Uplift necessity entrepreneurs to feed the future. My vision for XPrize Visioneering 2018 competition design.

Uplift necessity entrepreneurs to feed the future.

My vision for XPrize Visioneering 2018

competition design.

(3350 words)

XPrize Visioneering 2018 Competition Design ended its first round, now in July. They selected the semi-finalist competition designers who will move forward in the process. I also participated as challenge designer in this competition with a strategy focused on Feed The Next Billion focus area (food systems category).

XPrize insiders designed a template for this competition design contest, we just had to fill in the blanks up to a number of characters. The purpose of these competition designs is to be launched as fast as possible and to attract innovative solutions to solve the grand challenges they address. The notion of ‘challenge design‘ or ‘competition design’ is specific for crowdsourcing and open innovation areas (venues used with success in marketing campaigns)

My design was not among the selected ones by the existing jury. Despite the bombastic headlines, looking at their choices, I can see they were in fact looking for new products and services to launch new businesses rather than strategic answers. So, practically it was more about a new form of start-up accelerator coagulator rather than an open innovation/crowdsourcing challenge. However, it was an interesting challenge to be part of.

The 5 focus areas for this year XPrize Visioneering competition were:

  • Energy: Off-Grid Energy Access​ Design Challenge
  • Corals: Saving Coral Reefs Design Challenge
  • Feeding: Feeding the Next Billion Design Challenge
  • Disasters: Natural Disaster Prediction
  • Farmers: Lifting Farmers out of Poverty Design Challenge

Here is my Feed The Next Billion competition design. I hope the challenge design approach will inspire your organization to fulfil its vision and mission.


Title: Uplift Necessity Entrepreneurs To Feed The Future

Grand Challenge Area: Feeding The Next Billion

Focus Area – Feeding: Food Systems, Nutrition, Environmental Stewardship


1a. Problem Statement: What are the root causes of the problems in the space your competition is addressing?

Dreaming to be small is a big dream for most of the world.

Interconnected root causes:

1/ Necessity entrepreneurs: an untapped army of 1 billion individuals.

People who have no other viable option for licit income than to start a small, income-generating activity. Unless they have access to meaningful education, tools and funding options, they will never realize the powerful potential to impact the development of their nations. These action agents live on the edges of the systems and off-road. We must bring nano-players in the game. By empowering them we uplift billions from both present and future.

2/ We design solutions with ordinary mindsets and inside the not-so-functional system, while the growing vulnerable populations are on its edges or beyond its margins, they face extraordinary challenges. Their crisis is now and their life continuity in reasonable mental and physical terms is under a red flag.

So, we go wrong by saying that only 1 billion needs ‘food assistance’ today (which derives from extreme poverty). There are 3 more billion people ‘living’ with less than $8/day + 2 billion hanging on with less than $30/day. These are vulnerable people who only become more vulnerable on the context of globalization and automation. On top of that, 1 new billion is coming.

Most people don’t see the horizon. Some don’t know it exists, some can’t see it anymore, and some hardly can still imagine it. We need extraordinary and contagious interventions.

3/ Little to none: access to funds, interest in social business, action to empower social entrepreneurship.
Necessity entrepreneurs do not meet the eligibility criteria for conventional funding. Private organizations need education about more sustainable models. NGOs need entrepreneurial culture. We need hyper action ecosystems.

4/ Pushing away the generalists led to dangerous imbalances. The army of integrators is on the wrong side of the game or out. We need ‘field generals’ back.

1b. Problem Statement: What’s already being done in this space

The predominant approach is the conventional one which is in the hands of governments, corporations and few big NGOs. It is built on existing global and local food systems that consistently fail to solve operational problems. One of the major problems lies in the distribution system which is broken in too many places, in the operations zone.

Food system disruptions can be linked also to shocks related to climate change and globalization, as well as conflict and strife. Even in stable contexts, poor communication, transportation and storage facilities, dysfunctional commercial markets and inequalities can limit people’s ability to access the food they need. Operations, again.

