtures and scales bold new solutions to end hunger. From its base in Munich, Germany, the Accelerator supports WFP entrepreneurs and external start-ups through funding, hands-on technical support, and access to WFP’s global operations.

WFP was represented at SXSW by Robert Opp, WFP’s Director of Innovation and Change Management, Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of the WFP Innovation Accelerator and Hila Cohen, International Outreach Lead at the WFP Innovation Accelerator.

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At the WFP Innovation Accelerator, we have a rolling application process and in 2018 we will consider startups that apply by 1 April and by 1 August 2018 for bootcamp and sprint programme consideration for June and November 2018.

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