Blogs, Systems Thinking

Can Food Systems Save the World? 10 years of the Global Alliance and What Comes Next

Anniversaries are always a time to reflect back and look forward. I’ve been doing both since joining the Global Alliance as Interim Executive Director in May, and it has been really interesting to see everything come full circle.

I still remember some of the founding members of the Global Alliance referencing HRH The Prince of Wales’s speech On the Future of Food. That 2011 address spoke to how the prevalent model of 21st-century food production has acute and adverse effects on people and nature. In that speech, he challenged us to move beyond isolated and siloed responses to fix our broken food systems. 

This call to action resonated with many philanthropic foundations already working on these issues individually. A year later, in 2012, it prompted them to initiate the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. 

To this day, we’ve remained a strategic alliance of about 30 foundations from around the world, committed to pooling our resources, relationships, experiences, and expertise to stimulate collective action toward food systems transformation. 

Coming together has let us tackle our shared vision from different angles. Working as part of the Global Alliance these past 10 years has urged us to challenge our biases, exchange ideas, and bridge perspectives between the philanthropic sector and the communities we serve. We think this is one of our unique strengths as a strategic alliance. It is not always easy, but we move forward guided by our principles

In the decade past, calls to transform our food and agricultural systems have grown louder. I’d like to hope the reason for this is that we’re getting better at thinking in systems—understanding the ways in which everything is interconnected, especially when it comes to food, our health, and the planet.

But as a pragmatist, I know that recognition of the importance of food systems also comes because of the crises we face. COVID-19 further underscored the fragility of our global food system as people scrambled to put a meal on the table amidst lockdowns and supply chain disruptions. More recently, the Ukraine-Russia war has had devastating effects on food security and highlights the inextricable link between food systems and the fossil fuel-dominated energy sector.

Uncertainty and unpredictability are common ingredients in these crises—two things we don’t particularly love as people. The state of the world today, be it COVID, conflict, or climate change, demonstrates how entangled these issues are and that in taking action on food systems, you can take action on all. 

At the Global Alliance, we really do think food systems transformation can save the world. This year alone we’ve featured projects from around the globe that show how food-focused initiatives can contribute to climate action and improve the health and wellbeing of people, the planet, and animals. All while being mindful of equity and power, grounded in place and culture, gender-sensitive, and participatory in their approaches. 

Going forward, here is some of what comes next for the Global Alliance: 

  • Continuing to advance the Global Alliance’s 7 Calls to Action in global fora and beyond, including 1) engaging in the process ahead of and during COP 27 in Egypt to ensure there is engagement around the food-climate agenda, 2) Highlighting the multiple interactions and synergies between aquatic and terrestrial food systems, and promoting the need for a more integrated approach
  • Strengthening connections from local to global with partners and networks to incite collective action and showcase global efforts that address food systems challenges in creative ways 
  • Shifting debates by convening on contentious issues and fostering a systemic approach to transforming food systems
  • Promoting systemic food systems solutions to global shocks and crises  

The Global Alliance is constantly evolving, but always in alignment with our guiding principles. These principles are at the beating heart of our strategic plan and priorities over the next several years. 

To close, one of the many things that inspire me about this work is that the individual values of the people working in our community are reflected in the way the Alliance and its members do its work. 

Our members are committed to the cause, and that’s a powerful thing. My hope is that through continued collective efforts we are able to further deepen and strengthen relationships across members as we move forward in the next 10 years. 

We’ll be launching a series of content over the next month to mark our 10-year anniversary. That includes an interactive timeline of our first decade and a podcast mini-series where we hear from several Alliance members and food systems leaders. 

– Ends

Oliver Oliveros
Interim Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food