Next-Gen Led Innovation for Sustainable Development in Food and Agriculture
reNature’s founders, Marco and Felipe, met at the Thought For Food Summit back in 2017. So, it’s about time we introduce TFF to the reNature community! I had a call with Christine Gould, the CEO and Founder at TFF, asking for her thoughts on agriculture as an industry and TFF’s role in enabling the new generation to innovate for sustainability.
First thing’s first:
What is TFF exactly?
Thought For Food, otherwise known as TFF, is an organization dedicated to empowering the next generations of Millennial and GenZ innovators to uproot the entrenched agriculture industry that we currently have. We are finding solutions that build a food system that is sustainable and inclusive. We believe very strongly that the next generations possess many attributes that will allow them to be successful in doing this – they have grown up as digital natives, and therefore have a natural tendency to be open, collaborative and globally-minded. We focus on empowering young people around the world to become change-makers.
Why the heavy focus on the young generations in agriculture?
What we as humans have done so far hasn’t really worked – sure, we have been able to do a lot by introducing new technologies, but these have also led to a lot of negative externalities. Idealistic, passionate and creative young people bring a new value system to the table, and this, coupled with the fact that they can access and use digital and other technologies – that are getting cheaper, more powerful and more accessible than ever – means that they have unprecedented power to create change and impact.
We call on them to embrace a concept called “multispectral thinking” which is about moving past the polarized, “black and white” solutions that have dominated this space to date. Instead, we need to break down barriers between countries, disciplines, generations, and industries, and by doing this we can start to create exciting new combinations that lead us towards transformative solutions, such as agroforestry. This is where TFF comes in – we try to create an enabling environment for networks to build and for “next-generation innovation” to happen. We are becoming an engine for positive change in the industry.
Why are you so optimistic about the young generation?
Economists call the world we live in right now VUCA – it means Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Our world is constantly changing, but the cool thing is that young people have grown up with this as their normal. You, as a young person, are more used to navigating change and creating change than most people in previous generations.
And how exactly do you help young people succeed in agriculture?
There have been a ton of accelerator and incubator programs for young entrepreneurs that have popped up over recent years, but they have some constraints: for example, they are usually not very geographically spread out; they tend to focus primarily on hard skill building, like making a robust business model, or developing an IP (Intellectual Property) or go-to-market strategy. They don’t always have a strong focus on the specific needs and challenges facing food and ag companies, particularly those led by young people without a lot of work experience under their belts.
We know that success in this sector relies heavily on soft skills – like how you can build and lead great teams, or how can you compellingly share your vision and impact through storytelling. For many of the solutions that make a difference in local contexts, it is important to remember that IP strategies in the traditional sense may be too expensive and time-consuming, and might not even be possible to obtain given the legal frameworks in different countries. We are trying to help teams win and succeed in the market in other ways. We help them collaborate and build industry connections. We help them build powerful cultures and teams. We help them gain customers. Much like agroforestry, success in entrepreneurship comes from working together in communities that leverage the respective strengths of members. We are about building a global community and strong connections.
What are the areas you focus on?
The skills of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication are necessary to lead and succeed in the 21st century. We foster the development of these capabilities by leveraging 21st-century next-gen learning approaches. Our all-new TFF Digital Labs program is digitally-available, and the content on there is of course optimized for mobile. Everything is presented in highly-interactive, engaging and bite-size formats to accommodate the busy lives of today’s changemakers and to encourage learning-on-the-go. Most importantly, we incorporate expert and peer-to-peer mentoring to keep everything practical and action-oriented.
What challenges are unique to innovation in food and agriculture?
Food and ag has very specific challenges that other start-ups don’t face. There are longer time horizons, regulatory issues, consumer acceptance issues and farmer uptake which require lots of time and unique approaches. There are so many things this sector faces that a traditional accelerator programs might not get into. We also want to produce inclusive ideas that are not focused on the classic ‘excluding competitors’ for example. The most transformative solutions will happen by integrating solutions, and innovation will happen more effectively and efficiently by sharing ideas and best practices more openly.
And what about you?
Did you have any cool experiences or success stories the past year?
Everything that we’ve built and the power we have lies in our community and the unique culture we bring to agriculture. TFF is in many ways like a start-up – and because of this, my team and me can fully empathize with the entrepreneurs in our community. Half of the game really is mental. You need the grit to wake up every day and say to yourself, “I’m still going to do this, even though I have no idea how” or keep going even if you think, “Someone did this better than me today.” Like an athlete, you need to stay strong and have a mindset focused on perseverance – because doing something new is amazing, but also tough!
One of the best parts about TFF is that we are each other’s support system and cheerleaders. Even as CEO of this organization, I turn to TFFers for guidance and support all the time, just like they come to me for this, too. I feel more confident than ever in our future – and we have to work together and be creative to get where we need to be. We also embrace fun wherever we can because that is what gets us through the ups and downs of our crazy entrepreneurial journey.
Curious about TFF and how to feed 10 billion people by the year 2050? Visit https://thoughtforfood.org/ for ideas and innovation by and for the next generation.