Going back to the roots in San Francisco

The concept of innovation creates mental images of bright new ideas. They transform how we do things. California is the place of new ideas. All other countries wish they had their own Silicon Valley. It’s an incubator of start-ups and the symbol of entrepreneurship. There is no old news in Silicon Valley; it’s all about moving the world into the future.

The future was the theme of day at the San Francisco Opportunity Panel. How to create a sustainable future that is. The meeting room in the Marriott hotel was full of opportunity thinkers and thought leaders. Some were from Silicon Valley, others from academia and some from the public sector. All of them people with a proven ability to bring new ideas about sustainability into action. They are the talkers and the walkers of sustainability.

The task of the day was to turn five global risks into opportunities. The risks were: global food crisis, a generation of youth waster to unemployment, accelerating emissions to transport, loss of ocean biodiversity and resistance to lifesaving medicine. Colored post-its with opportunities decorate the walls and the discussions were intense as ideas were shaped. Discussions revealed a group of people capable of thinking ‘out of the box’. There were ideas which would transform life as we know it today.

After four hours of intense work the moment of truth arrived. The democratic election of the opportunity of the day ended in the surprise of the day! Crisp new ideas of how to use digital technology to disrupt transport and education did not cash in the most votes.

An old idea to change the future did won the election. Breaking the dominance of large scale industrial farming by consuming locally produced foods was the idea of the day. San Francisco was going back to the roots literally speaking.

Innovation is also about bringing old ideas back to life and updating them. Opportunity Panel participants recognized that using old ideas to change the existing food system is not easy. The idea will be met with reactions of ‘we’ve tried this before, it’s impossible’.  Or it will be up against powerful interests to preserve the status quo. Pressure from below was identified as the most effective road to change.

An existing social movement would grow. A social movement of consumers, farmers and citizens demanding healthy food on the plate, healthy soils in the fields and healthy production systems all over the world. Dialogue with the large retail stores and public debate were ingredients in the change strategy.

No one looked at the opportunity as impossible. No one had a ‘glass half empty’ approach of zooming in on the negative. All were eager to explain how the change would happen. It was coming from people who have already made change happen in real life. There were no red flags, rather just energy and commitment to the idea of changing the food system.

It was inspiring food for thought that we bring to the next stop on the Opportunity world tour – Sao Paulo. Follow the work here and on Twitter with the hashtag #GlobalOpportunity



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