The Power of Business to Nourish Lives | Net Impact

The Power of Business to Nourish Lives

Students and Industry Leaders come together figure out how to nourish 9 billion by 2050
Students and Industry Leaders come together figure out how to nourish 9 billion by 2050

My South African students giggle as I walk by the sleeping student. I gently touch the student’s arm until he slowly lifts his frail frame, struggles to open his eyes, and gradually falls back asleep. My student, whose parents work sugar cane fields, is starving.

For years, I had purchased inexpensive sugar to make my favorite chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. My South African students taught me the implications of my sugar purchasing decisions. We are inextricably connected. I want to help them reach their potential, but they will not come close to their potential if they are trapped in an unjust system that my communities in the US are unintentionally perpetuating. The same South Africans that are food insecure taught me about fulfilling living through their Ubuntu philosophy—I am because we are. We must change unjust food systems that prevent children, such as my students, from living into their potential.

Food will continue to unite—through our common need—and differentiate—through cultural norms. Global food supply chains are a critical issue now and will be, exponentially, in 30 years when 9 billion people seek food to survive and thrive. In sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s next bread basket, outside businesses, governments, and non-profits invest at a rapid pace to feed people and reap profits. Over the next 30 years, multi-national businesses will have the most concentrated power to change sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, the local people have power. How can farmers, businesses, and consumers partner to create holistic value that leads to fair wages for farmers (potential future consumers), profits for businesses, and nourishment for consumers?

Feeding 9 Billion People by 2050

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to collaborate with 80 students and food industry experts to push the boundaries of our current food system to achieve the vision of feeding 9 billion people, facilitated by Net Impact and CollaborateUp on February 26 at UC Berkeley. Specifically, at the Nourishing 9 Billion SolutionLab, we answered the question: How might we ensure people can get food at a price they can afford in the face of climate change and water scarcity?

Participants chose teams based on which area they thought had the largest role to play in answering the challenge; key solution drivers were: Business and markets, information science and big data, public policy, food production, and food distribution. In these small groups we followed CollaborateUp’s methodology:

  • Brainstorm: What are the major issues around the above theme?
  • Discover: What have nutrition and food experts been working on in the field?
  • Focus: Which issues should be prioritized?
  • Learn: How can a lean startup approach to social innovations help co-create high-impact partnerships?
  • Innovate: Develop real solutions for a more sustainable future
  • Pitch: Share your ideas with our dynamic group
  • Network & Celebrate: Enjoy a reception with peers

Together, we developed solutions that nourish people from the beginning to the end of global food supply chains. Solutions involved information agents for rural farmers, efficiently ripening produce, connecting consumers to farmers through QPC codes, and local farmer-school cafeteria partnerships. The experts even recommended that one team look into a patent for its idea. Overall, this ½ day SolutionLab manifested in countless ideas and personal connections that will help UC Berkeley’s community contribute towards answering our generation’s challenge of how to feed 9 billion people.

UC Berkeley has a significant role to play in our generation’s challenge. Berkeley is a values-driven business school where people gather to foster new ideas, organizations, and systems. Business is a powerful vehicle through which to drive change; business should create value by uniting people to develop innovative solutions in this interconnected world. Business can nourish lives and deliver profit sustainably by eliminating non-value adding steps and investing in the people, land, and technology creating value. We must unite to foster new, holistic systems that nourish farmers, workers, and consumers.


SolutionLabs are opportunities to work side-by-side with experts in the food industry to generate and discuss new ideas to address the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050. The last SolutionLab for the Spring 2016 took place April 1 at Washington University in St. Louis.

The original version of this blog was posted on University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business Blog: Redefining Business.