On this background, there is the social business model struggling to rise above. Its root principle is old, simple and healthy: a good wave raises all boats. Through this model, organizations convert their CSR funds from donations to social investments. It acts like a 0-interest loan to social-business entities to fertilize and uplift the socio-economic environment. The profit is indirect, better distributed social-economic growth. The money spent comes back comparing with NGOs where it does not. If more corporations do at least a partial conversion, things can substantially change. Around this trend, micro-financing and other variations of financial models appeared in very poor regions.

Efforts to convert the younger more and more vulnerable generations, unemployed, women and other vulnerable communities into social entrepreneurs are also made, but they are underfinanced.

Traditional global programs like World Food Program began to embrace social entrepreneurship culture, but very slow and isolated.

Innovations happen in the small circle of startups, most of the efforts are focused on how to create more food with less, and not so much on designing new or alternative food systems, on implementing highly operational venues and tools, on upgrading existing distribution systems.

1c. Problem Statement: Why aren’t current efforts working?

In vulnerable communities, if a solution is not affordable, then it is not a solution, and, from the subject’s perspective, it does not exist. Existing solutions are not affordable or accessible to a majority of people.

The core reason why current efforts are not working is because we approach this challenge as a problem and not as a crisis. We apply conventional mindset to solve unconventional challenges and we expect extraordinary results. In other words, the attention and the resources are not focused as much as they should on developing the operational side of things.

Current efforts are past perfect tense planned efforts failing to fulfil a purpose that only becomes more complex. They were designed without predicting how fast things were about to change and how hard they will force action in real time, how bad we will need sharp and precise execution capabilities.

In 2015 the global community adopted the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development to improve people’s lives by 2030. Goal 2 – Zero Hunger – pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
The world has made some progress in reducing hunger: There are 216 million fewer hungry people than in 1990-92, despite a 1.9 billion increase in the world’s population. But, on the background of the great innovations and possibilities we have today, it is a very modest and slow progress.

There is a great opportunity and time to empower execution by using everything we have innovated and everything we have until now. By using the power of integration and the action agents who are ready and on to bring all the existing innovations and possibilities at the grassroots.

2. Winning Team Will Statement

This $2 million Xprize competition challenges you to solve ‘Feeding the Next Billion’ problem through the lenses of crisis interventions operations.

You will design a smooth and contagious food system able to fast catalyze 100 necessity entrepreneurs in the Pilot Region to fast implement local revenue generating solutions in 6-9 months of operations.

Your solutions will generate immediate impact during testing and are essential to set robust foundations for problem solving in real time.

3a. Rule Summary

Guidelines for winning solutions:

Imagine your food distribution system like a clear map that takes you smoothly to well defined better places. Traits for the best solutions may be:

1/ Help necessity entrepreneurs to connect with the parts of the system that can support them;
2/ Improve their speed and the precision of execution;
3/ Receive/send guidance from distance;
4/ Action catalyst and contagious dimensions: cluster function/ virality;
5/ Gaming dimension: clusters & entrepreneurs can compete to generate more positive action and impact;
6/ Smoothness of the operations.

The rules of the competition:

1/ 10 solutions will be chosen to be field tested in 10 Pilot Regions with ˜ 100 necessity entrepreneurs/ region. Each team gets a ‘Welcome on Board’ award of $20.000.

2/ After the first 6 months, 5 favorites quarter-finalists are selected based on the performance of their solutions up to that point. Each will get an incentive award of $30.000.

The other 5 are not excluded, yet. They go on a ‘Monitoring” list. If they convince the jury that improvements of their solutions may turn things around, the ones who choose to go with testing will get an encouragement award of $10.000.

3/ After month 9 of testing, the best 5 quarter-finalists will be selected based on the highest social and economic impact achieved, but also on the highest public and private interest attracted. Each gets an incentive award of $40.000.

4/ After the first year, 3 semi-finalists are selected to continue more elaborate/refined testing for 12 more months. Each gets an incentive award of $100,000.

The other 3 go on the ‘Monitoring’ list. The ones who convince the jury that their improvements can turn things around, will continue testing and will be granted an encouragement award of $30.000.

5/ At the end of year 2, the winning team will be selected based on the highest impact and virality generated, and it will be awarded the grand prize of $1.000.000

3b. Rule Summary Justification

Through traits for winning solutions I set a connection with the ‘act now’ mindset and a clear, but open direction to attract a diversity of food distribution systems designs.

