Youth Food Lab: from idea to implementation
In a global convergence of innovation, the Youth Food Lab, a brainchild of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and the World Food Forum in cooperation with the International Association of Students in Agricultural and related Sciences (IAAS) has launched last year, transitioning from an idea to a powerhouse of transformative projects.
Last October, Rome became the melting pot for 10 teams coming from Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Uganda. This vibrant cohort, selected for the inaugural Youth Food Lab, showcased their groundbreaking projects to an international audience.
Through capacity development, hands-on support, mentorship and networking, the Youth Food Lab supports disruptive innovations so they can reach their full potential and drive the change we need to achieve a better food future.
The Youth Food Lab is not just an incubator; it is a catalyst for change. Offering a robust 9-month program, the teams navigated three key stages: system mapping, business development including finance, and communications and storytelling. With over 20 live masterclasses and workshops led by 15 trainers from esteemed organizations and institutions such as Harvard, Google, FAO, World Food Prize Foundation, FAO Toastmasters, Narratize, Lexicon and more, these teams received a comprehensive education in bringing their ideas to life.
Supported by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Wageningen Ambassadors of the University Fund Wageningen, the Youth Food Lab teams graced the main stage of the World Food Forum in Rome ("Youth Food Lab: from idea to implementation"). Following their pitches, the audience engaged in a voting process to choose their favourite pitch.
Marcel Beukeboom, the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN in Rome, concluded the event by awarding prize money to the teams, enabling them to continue their impactful work within local communities.
Among the teams that have shown remarkable progress throughout the programme were Mama4Planet, Food Bank of Bolivia, PURA and Bees and Trees, who received the Youth Food Awards. Additionally, Wetlands for Nepal and Hydropan secured the Youth Seed Awards. The People's Choice Award, a testament to the audience’s favorite, was awarded to Mama4Planet, earning the team well-deserved recognition. In total €10,000 was awarded to the teams for their projects, including the People's Choice Award.
The event featured insights from FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol, FAO Chief Scientist Ismahane Elouafi, and a keynote address from Jamie Crummie, the co-founder of Too Good To Go.
Another highlight of the event was the announcement of the first-ever physical Youth Food Lab, set to be housed within Wageningen University & Research.
Beyond the physical attendees in Rome, the Youth Food Lab's main event garnered over 1100 online viewers from diverse platforms such as fao.org, UNWebTV, YouTube, and Zoom. This was followed by an exclusive networking session where the teams connected with potential supporters.
In a week filled with momentum, the teams had the opportunity to pitch their projects to investors and donors alongside the finalists of the Startup Innovation Awards. Thanks to the collaborative event with the Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum, the Youth Food Lab teams forged direct connections with agri-investors, donors and stakeholders in the global agrifood systems.
The Youth Food Lab has truly become a beacon of innovation, where ideas have evolved into impactful projects, and the journey has just begun.