Thought for Food Challenge: People’s Insights Volume 2 Issue 1

What is the Thought for Food Challenge?

The Thought for Food Challenge is a global student innovation challenge, established in 2011, to inspire a new generation of thinkers and innovators around food security. The program challenges students to answer the question – how will we feed 9 billion people by 2050.

Initiate. Energize. Solve. Thought for Food Challenge 2012

TFF is sponsored by global agri-business Sygenta to engage global youth and build a community of changemakers.

How does it work?

In its first year, TFF invited student teams from ten leading European universities to participate in the challenge. Now, in its third year, TFF invites university students from across the globe to participate.

In round 1, students are given four missions: research and understand food issues, brainstorm solutions, create and publish a project proposal and conquer social media. As in previous seasons, TFF offers resources to support students in these missions, in the form of educational reading material and tips and tricks on using social media.

After two months, and a round of public voting, five finalist teams will be selected based on the project’s potential to create awareness and incite social change, and the business plan must demonstrate a long term plan and out-of-the-box thinking.

The finalists will then enter round 2, a four month phase where they work with $1,000 seed money and professional mentorship to refine their idea. The five teams are then invited to the TFF Global Summit in Berlin to present their proposals and compete for $5,000 and $10,000 startup investments.

Reaching out to colleges

Organizers contacted leading colleges with invitations to participate in the challenge and offered promotion support to help excite students and professors:

“To get started, please click “Join the Challenge” for more information. We’ll simply ask you to encourage your students to form teams of five and sign up by April 9th at . We’ll even provide you with everything you’ll need to get started, including:

  • A sample email you can send through your communication networks
  • A poster you can print and post around campus
  • An info doc introducing the Thought for Food challenge
  • Testimonials from previous participants

Feel free to pass on to student groups or professors that may be interested in helping pull together teams.”

Colleges participate to enhance their reputation and offer unique learning opportunities to their students.

In our Now & Next: Future of Engagement report on Collaborative Social Innovation, we highlight participation of education institutions in collaborative social innovation initiatives as a growing trend in 2013-2015.

Engaging the Next Gen

With TFF, Sygenta joins companies like Dell, HP, Siemens and Samsung, in reaching out to school and university students to energize them around real issues and subjects declining in popularity, like STEM education and agriculture.

Christine Gould, Senior Manager of Global Public Policy and Head of Next Generation Engagement at Sygenta noted:

“Young people are increasingly becoming disconnected from agriculture and don’t understand the complex challenges and opportunities facing us.  As we focus on the long-term vision to improve agriculture, the environment and communities around the world, we are taking this opportunity to engage some of the brightest minds of the next generation.”

Through design, structure and gratification, TFF aspires to bring in a cool factor and create excitement.  The program is also designed to make students talk about their project, publish their ideas on websites (like Team Demeter) and YouTube (like University of Reading’s Mission 3), and gather votes, thus spreading the cause to their networks as well.

Students participate for the forum to share their ideas and the opportunity to do meaningful work. As Beau Barnette, member of one of 2012’s winning teams, said:

“I love to seek real life solutions to supposedly out of reach problems. Researching to develop ideas and confronting the individual aspects of the situation is a thrill. As a landscape architecture student, it is of course exciting to pursue design problems and solutions outside of the classroom setting.”

TFF also piqued the interest of other students like Pascal Muller, who commented:

“I like it because it focuses its attention on the future generation (us) and because it demonstrates how easy social media and the Internet allow for easy get-together’s of like-minded people that can help share ideas.”

In the first two editions, TFF winners were flown to the One Young World conference to present their ideas to other student changemakers. Here’s a video of the TFF winners sharing their learnings and ideas at the conference:

TFF Challenge winners take to the One Young World Stage

And here’s a video of how TFF engaged other young delegates at the One Young World conference:

Thought For Food 2012 @ One Young World

Quality of Responses

Organizations usually opt for collaborative social innovation challenges to reach out to new and numerous thinkers. Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of open innovation platform Innocentive, highlights this point in his recent Tedx Talk:

“What we have created are systems where we build large facilities and large buildings full of the researchers that we think can solve the most important problems. We hire the best in the world to work on those problems, but we all know the fundamental limitation of that kind of system. We couldn’t hire all the smartest people in a given field if we wanted to, we can’t.”

In addition, organizations are looking for fresh ways of looking at the same problems or, as TFF puts it, ideas that “Disrupt the Status Quo.”

Students who participated in the challenge have diverse educational backgrounds (in business, psychology, architecture, technology and agriculture) and also diverse personal experiences (like teaching part time at a local school) and beliefs (like freeganism).  As a result, their responses varied from slam poetry sessions, flash mobs and research experiments to generate awareness at the grassroots level; to plans that proposed insects as alternative food choices, and eco parks and behavior change games to educate people about the food generation process.

University of Reading: Food for Thought challenge

Evolution of the TFF challenge model

In 2011, TFF was positioned as an idea generation and awareness platform. Recent changes to the 2013 program structure indicate a move towards building a community and support platform for youth changemakers.

In year 3, TFF invites sustainable business proposals that last beyond the six months of the challenge, and encourages students to create their own start ups with investment grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.  Also new in 2013 is the introduction of a Thought for Food Global Summit in Berlin to connect student innovators with other changemakers around the world.

TFF’s community-model of inspiring innovation is showing early signs of success, with former participants sharing their current entrepreneurial plans and commitment to their winning ideas on the TFF Facebook page.

Indeed, as Jill Beraud, former CMO, PepsiCo Americas Beverages once said:

“The best sources for the great ideas we’ll need to keep moving forward are the people we surround ourselves with everyday… friends, children, parents, and grandparents who motivate and inspire curious minds and creative spirits to achieve a greater good.”



Changemaker platforms

While some brands use collaborative social innovation initiatives as a way to give back to society (Samsung Solve for Tomorrow) and recruit talent (Siemens Green Dream contest), we are seeing more brands, like Sygenta, create long lasting platforms to connect and support changemakers (Dell Social Innovation Challenge).

Branded changemaker platforms have had significant traction, with platforms like Dell Social Innovation Challenge and Mahindra Spark the Rise crossing 250,000 members each.


Michael Dell, CEO and Chairman of Dell, sums up the opportunity this positive multi-stakeholder approach opens up for all:

“The new engine of innovation driven by collaboration, openness, stewardship and the power of the social web gives all of us an opportunity to drive even more rapid, meaningful change across global institutions.”

* MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

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As an example, 100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing, storytelling and social data on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities. We have synthesized the insights from  2012 to provide foresights for business leaders and changemakers — in the ten-part  People’s Insights Annual Report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at