Rationales for the competition rules and prize purse:

a) I distributed the 2 million prize purse over the entire duration of the competition to keep the competition hot and interesting from start to end, but also to leave some space to gather the funds needed;

b) I allowed space for learning during testing phases. So, I gave the non-yet-favorite teams the chance to stay in the game between milestones and to conquer the game on its last mile. This approach secures and multiplies continuous positive impact, including in/for the prize design competition. It also makes the competition more challenging.

c) I chose 10 Pilot Regions to maximize impact, each team with its own playing field, but also to source and process more data and to disseminate it between players to improve their game performance. These pilot regions must be strategically chosen, we will do it at a later moment in this design competition.

d) I chose 2 years for the total duration of the competition to generate a powerful enough inertia for the solutions to survive and thrive also beyond the end of the competition. It is also a time that can be considered the implementation phase of the solutions. We start acting now.

e) I chose the amount of 2 million prize purse to incentivize teams at all stages of the game, so they can cover their base and resources needed to stay focused and motivated the entire game, to give their best without worrying for tomorrow;

f) The awards are increasing from one stage to another to keep teams’ adrenaline and motivation high at all stages, but also to inspire them in designing their own gaming/virality functions in their solutions;

g) The value of the grand prize is set to reasonably support the winning team to begin the scaling process of the food system implementation.

4. Goals & Objectives of the Competition

The main goal of this competition (our first destination) is: To create infrastructure for necessity entrepreneurs to connect with the systems and markets, and for systems and markets to connect with them through the route of creating new or upgraded food distribution systems by applying crisis and operations management mindsets.

The No.1 objective to reach our goal is to integrate existing solutions for our new designed food systems to:

– be highly operational;
– be able to reach or send vibes to unreachable/isolated communities;
– increase the execution capabilities of necessity entrepreneurs;
– be powerful catalysts and community coagulators (generate action ecosystems);
– their growing and spreading to happen contagiously, from one meter to another;
– generate a hyper action trend in society to help more ‘lost’ or vulnerable people to find a good home, a purpose and a decent and meaningful working opportunity in working to fertilize the grassroots.

The competition’s medium and long-term outcomes will be at the core ‘guiding from distance’ and highly operational ecosystems to solve problems in real time, ones that can change also the nature of conventional partnerships by creating hyper active and focused local action clusters.

We need this approach also in solving other problems. Solutions born from this competition will set the foundations for the next level of problem solving.

The purpose of this competition is to prove that we can solve an old and growing global problem faster and better than we think, if we focus our attention on the operational side of things, if we look also beyond the margins of our individual worlds and if we empower the right tribes, the ones who are on and ready for action.

5. Paradigm Shift Intended by the Prize

There are more paradigm shifts that happen through this competition design once it touches the field:

1/ We shift from the abstract notion of ‘change agents’ to the tangible notion of ‘action agents’.

2/ We shift from ordinary leadership to exceptional leadership by responding to a crisis not after it happened, but while its premises settle in. This means a better damage control and a much better life and business continuity.

3/ We shift from keeping innovations isolated inside systems to fulfilling their full potential by reaching the grassroots and the unexplored world that lives ‘beyond’ the margins of ‘our’ world.

4/ We shift from ‘corporate’ entrepreneurship to a more complete and meaningful form of entrepreneurship by offering mission-driven entrepreneurs (startups circles) a robust army of partners and field action agents, necessity-driven entrepreneurs. Only when we can make a bridge between these two worlds, we can start hoping in the force of entrepreneurship culture and we can also start seeing better stats and odds in the success and failing zone.

This action-oriented design holds the potential to generate a tsunami, to push NGOs, businesses and governments to reposition and to also make investors/funds/corporations understand the profitability and necessity of getting involved in social-business approaches. Sooner than we might estimate.

For example, instead of firing 1.000 people on whom a company invested loads of money over the years – a decision that only multiplies poverty, despair and hunger, the companies can turn them into action players in social business operations, into social entrepreneurs – by redirecting them to fertilize the surrounding environment, and to secure quality life and business continuity.

We are capable and we have what it takes to not leave anyone behind by using entrepreneurship culture at its full potential.

6. Radical Breakthrough that is Intended

Problem solving in real time at the grassroots is what we aim for – starting with Feeding The Next billion challenge.

