On March 23, 2023, the Food Trails Investors Living Lab hosted its final online gathering: the Lab’s Capstone Webinar.
About the Investors Living Lab
In 2022, the Food Trails project invited experts, investors and financial actors to participate in the project’s Investors Living Lab. The Lab convened impact investment actors and a core group of five of the project’s eleven European cities, to uncover, discuss and understand targeted investment strategies that can shift urban food systems.
From February 2022 to March 2023, members of the Investors Lab gathered monthly, and exchanged insights and experiences to help shape the production of a “Roadmap for Scaling Impact Investment in Urban Food Systems,” to be published in Spring 2023. The Lab’s sessions and the Roadmap are built around eight themes: impact, ambition, data, policy, products, scaling, capacity, and community.
For more on the Investors Living Lab, including a calendar of previous meetings and notes, a summary of outcomes from each meeting, and a Discussion Draft of the Roadmap document, visit good.ctzn.works/impact.
The Investors Living Lab Capstone Webinar
The Capstone meeting shared Lab outcomes from the past year, and an overview of the draft Roadmap for Scaling Impact Investment in Urban Food Systems.
The webinar was hosted by Joe Robertson, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Finance, EAT.
- Karen Wohlert, Berlin FoodSHIFT 2030 innovation hub “the Baumhaus”
- Andrea Patrucco, Food Trails Project Manager, Food Policy Department, Milan, Italy
- Renske Stumpel, Groningen, Netherlands
- Shaleen Meelu, Food Trails Nutrition Cross-Cutting Manager
Four key messages emerged from the work of the Lab, that help to connect insights at the levels of policy, practice, investment, and community and consumer experience, and will be highlighted in the Roadmap:
- Investing for impact can best reach scale when there is coordination (informal or formal) between key actors across policy, finance, and value chains.
- Urban food systems present unique challenges, including the complexities of local food culture and how food environments are shaped and valued.
- The suite of tools for expanding and mobilizing impact investment in urban food systems needs to include policy, finance, and business practice innovation.
- Inclusion is critical to support small-scale food systems innovators with enabling policies and impact investment, and to ensure accessibility and affordability.
Karen Wohlert shared the story and experience from Berlin’s Food Hub, and their focus on bottom-up food systems change. The Berlin Food Hub Lab, developed as part of the FoodSHIFT 2030 EU-funded project, is an innovation hub for sustainable regional food supply based on a decentralisation concept for food distribution, education and community building. The Food Hub provides space for direct trade of regional food, communal preparation and consumption of food, and co-learning. The Lab gives small food businesses the opportunity to bring food to the neighbourhood.
The Food Hub has received small-scale external funding and investments, in the forms of bank loans, crowd-funding, angel investments, municipal funds, and volunteer work, which was crucial to upscaling the activities of the Hub
Find out more on their website: https://lebensmittelpunkte-berlin.de (in German).
Scaling Impact Investment in Urban Food Systems
Karen outlined the success factors from the Berlin Food Hub, in line with the 8 themes outlined in the draft Roadmap:
- Impact: A critical step in attracting investment is defining the areas of impact to be pursued. The Berlin Lab started by defining its desired impact through a 6-month open co-creation process, to develop the idea and project, what the Food Hub would be and its goal, with relevant stakeholders.
- Ambition: An idea that can disrupt the status quo and the market can provide a return on investment for external investors. In the Berlin Lab, the ambition was to create a concrete space for catalysing transformation, focusing on output and tangible activities to do together.
- Data: Needed to understand investment needs. In the Berlin Lab, data was used for decision-making; through the FoodSHIFT project, scientists were on board from the beginning and conducted an impact assessment after 1 year. This in turn supported external motivation to join, as well as Municipal funding.
- Policy: To enable change. Policies can provide structural incentives, but also shared language that allows investors and innovators to discuss approaches to Theories of Change. The Berlin Food Strategy created an enabling environment, both to setting those shared terms and conditions, and by connecting relevant actors into a broader ecosystem. The shared language and incentives became a common space in which diverse contributors could come together, to expand the reach of the policy.
- Products: Tools and services which allow for investment. The Food Hub continues to support small food innovators’ ideas and in finding solutions; these groups would normally have little time to innovate their practices, and are provided with tools and resources which allow them to overcome challenges and become more attractive in their businesses.
- Scaling: Innovation beyond local actors. The Food Hub started with a purpose-driven core group, builds innovations to suit existing needs, and connected the project to investors, to expand its reach or spread its methodology. A key insight was that scaling ultimately required external investment, but investment also needed to support scaling without interfering with the core innovation.
- Capacity: Across the value chain, across cities but also for community-level actors. Capacity-building is a critical service for the Food Hub, supporting a wider community of value-chain actors through them. Capacity building activities and services connect other areas of impact-focused work. Activities include organizing farmers and sellers, providing guidance and technical support, and connecting Hub participants with services suited to their needs.
- Community: Functionally improve food systems at citizen level. A food system transformation needs to improve food systems at the level of individual citizens—shaping food environments, local food cultures, menu of choices available, and competencies for delivering healthier, more sustainable versions of what people already know and want. The Food Hub works with citizens, with the public administration, identify personal motivations, and build resonance and connections, rooted in trust.
The Berlin Food Hub highlights the importance of ambition and will in getting a project off the ground, but also that external investment is critical to scaling.
Karen advised for investors to be invited in person, to see the product and share the experience with them face-to-face, as a way to build trust with investors.
How investments can catalyse urban food system changes
Examples were shared by municipalities from the Food Trails project:
The City of Milan pointed to the fact that municipalities themselves can act as investors; by analysing the various departments budgets, and investing it in ways that support their food policy. Political commitment from municipal leaders supports this kind of work.
Groningen Municipality shared the example of the “Food Wallet,” an idea in development, based on a successful Energy Wallet: a blockchain application with which residents earn points by answering questions about their home and energy use, that can be redeemed at local stores to receive energy saving boxes there. In the new initiative, funds would go to citizens to make better purchases and reward users.
Birmingham City Council is turning car park into an urban farm and garden. The project has secured a 10-year lease, and is ready to develop its business model, including having met with investors, as part of supplying local food to local businesses and people. The pilot will emerge as a business, whereby the city council will be landlord. One concern is that if there is no investment from the municipality, there may not be the long-term coordination needed to sustain the project.
The Impact Investors Living Lab will now transition to reporting and insight activation:
- The Roadmap – The Roadmap for Scaling Impact Investment in Urban Food Systems will draw insights from meetings of the Lab participants, and from the experience of participating cities, investors, and innovators, and will connect those insights to strategies for expanding access to impact investment, and improving timelines and returns.
- Good Food Finance – The Lab’s participants and the wider network of actors convened by Food Trails and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact will be invited to join a Cities workstream convened by the Good Food Finance Network, to its problem-solving catalyst groups and to the emerging Co-Investment Platform for Food Systems Transformation.