Think of a time before agriculture – our lives spent hunting and foraging just to survive?

Or before recycling – mountains of wasted glass, metal and paper products resigned to landfills, never to see a productive second life?

Or before food packaging – food safety, transportation, distribution, storage and preservation nightmares abound…

Or even before the Internet democratized access to nutrition and health education – and made advocacy and global public activism possible?

Remember a time when we couldn’t share, shout, support and make real change on issues that matter most to our health?

The list could go on…

But, suffice to say, when we put our minds to it, the change we’re capable of is nothing short of life altering.

For as much as our food system has achieved, fuelling health isn’t within its talents. In fact, quickly and surely, it’s the primary source making us sick and starving.

That’s all about to change – one wildly creative and bold intervention at a time.

LAUNCH – a global network founded by NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State and NIKE – is working to identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to global sustainability challenges.

This year, in partnership with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the formidable group has set their sights on the global food system.

We’re working with them to find a select few bright minds to join the challenge – to change the face of human health by changing the food system.

In the seven years since LAUNCH began, more than 80 innovators have accepted the challenge. Their resulting solutions have attracted over $95,000,000 in funding and driven change around the world.

From the energy sector to water, waste and medicine, they’ve caused change in the most challenging sectors, in the hardest to reach parts of the world – and on the most critical issues of our time.

To name a few:

  • Gram Power’s Smart Microgrid in India has cut the cost of power in rural villages by 30%.
  • Mango Materials, recently awarded “Hottest Small Company in the Advanced Bioeconomy,” has made bioplastic manufacturing from inexpensive sources of methane gas possible and scalable.
  • Ecovative has made a biodegradable replacement for widely used, unrecyclable polystyrene from mushrooms. The team now counts Dell and, soon, IKEA as customers.

Applications to contribute to the LAUNCH Food challenge are being accepted until December 7th, and winners will be notified by February 1, 2017. Those chosen will have the support of – and access to – LAUNCH’s global network to bring their solution to scale, including investors (such as the Australian government, which has allocated AUD $5 million to invest in innovations sourced through LAUNCH Food). And, ultimately, to measurably impact the two most pressing issues facing human health: obesity and under-nutrition.

It’s no small ask. That’s why they’re looking for the best and brightest from across sectors, specialisms and geographies. 

The heart of the challenge is this:

Worldwide, obesity has more than doubled since 1980, yet almost 1 in 9 people suffer from chronic under-nourishment. The effects are felt most starkly in the developing world, where up to half of all deaths of children under age 5 are linked to under-nutrition.

If the world needs a wake up call to this challenge, we should look no further than the Pacific Islands, where the interaction between the food system and health is at its most challenging.

  • 1 in 2 children in Papua New Guinea and Timor are permanently stunted, with rates in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu following close behind at 1 in 3
  • 9 out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of overweight and obese adults are in the Pacific Region
  • Diabetes prevalence among adults in the Pacific Region is among the highest in the world, topping 47% in American Samoa
  • Some Pacific Islands face a double burden, where there is a prevalence of obesity in adults, and under nutrition in children

In fact, the Pacific Islands are widely considered the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for this growing global health crisis. What can be learned here can pay dividends for global disruption of these problems around the world.

The irony is, we know where behaviour, lack of access to, or information about, nutrition is precluding health. We’ve made unhealthy food choices easier, more accessible, more popular and cheaper than healthy ones. We incentivize bad habits, while proactively blocking the health of millions.

LAUNCH Food has compiled deep insight into these issues and opportunities surrounding malnutrition. Read their insights here.

Isn’t it time we made obesity and under-nutrition as prehistoric as sending glass and cardboard to landfill? Isn’t there a way to disrupt and improve the system that’s making us ill?

Who they’re calling on to apply:

This challenge is for you if you understand how innovation coupled with customer insight and education can drive behaviour change in individuals and/ sectors.

Maybe you or someone you know knows a lot about the food system, or about nutrition challenges like those seen in the Pacific Islands?

Maybe you don’t.

But, you’ve piloted technology that democratizes information, educates and informs a hard to reach population.

In either case, you come with an understanding of how to disrupt ‘system barriers’ – those blockages imbedded in policy, accepted business or cultural practices that preclude a desired action or behaviour from being adopted. And you have a keenness to pilot this approach and/ product on health and nutrition.

If you get excited about creating change in the food system, and being part of a global team with the know-how to bring ideas to scale – apply now!

To apply or learn more:

  • Connect with the team tomorrow on Twitter for a live chat: https://twitter.com/launchorg and follow #LAUNCHFood
  • Visit the LAUNCH FOOD CHALLENGE page to learn how to apply.

Tell your friends, colleagues and share widely with your brilliant networks. The deadline’s December 7th, so there’s no time to waste!

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About Ali Morrow

Ali Morrow is the head of editorial and strategy for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.