FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Launch of the FAO Regional Food Systems Leadership Academy in Partnership with Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development at University of Cambridge

THRIVE: The Cambridge-FAO Leadership Academy for Regional Innovation and Vision in Equitable Food Systems

Dubai (United Arab Emirates), 20/11/2023 - 24/11/2023

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the complexity of fixing our broken food system at the UN Food Systems Summit+2 Stocktaking Moment in July 2023; The culmination of the event’s deliberations resulted in a Call to Action, outlining primary areas of emphasis for worldwide attention in the upcoming biennium. One pivotal aspect that emerged from the discussions was the imperative of enhancing understanding and capabilities among participants within the realm of food systems.

In response, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa (FAORNE) and the Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (CRSD) at the University of Cambridge are collaborating on a groundbreaking initiative. This initiative, which will form a food systems leadership academy, aims to provide scholarships and skills training to empower local leaders to make better decisions and integrate national pathways to combat food insecurity and hunger in line with the 2030 Agenda.

These pathways will map the way towards sustainable finance and hold the promise of hastening the transformation of national food systems. Additionally, the academy will work with international cooperation partners, private sector organizations, and civil society leaders to improve decision-making at every level of interactions with the food systems.  In essence, this collaboration represents an unwavering commitment to fostering leadership that navigates complexity, amplifies collaboration, and guides the destiny of citizens living in the regional food systems.

FAO and CRSD will be hosting the launch of the Regional Food Systems Leadership Academy Initiative in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 5 November 2023.

About the Academy

THRIVE Academy is aimed at enhancing the capacities of key decision-makers in the region to enable and equip them with the skills and tools for evidence-based, timely, practical, and impactful decision-making. The Academy would deploy state of the art capacity development approaches and tools, new methodologies with systems dynamic thinking, while putting the empowerment of people at the center of its action plan.  

The Academy will focus on the adoption of sustainable policies that balance politics, manage economic growth, consider environmental protection, and promote social equity, ensuring alignment with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It will provide an interactive space for leaders to not only absorb knowledge and skills, but also as a platform for leaders to share their own expertise with respect to their own food system transformations. The underlying principle that will guide this initiative and combine food system dynamics with local political and economic contexts will be the concept of “Collective Intelligence”, a process by which groups of individuals learn, leverage, and lead on creating localized evidence for collective decision making on systems level transformations. The Academy will be a cutting-edge gateway to harness the power of collective intelligence, enabling policymakers to steer the course towards more food-secure, water-resilient, and sustainable futures that will represent long-lasting cultures of innovative problem-solving techniques and interdisciplinary collaboration. The success of Collective Intelligence will be predicated around the delivery of the following services:

  • Knowledge Transfer: How do we make sense of complex evidence? What are cognitive principles that allow evidence to be taken as fact and lay people experience it as law on daily basis? At heart, we are causal thinkers driven to explain the myriad of ways in which people behave and interact with the system. We build mental models of the world, enabling us to infer patterns of cause and effect, linking words with deeds, actions to effects, and policies to evidence. But building models is not enough; we need to evaluate these models against evidence, and we often struggle with this task.  We have a knack for explaining, but less skill in evaluating.  
  • Capacity Development: What kind of capacity do we need to make sense of complex food systems and evidence linked with it? What kind of capacity is needed where there is uncertainty in the complex food systems and inefficient evidence? Fortunately, we can improve our reasoning by reflecting on the evidence, observing the practice and learn to use new tools. The academy will present a system of rational inference that help leaders evaluate mental models, make sounder judgements, improve collective actions, and dedicate investment in systems level transformation. The Right to Food Guidelines emphasize the importance of education and awareness, fostering knowledge and accountability. Capacity development is essential for practitioners, policymakers, and stakeholders to apply a human rights-based approach.
  • Evidence Creation: How to evaluate evidence for competing priorities? How to apply multi-factor causal explanation of an evidence over unitary causal explanation? How to react to strong claims that treat internal versus external causes for policy challenges, market risks or leadership failures? It requires considering multiple factors and their causal relationships, rather than relying on a single cause. Informed decision-making and policy formulation require new skills in evidence gathering and interpretation. These processes involve collecting and analyzing data, enabling the identification of best practices, informed policy development, stakeholder engagement, advocacy, resource allocation, and monitoring of impacts. By offering credible insights and informing actions, evidence-based approaches guide the shift towards more sustainable, resilient, and equitable food systems.