La Mesa: collective intelligence for a paradigm shift in food

07/05/2021
Social lab to co-create innovative and scalable solutions that improve universal access to sustainable food, in particular for groups in vulnerable situations.

The severe consequences on human being’s health that have, both, food scarcity and its lack of nutritional quality or the presence of toxic residues, added to the need of protecting the planet’s sustainability, is pushing societies to face a new challenge: accelerating the transition to agro-ecological, diversified, resilient and fair food systems. Within this framework, it is urgent to make quality food accessible to the entire population, particularly for groups in more vulnerable situations.

For the Fundación Daniel y Nina Carasso, a philanthropic referent in terms of sustainable food, there is great potential for innovation and solutions in better interrelating actors that work in still disconnected areas of the agri-food sector.

For this reason, they brought together key actors to work collaboratively and through a systemic lens by developing innovative, scalable solutions to this global challenge. This meeting space is what we call La Mesa: a social lab for universal access to sustainable food.

In the initiative’s webpage: lamesa-lab.org, you can consult documents which further detail the process, results, learnings and participants. Hereunder, we summarize the main ideas.

La Mesa social lab

This meeting place groups up 20 to organizations, in addition to the Fundación Daniel y Nina Carasso as promoting entity, and UpSocial as the organisation collaborating in the design and implementation of the initiative. Between March 2019 and June 2020, 97 persons have been mobilized throughout Spain with the aim of improving the connection between agents of the food system. 

The project initiated paying attention to a specific collective to gain a deeper understanding of the causes, and interlinkages of their situations, and better comprehend the employed strategies related to food, with the aim of proposing more effective, efficient, and fair solutions to their needs. Therefore, we started by focusing on women, due to their role in the family environment and, above all, because of their power of action.

After a global investigation of innovations that identified over a 100 already responding to these challenges, participants prioritized those with the most potential of being implemented in Spain.  A first result of the process was the experimentation around models that focus on the relationship between Food and Health, and Food and Education.

Results and learnings

After the first two years of the project, it can be considered that there has been significant progress in two of the main objectives of the process: creating a common agenda, and the codesign of innovations. 

Common agenda. The focus on a concrete challenge, allowed to summon participating people and organisations while applying a multidisciplinary and complementary approach. A common working plan was agreed to understand the problem, present possible solution pathways with systemic and innovative perspectives, look for inspiration in existing solutions and work jointly in the adaptation of those that can add to more value in Spain. 

Codesigned innovations. This phase of the project finalized with two codesigned projects with a systemic approach: FoodLinks and Proyecto Hipócrates. Both are the result of collective work and mobilize different stakeholders surrounding the sustainable food ecosystem. Participants will keep working to generate development and funding opportunities for these projects to be implemented.

Learnings. To propose a transformation of a complex system such as the food system implies the activation of collective intelligence with a multidisciplinary approach. The keys to these learnings have relied on recognizing the importance of trust as a requisite for collaboration; in understanding how to build a common agenda, how to create shared leadership, and how to keep the process alive; and, finally, in combining high and low beams on the path for social change.

Participants 

We thank all the people mobilized throughput this process for their implication, particularly the 34 women from L’Hospitalet de Llobregat in Barcelona (neighborhoods of Collblanc and La Torrassa) and from Madrid (neighborhoods of Carabanchel, Vallecas, Villaverde and Usera) who contributed with their expert knowledge, as well as to the other participating organizations and individuals: Associació Educativa Itaca, City of Valencia, Bea Fadón, Cerai, Cruz Roja, EIT Food, Fundación Alimerka, Fundación Ana Bella, Fundación Cajamar, Fundación Tomillo, Garúa, Gasol Foundation, Health Leads, Heart Healthy Hoods, ICAF Spain, MARES Madrid, OCU (Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios), Sustainable startup & co, and Triodos Bank.