Thursday 24 Aug, 2017

Taking Action Back Home: Adapting Summit Lessons

This article is from one of EF’s Global Leadership Summit interns, Matt, following his experience at our “Future of Food” Summit in Milan, Italy. The Summit Internship Program gives high school students a chance to deepen their experience at EF Summits by gaining valuable real-life skills through public speaking, journalism, social media, and photography.

Food: It is a staple of our survival. For many, this basic life necessity is not being met as 13% of the world’s population is malnourished due to the lack of access to food. At the same time, 30% of the population is either obese or overweight due to the processed foods being pushed by large corporations. How can we resolve this extreme situation?

Combating a problem like food insecurity may seem like a daunting task to anyone, especially a teenager, but not for the group of students who attended EF Tours’ recent Global Leadership Summit in Milan, Italy. This past July, I joined students from all over the world to tackle this dilemma. Using the design thinking process, we devised innovative solutions that could potentially improve food distribution problems facing the globe. In an effort to help inspire and provide additional context for all of us students at the Summit, we also had the opportunity to learn from a series of keynote speakers and in workshops led by experts in the food industry. One of those speakers was author, journalist, professor and food policy expert, Dr. Raj Patel. Through his speech, Dr. Patel showed us all that solutions to this problem of food insecurity are not unfathomable.

In his best-known book, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System, Dr. Patel traces back the problems surrounding the global food system. Through his research, Dr. Patel learned that the problem is not that the global food system does not make enough to feed everyone; we actually produce more food than we ever have. He discovered that there are structural issues that have become rooted in our food system over time that prevent justice for farmers and quality food for consumers. Dr. Patel has also worked for the World Bank and World Trade Organization, where he saw firsthand the flaws of their approach, including supporting the profit motive of corporations and a compliant trade market. Now, Dr. Patel protests both the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, as he searches for justice for those oppressed by them. Dr. Patel’s research and findings have led him to develop the thesis that the market for food cannot stand in its current form.

As I stood on stage introducing Dr. Patel in front of my peers, I felt a tremendous honor to convey the importance of these issues and realized that all of us at the Summit have the ability to play a role in designing the future of food. His speech focused on his experiences with the food system, using them to explain how “most people understand farm to fork, but the food system is more complicated.” To prove his point, he made the bold statement that in order to design the end of hunger, we must “change everything, because more food won’t end hunger.” Currently working on a documentary about the food crisis in Malawi, he is chronicling how the local citizens are designing solutions for the end of hunger in their community. And Dr. Patel has seen firsthand how, in order to transform the food system, it will take grass roots movements. The solution in Malawi, for example, was one where the burden on women is lessened by men helping out with the cooking. It was not about more food – it was about distribution of work load and responsibilities through education and challenging traditional cultural norms. According to Patel, in order to revolutionize the global food system, it will take the collaboration of communities who dream big and design their own solutions.

Dr. Patel’s message has inspired me to take more of an active role in my own community back home. I joined a group of students analyzing the supply chains behind the ingredients in my school’s cafeteria. We focus on augmenting sustainable solutions by finding local farms and environmentally and socially conscious companies to supply our school with food. To do so, we evaluate the overall strength of these supply chains using a Supply Chain Analysis Spreadsheet. We then give each supply chain a score based on financial impact, social impact, and environmental impact, with the objective of enhancing and optimizing the food procurement process. After examining the existing supply chains in our cafeteria, the next step we took was to redesign these supply chains with the objective of achieving a better score. Dr. Patel’s work and mindset provided me with the knowledge to pick companies that do not take advantage of the food markets. In addition, the design thinking method we used at the Summit is one that I will apply to continue my work redesigning these supply chains as well as any other projects I take part in. This approach will allow me to be as innovative as possible when formulating a plan to solve global issues, such as food security.

To solve an issue as immense and nuanced as food procurement it will take many big, innovative ideas. Food impacts every part of society and is an essential part of everyone’s life. At the Summit, we discussed the 5 pillars of food: environment, technology, economy, culture, and health & wellness. This breakdown of the vast influence that food has on all of our lives shows how significant food procurement is, especially for those where food security is a matter of life and death. However, the future is bright with students from all corners of the world going back to their communities with innovative solutions and strategies for solving their communities’ challenges. As Raj Patel advised, if we are going to change the food system, “we must do it together.” The time is now and the future has arrived.

Photo by EF’s Global Leadership Summit intern Keeley L.