Explore GEN family of websites, social media experiences, blogs and more.

Unleashing ideas.
Strengthening startups.

Back to search results
    Date submitted
  • 04-Sep-2017

Tech for Food


Our mission is to lift people out of poverty by providing them with career opportunities in the digital economy. We want to impact 1 Mio. lives through upskilling and connecting them with the employers of the future with a special focus on women and youth.

The UN World Food Programme has been assisting people affected by the political situation in Syria and its neighbouring countries since it's outbreak. The drastic developments as well as the protracted nature of the crisis require new approaches to humanitarian aid, investing more sustainably in the resilience of refugees and vulnerable host communities alike. Thus, besides life-saving food and nutrition interventions, we invest strategically in skills and rebuilding livelihoods. We provide people with marketable skills in only 6 weeks of training in either the impact sourcing industry or as online freelancers. Those include data services like image annotation, image editing, data normalization and web research as well as an advanced level of front-end web-design, graphic design and data analytics. In our first year of operations we are training over 1,000 people this year in Lebanon and Iraq and will scale across the Middle East in 2018.


Additional Questions

Who is your customer?

UNHCR reports 5 Mio. registered refugees affected by the crisis in the Syria region. We target the most vulnerable refugees, IDPs and host communities who are acutely food insecure. We focus on women and youth. Let me give you a representative real-life example: Ghaya (19) and her 6-member family from Aleppo, Syria live in Beirut, Lebanon. She has been out of school since 6 years with no degree or job experience like most of her peers. Her English is very basic. Her father and brothers continually get exploited in informal jobs in construction earning less than half of the minimum wage. Most days she only eats 1 or 2 meals and has been assessed as acutely food insecure by WFP. They need 113 USD a month per person to barely survive, food assistance covers 23% of it (27 USD). She lives in a tiny basement apartment, continually at risk to be on the streets failing to pay the 550 USD rent. She hopes and prays that the family will not suffer another medical emergency since the hospital rejects them for lack of money and they have used up all their relational capital to borrow money from neighbours when her mom was sick last time. Ghaya wonders what the future holds for her, especially as a woman in a very traditional society.

What problem does this idea/product solve or what market need does it serve?

The problem we are solving: over 5 Mio. refugees across the Middle East are stuck without opportunities. In the 7th year of the Syria crisis their situation is highly precarious without enough food and often no access to education, healthcare or employment. Entirely dependent on international aid, the young generation is losing hope for the future. Especially young women have hardly any opportunities to learn, work and thrive as a person. What these people need is access to jobs. WFP is proposing an innovative way to fight hunger.

What attributes will make this idea/product successful? Why do you believe that those features will create success?

Our approach: connect the most vulnerable to the digital economy. We leverage technology, the future of work in the freelance economy as well as an increasing demand from international businesses that are looking for an outsourced workforce fuelling the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence and the likes. Digital skills are relevant, can be provided remotely and are scalable. WFP is uniquely positioned to serve the most vulnerable and enable them to live self-sustained active and healthy lives. We help train refugees, IDPs and vulnerable host communities in basic English and digital skills and they can practice their knowledge on practical case-studies. We also run them through an internship in cooperation with local and international private sector partners so they can experience a real-life work environment as well as refine their skills. We also teach them to be online-freelancers in order to find their own work in the global digital economy. We have run a successful program with 1,000 people in 2017 in Lebanon and Iraq exceeding all our expectations. The quality scores delivered by the participants after only a 6-week training were the same as one can find in outsourcing centres in other parts of the world that only accept high-school graduates (95%). Many of our participants (especially women) had never touched a computer in their lives when they joined our training. We are scaling up the program across the Middle East next year. What make us different from all the other „code camps“ is, that we only target the most vulnerable that generally have low education, no work experience and basic English skills. We aim at helping them make an income after we graduate them not just “another training” and we mainly target a lower skilled work segment (micro work/impact sourcing). Long-term we want to expand our training activities across the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Syria) as well as adapt the program to refugee settings across the world, i.e. Kenya, Somalia etc. Every trainee will support a family of 5-6 people plus benefit from the incredible effects on social cohesion, self-esteem, community building and the positive larger economic impact now as well as post-crisis. This approach will drastically change the way we view and provide humanitarian aid and encourage economic empowerment rather than reliance on international aid organizations. And last but not least, it challenges us to view these refugees and vulnerable host communities as the valuable human beings that they are - people like you and I that have much to contribute as global citizens.

Explain how you (your team) will execute to make this idea/product successful? What gives you (your team) an advantage over others already in the market or new to this market?

WFP is uniquely positioned to serve the most vulnerable and enable them to live self-sustained active and healthy lives. The leadership team for this specific project is made up of members of our WFP Innovation Accelerator, bringing in the expertise in project management, private sector networks, start-up's as well as innovation methodologies like lean start-up and HCD. The other part of the team comes from our country offices i.e. Lebanon and Iraq with a deep know how of the actual situation on the ground, the humanitarian systems as well as local culture and language. We also partner with organizations like the American University of Beirut, the American University of Iraq in Sulaymaniyah, Mercy Corps and local private sector who bring in specific expertise to make this project a success. WFP Innovation Accelerator team: Sandra Ertel (German) - "Head of Tech for Food", overall strategy and project oversight, international expansion, partnerships and communications Sandra Raad (Lebanese) - "On-the-ground operations and implementation lead", local project management in Lebanon and Iraq, focal point for our trainees Alexandra Alden (American) - "Design thinking and education innovation", Plus our colleagues in the support functions (partnerships, communications, fundraising, administration etc.) and experts from the WFP country offices (Lebanon, Iraq). Our international, interdisciplinary and female-lead team has proven to have what it takes to design, test and successfully and quickly implement this program and touch the lives of over 5,000 people in our first year of operations. We would be honoured to be able to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.