No platform has that kind of model and power today, because they are built around weaknesses and consumerism, and not around operations/execution and added value, not around a healthier balance between the two. While on short-medium term it might prove profitable, it increases the crisis premises, and this directly affects business continuity.

We’ve seen in 2018 epic failures with this paradigm. We also see the businesses life expectancy reducing drastically in between. At the personal level, people lost their sense of meaning and purpose and this directly affects the quality of their life and their mental and physical health.

The balance between business and social is far from being a bridge to walk on. On the contrary, the voids are bigger.

No theory can help one today who cannot see tomorrow. Only action can. It is how we’ll build safety networks between the systems’ voids and secure smoother and more positive transitions.

People and entrepreneurs today need a new ‘Bible’ to follow and tangible ways to break through the growing complexity of the world, the kind that can uplift their action and execution capabilities very fast, with whatever they have at hand, wherever they are.

The fundamental breakthrough we will create through this design is producing algorithms for successful action, pathways to choose without hesitation.

7a. Prize Amount

The total prize purse is $2 million dollars and I chose to distribute it over the duration of the entire competition to incentivize teams at all stages to take this problem very personally, to cover their base and resources involved, to stay focused and motivated from start to finish without having to worry about tomorrow.

The competitors need consistency, resilience and focus on this high adrenaline endurance race and I think we need to secure the best possible and motivating conditions during the competition.

8. Post-Competition Impact

If we put on track and uplift at least 1,000 necessity entrepreneurs in 10 strategic pilot regions and put our hopes also in the new food system’s virality potential, their social and economic impact will definitely be felt in the world very fast. Chances for this wave to grow are high.

By keeping and fueling the competition on its testing phase long enough (2 years in our case), we also create a powerful enough inertia for the solutions to reach better third-party audiences and to survive and thrive beyond its ending.

We begin the long waited revolution of social-business entrepreneurs and we create a new world of possibilities for newcomers who are left without jobs from one year to another, for younger generations who struggle to find jobs, but also for upcoming generations who will enter a totally different labour market and world. We make sure they won’t fall directly at the bottom of the World’s Pyramid.

We leave a strong legacy behind, a happier and empowered world, a clear horizon and quantifiable outcomes.

If no winning solution is chosen, we’ll send a strong signal that operations and crisis management mindsets are at the core of what it takes for existing and upcoming innovations and solutions to fulfil their potential by reaching the unreachable communities and by uplifting the players struggling in very reduced circumstances, we’ll send a visible signal for investors and creditors to act more in the areas of social innovations and social business.

We need to start asking ourselves: how can we solve existing crisis in real time, how can we offer a precise help and guidance from distance to people who can make a difference in real time?

9. Potential Sponsor(s) and/or Funding Strategy

My strategy is to facilitate the creation of a pyramid of action clusters, by following the model of the way research and innovation clusters are formed. Therefore:

1/ 1 central action cluster around the competition;
2/ 10 strategic action clusters around the 10 chosen teams to begin field testing;
3/ 10 strategic action clusters for each pilot region (to catalyze the action of the target group of 100 necessity entrepreneurs in the field, under a common vision and interest, to increase collaborativity and to multiply outcomes).

The competition itself is designed in such a way to create buzz around it and to generate unexpected exponential possibilities.

Organizing players in action clusters from the start may increase our chances to reach there faster, because each cluster may gather around it partners/sponsors interested in certain particularities and level of the pyramid (location, local/governmental authorities, private entities bigger and smaller, banks, people who want to support this action etc.) It is an approach that leaves room for both smaller and bigger third-parties to join and support this effort, and ultimately, to benefit from it.

On the other hand, this approach allows the chosen teams to better refine their solutions and field testing by integrating also the inputs of their cluster’s sponsors.

Being also a producer in my day to day life, I also think that documenting this competition through a dedicated video production/channel will do wonders. It has all the ingredients for a very useful, educative, inspiring and popular web reality-show, a thing that only multiplies its impact and possibilities, but also revenues channels for keeping the competition in the spotlight.

10. Video Submission (Elevator Pitch)

Leave a reply or two. Or your testimonials if you ever worked or interacted with me.

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