How might we feed a planet of 9 billion people by the year 2050?

Facilitated 300+ “Thought for Food” Innovators in Elaborating a New Future


The future of food security is uncertain but the innovation space surrounding this challenge is primed and capable of delivering the formidable change needed to feed 9 billion people by 2050.  Each year, the team at Thought for Food (TFF) brings together the best and brightest young minds to reimagine the future of food and agriculture.  TFF runs an annual competition designed to engage University students studying a diverse array of subjects to learn more about the complex challenges surrounding food security.  By bringing them together and holding intensive workshops, the goal is to inspire students, channeling their passions and creativity towards tackling these big challenges. In order to more effectively encourage new ideas and inspire collaboration, TFF knew it needed a strong facilitation partner who had experience eliciting and synthesizing innovative ideas, making sense of input and creating actionable goals.  Against this backdrop, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) became a proud partner of the Thought for Food (TFF) Global Summit, a movement dedicated to engaging a truly diverse and youthful community on the many complex challenges surrounding global food security.


The Thought for Food Executive Team wanted a dynamic, high-energy way to push participants from 100 countries who attend the Thought for Food Global Summit to think and act differently about the future of food systems.  As the Huffington Post described it, the Thought for Food Global Summit is a mash-up between innovation hackathon, rock concert, and start-up competition, but with sportsmanship between global teams so striking journalist Pedro Rodriguez called it “required viewing for Presidential candidates.”  The Executive Team looked to GKI to design a method of facilitation that would better connect the distinct ideas of participants into a coherent picture of alternative pathways for the future. Using a futures-foresight tool honed and deployed in a variety of settings by GKI, called “Three Horizons,” the GKI team helped groups imagine and deepen their ideas for multiple versions of a food secure future.

“It made me a lot more hopeful about the future, as I could see the tangible steps we need to take and that is comforting and actionable.”  TFF Summit Participant

The experience ushered participants through a rapid and simple process of mapping out “Innovation Journeys” that could transport us from the present to various ideal futures in which food security is assured.  Groups produced over 3,000 unique insights captured on sticky notes, each teeming with innovative ideas ranging from lab meat grown in kitchen kettles to 3D food printing.  GKI analyzed these to reveal cross-cutting themes and underpinning resources required for global food security by the year 2050. 

Results / Outcomes

  • Facilitated more than 300 international participants through a customized experience that demonstrated each participant’s role in the larger system of interconnected actors, innovations, and resources necessary to achieve a food secure future
  • Elicited 3,000 ideas that were analyzed and synthesized with an artist into a visual story of distinct futures of food security
  • Designed and developed a process to train Thought for Food Ambassadors as co-facilitators to run the Three Horizons Tool
  • Synthesized 9 cross-cutting emergent areas of action for feeding 9 billion people by 2050
  • Provided innovation capacity building support for entrepreneurs and Thought for Food Ambassadors