meeting participants gathered around round table in high ceilinged church, listening to presentations.

Engaging Students with Food Industry and Community Stakeholders in Exploring Innovation to Address Complex Problems of Food Insecurity

By Nii Addy and Joëlle Rondeau

The McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE) and Impact Hub Montreal (IHM) supported Enactus McGill to organize the first Food Convergent Innovation Forum on November 30, 2017. The Forum, hosted at Impact Hub Montreal, brought together over 190 participants—students, entrepreneurs, industry and community partners—to share insights about the complex problems of food insecurity and consider how to address those problems through convergent innovation, intertwining social, technological, and institutional innovation.

There was palpable energy and excitement in the repurposed church that is home to Impact Hub Montreal. McGill students from various disciplines, food entrepreneurs, and industry and community leaders gathered for the Food Convergent Innovation Forum on the evening of November 30, 2017. This engaging and educational event brought together participants from various sectors to gain a holistic comprehension of food insecurity and to explore how to address food insecurity through convergent innovation for sustainable food systems.

Convergent Innovation (CI) is an approach that has developed over more than a decade by research and industry partners of MCCHE. CI fosters behaviour change and societal transformation by instilling social and environmental objectives of agriculture, food product development, nutrition, and health into business models, while improving economic viability of efforts focused on social benefit. This approach simultaneously derives measurable economic, social, and environmental benefits.

Collaborating on the Food Convergent Innovation Forum is a natural fit for MCCHE, Impact Hub Montreal, and Enactus McGill, as they strive to foster entrepreneurship to improve the health and food environments in Montreal and globally. The event was organized in line with World Vision Canada’s Food Security Social Innovation Challenge, and was supported by the Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE) Partnership, through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant.

Participants at the Forum were warmly welcomed by Natalie Voland, President of Gestion Immobilière Quo Vadis Inc., which retrofits historically relevant buildings into entrepreneurial ecosystems (including the repurposed church that is the home of Impact Hub Montreal). The Forum unfolded in three parts. First, there was a panel discussion on the role of partnerships in research, training, community initiatives and entrepreneurship for addressing food insecurity, as a complex social problem. The panelists were Milton Caldero, co-director of Mealcare one of Enactus McGill’s projects; Jeffrey Baikowitz, founder of MotherFood International; and Francine Masson, President of Integrated Innovation Best Practices at Réseau Technovation Inc. In a call to arms, panelists exhorted students to deepen their understanding of the complexity of problems, and be entrepreneurial in taking action on the diverse facets of the food security issues about which they are passionate.

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Above: Panelists and participants at the Food Convergent Innovation Forum.
credits: Ms. Magali Vennin

The panel discussion was followed by a problem analysis and pitching workshop that designed and facilitated by Enactus McGill members. Small groups of participants analyzed different case studies on food insecurity from various locales of both the global South and North: South Sudan, India, USA (Los Angeles), and Northern Canada. Reflection questions allowed groups to explore multiple aspects of food insecurity as lived by communities across the globe. Participants reflected on the ways in which food insecurity could be addressed through a convergent innovation framework. They collectively developed pitches to communicate their ideas to other groups. This provided a rewarding educational space for students to practice critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills.

Lastly, there was a Food Innovation Challenge, in which social enterprises competed for a chance to win $500 and mentorship from members of the food industry networks of MCCHE. Projects from three different enterprises were pitched: 1. Rawlin, which aims to provide students with a healthy, environmentally friendly, and affordable food option on campus while also encouraging the adoption of more sustainable eating habits; 2. PEACE Initiatives Canada (PIC), which has set up a 24 hour outdoor community fridge in Little Burgundy; and 3. Candy Cutlery, which creates flavourful, functional and environmentally friendly food products to enhance eating experiences. After tough deliberations, a panel of three judges selected Candy Cutlery as the winner, citing among others things their economic viability and the quality of their pitch.

Participants at the Forum also had the opportunity to expand their horizons by discussing and networking with various organizations and initiatives, including SymBioSyn, Lufa Farms, OceanPath Fellowship, MealCare and the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management (MDIIM).

The Food Convergent Innovation Forum built on university-community collaborations, and led to further exploring the role of entrepreneurship in addressing food insecurity from a systems perspective. Organizers and participants of the Forum are building on the successes of the event by further developing collaborative projects and initiatives.

For obtaining more information about emerging collaborative projects and initiatives, or if you would like to be involved, please contact: Joëlle Rondeau,