Connecting the Dots for Open Innovation in Egypt’s Agrifood Sector

Q&A with industry experts

Diaa Rashwan, Regional General Manager of Innovations, Savola Foods, talked to us about why opening their company doors to external perspectives is critical to generating fresh ideas and innovations to help meet today’s challenges around climate change and sustainability and explains why Savola teamed up with the EBRD and FAO in a recent open innovation competition designed to link young innovators to agrifood companies.

Q: What is open innovation and why is it critical to the future of the food sector?

Open innovation is about working with resources and entities from outside your organization to come up with new ideas that can be nurtured and turned into real innovations. Savola Foods believes that this is the future of research and development (R&D) as it capitalizes on an extended network where ideas, know-how, capabilities, and the creativity of the various stakeholders connect to come up with ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions to existing challenges and develop innovations that can add value to the community – it is all about connecting the dots. This is critical to all industries. For the agrifood sector specifically, it contributes to more sustainable food security for future generations in light of existing environmental and demographic challenges. We are one of the leaders in adopting this approach, organizing the first open innovation competition in the region to address the sustainability of oils and fats and find more sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives.

Q: What are some of the challenges facing young innovators and how can they benefit from the support of strategic investment and food corporations?

One of the benefits of open innovation is the opportunity for young researchers to work with big organizations. It gives them access to the technical resources, laboratories, processes, research databases and funding that help them pursue their ideas. More importantly, it provides a great opportunity for mentorship and training in a real-life context. It is the role of big companies such as Savola to embrace young talents and provide the needed resources to transform their ideas into reality.

Q: Savola recently set a youth innovation challenge to find alternative oils and fats – why?

Savola Foods believes that protecting the environment is a shared social responsibility. This global open innovation competition comes as part of our commitment to provide the community with sustainable solutions. The journey started at the World Food Forum 2022 in Rome with the participation of the EBRD and FAO. The competition was about exploring alternatives to edible fats & oils that are more sustainable, have less environmental impact, and are suitable for all household uses.

Q: How did the challenge work?

More than 65 contestants from various countries submitted proposals which were evaluated and filtered according to criteria related to their novelty, scalability, and financial feasibility. Four research teams were shortlisted, supervised and mentored during the competition process to make sure they got the resources and technical expertise they needed to finalize their projects. The competition had several phases and in each one, eligible teams pass to the following one. A jury committee from the Savola R&D team, a FAO representative and an independent scientist appointed by FAO, evaluated & judged the work. All these joint efforts were crowned by having two winning projects from the American University in Cairo and the University of Rwanda which address the issue perfectly and provide roadmaps to more sustainable food solutions.

Q: How did the winning teams stand out among the competition – why did they win?

The jury committee set very specific criteria to evaluate and assess the including the level of creativity and uniqueness, adequate consideration of technical challenges and limitations, financial feasibility, and market potential. The American University in Cairo team succeeded in producing oil from microorganisms that were cultured on cane sugar, with very minimal to zero impact on the environment. Such innovation is unique and saves massive amounts of crops that are consumed every year to produce vegetable oils. The University of Rwanda team addressed the issue from a different perspective, using a complex method for oil extraction from pumpkin seeds oil to maximize the oil yield and improve its properties. We are in ongoing discussions with the winning teams to scale up their projects and help turn their idea into industrial reality.

Q: The last word?
This open innovation challenge proves that young scientists have the creativity and passion to sort out critical challenges such as climate change and sustainability. The role of big companies now is to provide the support and resources needed, both technically and financially, to convert these ideas into reality.

Find out more about Savola Foods:  Savola Group | Home

Find out more about how the EBRD and FAO are working to link youth innovation to value chain aggregators in the agrifood sector: Linking youth innovation to value chain aggregators in the agrifood sector – Agtivate


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