New social practices based around food are emerging due to uncertainties within the current industrial food system. Changes in economic and environmental conditions over the last few years have challenged the security of the world’s food supplies. As such, there have been a number of important innovations concerning food over the last few decades. We will be presenting some of these in this blog. If you’re interested in becoming more familiar with such initiatives, we welcome you to join our team!
FUSIONS Project (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies)
This project lasted four years, from August 2012 to July 2016, funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7) and coordinated by Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research.
Indeed, this movement has played a significant role in finding ways to use food surpluses that would otherwise have gone to waste. This has been achieved through the creation of new food products or through innovations that enable it to be redistributed to charities. The vision was for a more resource-efficient Europe by significantly reducing food waste owing to the fact that food waste produces severe environmental, economic and social impacts.
‘In an attempt to address this problem, one of FUSIONS’ focuses are on testing the role of social innovation in reducing food waste’.
Read more about the project here.
LastMinuteSottoCasa is a website which allows shopkeepers with food near to its expiry date to send out a ‘food alert’ to local people, advertising last-minute bargains. The aim of this website is to avoid food waste, help people find low-priced, good-quality fresh food and enable shopkeepers to make a little money on products that would otherwise be thrown away. Undoubtedly such contributions to ‘quality of life’ are often referred to as social innovation.
Learn more about it here.
Social innovations in agriculture and local food markets
Social innovations refer to the fields of strategic management, innovation and organisational development and can be defined as ‘new ideas (products, services, and models) to meet social needs and create new social relationships and collaborations’ (European Commission, 2013).
A working group has recently been created comprising various research institutes and a number of sociologists. ‘The objective of the working group is to discuss organisational and social innovations in agriculture and local food markets.
‘In recent decades, rural regions in the EU have been facing new challenges to their social and economic development. Meanwhile, concerns about food safety and the environment have led to an increase in demand for locally grown fresh food in recent years in the EU. An important means of enabling the social and economic sustainability of rural regions is by finding innovative ways to support the local social capital and to strengthen urban-rural linkages. Many local innovations concentrate on creating or strengthening personal relationships between producers and consumers, which can result in transitions in the consumers’ perception of local food and farming. A frequent further focus of local social innovations is to shorten food supply chains and thereby gain consumers’ trust in terms of quality, social and economic sustainability locally.’ (Uniwersytet Jagiellonski w Krakowie, The XXVII European Society for Rural Sociology Congress)
‘Research topics could include gaining an understanding of the main topics and goals of social innovations related to sustainable production and consumption of local food; exploring the mechanisms, strengths and weaknesses of local food market initiatives. Also, the potential of local social innovations to scale up and spread is undoubtedly a very important fact. Examples of local social innovations include participatory guarantee systems, community supported agriculture, ecovillages, and local food markets.’ (Uniwersytet Jagiellonski w Krakowie, The XXVII European Society for Rural Sociology Congress)
Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network
The next example involves the ‘Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network’. A competition was hosted at the ‘No More Food to Waste’ international conference, in which seven European social innovators who are currently working to reduce food waste presented their ideas. Kromkommer received the award for best social innovation project and then had the opportunity to present their project to all conference participants.
Kromkommer is a social enterprise based in Rotterdam that makes delicious soups out of surplus vegetables. By selling their products throughout the Netherlands, they inspire the whole food supply chain, from grower to consumer, to join their mission to reduce food waste. Chantal Engelen, Kromkommer’s co-founder, elaborates on getting started as a social entrepreneur: ‘I believe that it is important to just start with your idea and DO something. If your story and idea are good, people will follow and join you. There are always reasons to not start with your plan, but the reason why you should start is always more important.’ [Read more about it here]
European Rural Development Network
Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs) are more and more complex operations, consisting of collaborative networks of producers, consumers and institutions. Their goal is to support ‘traditional’ farming practices through new models and social innovation. The European Rural Development Network takes efforts aimed at common elaboration of research topics in the fields strategic for rural development and wining new institutional partners. The cooperation involves exchange of publications, statistical data, joint initiatives to raise funds from the EU Framework Programmes and other entities (such as: the International Visegrad Fund, the EEA and Norway grants and national programs), exchange of scientists and numerous meetings during seminars, conferences and scientific workshops.
Thus, modern SFSCs can be characterised as re-embedded, based on transparency, being part of local community development and representing shared values and lifestyle.
Learn more about the Network here.
Social Innovation in Food Banks, Environmental Scan (2016)
Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Vancouver BC
‘Food banks are starting to realise that emergency food distribution is not a stand-alone solution for hunger and food insecurity. They are developing innovative strategies to increase the health and wellness of members to move away from the approach that food banks have historically used. Currently, there is a gap in information and knowledge about what is happening around social innovation in food banks. Because of the social needs that today’s societies have, a working definition of social innovation in food banks has been developed. Many food banks are engaging in socially innovative activities even though they may not self-identify this way and are not recognised externally for this work.’
Learn more about the initiative here.
How Social Innovation Creates Solutions to World Hunger
‘In this time of ever-increasing crisis and conflict, global leaders unanimously agreed on 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. For the first time in history, this decision set a date to end hunger and poverty for everyone, everywhere by 2030. This task to achieve a “Zero Hunger” world is ambitious, yes. But it is also a very achievable task, with targeted investments and innovations. The goal of Zero Hunger is based on both hard science and hard-won progress worldwide. When we consider the massive potential of technology and innovation, there is no question that successfully applying more innovative tools will show quickly our strong capabilities on a worldwide level.
‘For example, recognising that some 70 per cent of poor people live in rural areas and mostly rely on small farming, a new programme enabling family farmers to reduce costly post-harvest losses will be used. In some developing countries, smallholder farmers regularly lose 40 per cent of their harvest because of insufficiency of post-harvest storage practices. So, tackling food loss directly represents not only an immediate way of reducing hunger, it also offers a way of improving livelihoods and increasing financial resources.’
Learn more here.
Organic food as alternative economy
The local provision of organic food or ‘alternative agro-food networks’ has been one of the most well-known promoted spaces for an alternative economy based on a more responsible and socially controlled approach to consumption (Goodman et al., 2012). These kinds of initiatives may be building democratic societies and more engaged and responsible citizens. This movement helps to establish direct connections between producers and consumers through farmers’ markets, farm shops, veggie box subscriptions, organic buying groups and food cooperatives. These can be used as an alternative to an unsustainable food system, characterised by adverse environmental impact and the seriousness of unhealthy, industrially processed food. The movement is very active in Spain. (Journal of Human Development and Capabilities · January 2017, Case study: Organic food buying groups)
We all know that social innovations are oriented to promoting solutions to social needs and problems. From this approach, ‘organic buying groups may be considered as initiatives that are contributing towards building a new model that is more environmentally sustainable’ (European Commission, Science for Environment Policy).
Learn more at Social Innovation Academy
To sum up, achieving sustainable food systems is considered a challenge and research-based knowledge is in demand in relation to multi-component interventions. It is absolutely a prerequisite for us all to be constantly informed about such new ideas and innovations. So, Limitless, Foundation and three other partners have started a project aiming to develop the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe (Social Innovation Academy) with a focus on key issues in social innovation. Why Social Innovation Academy? It is necessary for entrepreneurs and for people who intend to use social innovation practices to gain a thorough understanding of what social innovation has to offer. If you are interested in following the project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to join our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.
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