Big Idea: How to have the greatest ripple effect

The effects of our actions can be unexpectedly far-reaching, says Partners in Food Solutions' Susan Langer .

Susan Langer, Partners in Food Solutions
Susan Langer, Partners in Food Solutions

All of us have dropped a stone into water and watched the ripples move out from the center, growing much larger. It reminds us of a key truth in life – the effects of our actions can be unexpectedly far-reaching.

But how many of us apply this lesson to our work? How often do we look at a task and think, "Where should I apply my effort to have the greatest impact? Where should I drop my stone?"

Those in international development have a huge task ahead of us. According to the World Food Program, as many as 259 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack basic food security and nutrition. The development community has long agreed that, while basic food aid is an immediate need in many areas, simply handing out meals will never solve the problem of hunger long term.

Bigger solutions
So, how can we make the biggest ripples? Partners in Food Solutions looked at the food value chain: Small farmers sell crops to small and medium food processors – millers, pasta makers, bakeries, and more – and consumers buy foods from them. When farmers don’t have stable markets for their crops, they suffer, as do their families and staffers. When people can’t find or afford nutritious foods, they suffer.

How then, can we have an impact on the food value chain? By focusing efforts on food processors. We’re building the capacity of small and growing food processing businesses in Africa so they can buy more food from small farmers and supply it to consumers.

Focused efforts
Our efforts are focused, but the ripples are broad. We have 700 volunteers from the world’s leading food companies – General Mills, Cargill, DSM, and Bühler – donating time and expertise to more than 500 food businesses in Africa. The volunteers work from their desks, labs, or from home. The African food processors do the same. They communicate by phone, email, or by cloud. 

They work on specific business problems including improving the manufacturing process, adding fortification to foods, and increasing quality, but the effects spread outward.  We are helping more than half a million small farmers find stable markets for their crops.

As a public-private partnership, we can take advantage of other multipliers: We receive support from the US Agency for International Development through our implementing partner Technoserve – which together can touch more lives than they could alone. 

What about you in your PR tasks and careers? Where can you drop your stone to have the greatest ripple effect?

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