Look for these shared characteristics when financing food systems transformation

Finance and donor communities are increasingly looking to food systems as a way to catalyze meaningful change. How can investors and donors identify initiatives that make impactful contributions to social and environmental outcomes?

A Global Alliance report published today addresses this question. It suggests impact investors, fund managers, public donors, and philanthropic grantmakers seek out certain values and characteristics that are shared among those leading food systems transformation. 

The new release, Mobilizing Money and Movements: Creative Finance for Food Systems Transformation, spotlights six new Beacons of Hope stories from Denmark, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United States, and Zambia. In them, we meet entrepreneurs, cooperative leaders, activists, and civil servants using creative blended finance approaches to transform food systems in their communities and countries. 

As well as highlighting how private, public and commercial finance can contribute to transformative change, the report gets to the crux of the “how” and “why” of these initiatives. It focuses on their shared ethos, means of engagement, vision, and strategies. The investment community can use these six characteristics as guidelines for assessing and identifying initiatives that deliver fair, environmentally sound, and inclusive results.

  • Lead to serve. Behind every initiative featured in this report is a remarkable leader. Each embodies an unwavering dedication to meet their community’s needs for healthy food and dignified livelihoods. Investors should search for initiatives led by systems thinkers, creative problem solvers, and community champions who come from a range of disciplines and lived experiences.
  • Engage in social movements. The most impactful initiatives see themselves as part of the broader system. Social movements feature prominently in the origin story and ongoing success of this Beacons of Hope cohort. Whether it’s defending the local environment from genetically modified seeds or supporting food justice movements with financial and in-kind support, the initiatives worth investing in show up for their communities in a diversity of ways. 
  • Centre healthy food. At the heart of all six stories in this report is a commitment to healthy, culturally appropriate, and place-specific diets. The initiatives embody agroecological principles of food production that go beyond organic methods to embrace a biodiverse, ecological approach that values the health and well-being of farmers and community members. For example, several of the initiatives encourage farmers to cultivate a diversity of crops to nourish and feed their families before marketing their surplus harvest. 
  • Invest in skills development. Training and education are integral pieces in the puzzle of food systems transformation. This includes training farmers to grow biodiverse food crops and educating chefs to prepare organic, seasonal menus from scratch to help urbanites become more conscious consumers. A focus on skills development enables farmers and eaters to reconnect with each other, the surrounding environment and traditional and Indigenous wisdom and practices. 
  • Adapt through innovation. The initiatives in this report demonstrate the importance of agility and openness to change. They frequently adapt their approach to responding to the local context, market changes and outside threats that could undermine their mission. From recreating their value proposition to forging new ownership pathways to investing in processing and packaging facilities, the investment community should look for evidence of flexible attitudes and business models.

These six characteristics suggest that aspects of food systems transformation are shared across geographies and experiences. By searching for and cultivating these common ingredients for success, the investment community can be better coordinated and strategically aligned to maximize environmental and social value for initiatives and society alike. Want to see what these shared characteristics look like in practice? Read the full Mobilizing Money and Movements: Creative Finance for Food Systems Transformation report.