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The Launch of the Demand Generation Alliance

We live in an age of transitioning consumer trends. We see shifts in demographics within our societies. We have particularly noticed a growing interest for the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs). Individuals and organisations wish to counter concerns such as hunger, poverty or healthcare issues. The latest pandemic crisis has only further enhanced these trends over the last two years. This expands into the wants and needs of people regarding food shortages, healthy dietary plans or any other problems related to food consumption. As societies have evolved along with the lifestyles in consuming foods so have the risks associated with them. Similarly, because the worldwide population has increased, so has the demand for more land and agriculture, and therefore more food production, the latter nowadays contributing over 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions. This then begs the question as to what will happen next.

Out of these concerns came into existence the Demand Generation Alliance (DGA). First envisioned in 2020 at the WEF SDG Tent in Davos, the DGA was founded by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development FRESH Program (WBCSD), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the Global Business School Network (GBSN) as the third founding member. The DGA is here to highlight the vitality of nutritious, sustainable foods with the  mission is to drive societal preferences towards nutritious and sustainable food by leveraging social and cultural strategies.

On June 21st, 2021, after much careful planning, the DGA launched at the 2021 virtual SDG Tent event.

The introductory portion for the DGA launch day was Lawrence Haddad, executive director at GAIN. He mediated throughout the duration of the event and began with introducing the new initiative. Gunhild Sotrdalen, who is the founder and executive chair at EAT, also participated in the first few minutes of the event, listing the main challenges and problems associated today regarding food consumption in individuals. Implementing nutritious foods and a healthy lifestyle for the preferred consumer choice would be no easy task. She underscored how biased it is to think of acting on food consumption systems from merily a supply-chain perspective. And so, in order to achieve sustainable food systems, one would have to perceive the demand-side even more. Gunhild, along with other speakers at the event, appreciated how today is the perfect moment for a “game-changer” aka the DGA. 

In the first official panel discussion, Lawrence began discussing how economic and policy forces are not the only factors driving change. In fact, societies are the important drivers for the latter, which have been disregarded as of lately. Allison Oman Lawi, acting director at the WFP Nutrition, similarly acknowledged this need to pull from the demand side on the change for nutritious and healthy foods. Societies need to retain the fundamental aspect that is; their own decisions. This status quo needs to be disrupted. Thus, organizations like Allison’s and Lawrence’s, wish to ensure that they are here to empower individuals into making the right food choices, and doing so by scaling these initiatives on a macro level.

Additionally, Jagdish N. Sheth, namesake for GBSN member school the Jagdish Sheth School of Management, provided incredible insights. Sheth is famous globally for his academic contributions on consumer behavior and relationships within sustainable marketing, he highlighted how we need to be “market-driving and NOT market-driven” in order to shape sustainable foods and healthy nutritious consumption. He made sure to describe how true businesses today are seen as voluntary societal actors. “Doing well by doing good is much more profitable” rather than the opposite. Hence, a new purpose arises from this point of view, from which Jagdish quotes as saying that “Business is Business beyond Business.” Moreover, he explains how Western and Eastern cultures are mixing in our age and help nurture new purposes for emerging markets and nations and how on a cost/benefit trade-off basis, higher education drives more liberal thinking and thus allows people to gain more knowledge about how to lead a healthy life, especially when it comes to nutrition and foods.

A very interesting statistic was indicated by Prof. Jagdish, on how 60% of all consumption in the emerging and developing world is unbranded foods! This goes without saying, traditionally speaking, food has always been socialized since childhood in individuals, and so the influence families have on their children is a powerful factor when it comes to eating. Consequently, it is required for us today to break the chain of bad habits which have been embedded in ways for us to re-educate. Most importantly, Jagdish recognised the full potential and plethora of colors in which Capitalism can help support such changes. Saying that we have nowadays transitioned from a competitive-mindset of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”, Prof. Jagdish believes that we are becoming collaborative-thinking instead in our markets. As such, capitalism, although a double edged sword, is the force that could guide us rightly so and influence positive shifts for nutritional tendencies.

The DGA Launch event continued on with a short video of “making nutritious and sustainable foods the preferred choice.” After laying out the current conditions and challenges in which consumer demand for food is not aligned with nutritional sustainability, it defines the main level which needs to be addressed. This is the enabling environment (political, economic and informational). Additionally, in order to allow a more horizontal, cross-sectoral development, the presentation uncovered three main opportunities:

  1. Focus on the enabling environment which will act as a butterfly effect to the other pillars/factors. One clear example is how regulation policy on smoking drove social change and vice versa, as they are interdependent.
  2. Change food preferences in individuals and therefore from within communities.
  3. Drive multi-sector collaboration, such as academics spreading new norms, knowledge sharing and awareness.

Furthermore, the video summarizes DGA’s vision, mission and governance with three key take-aways:

  1. Build Knowledge
  2. Strengthen Collaboration
  3. Enable Action

The DGA Launch event then advanced with a second panel in which Diana Holdorf, managing director for Food and Nature at the WBCSD, describes the DGA as the first, true multi-stakeholder initiative of its kind. Her organization aspires to increase innovative projects and programs as a means for stimulating shifts and opportunities. The notions of affordability, availability and accessibility were not missed, as these protrain socio-economic and cultural norms.

We must find the right balance for enjoying sustainable food options and systems.

Diana highlighted how ambitious endeavours such as the DGA can foster a path for all, across supply chains, as much as across portfolio investment changes in big players, who would’ve been otherwise reluctant to these kinds of think-tanks. Normalizing these trends are therefore vital to ensure that new standards are being implemented. In continuation, director of health and wellness at the Consumer Goods Forum Sharon Bligh, was proud to be a part of this group of disruptors willing to take on; how laggers would be put it “the impossible”; in which we see a shift from a shareholder-driven strategy in business to a stakeholder-mindset these days. By working alongside leaders, learners and laggers, DGA can show an acceleration of progress to reluctants and therefore boost confidence in the near future. If we can show that their sales are better off with these new trends, then we will see clear changes in food choices. 

Last but not least, the DGA Launch event concludes with a session of Q&A for each of our amazing speakers. In answering a question, Jagdish was convinced that businesses driven by capital markets are now on a collision course for more SDGs-inclined processes today than it was a decade ago. The focus on sustainable ways of doing business is paramount to support consumer demand changes. The digital transformation age we are living in also helps speed up this process, mainly because more and more people have access to technology. Even more, new aspirations are taking on roots, more specifically this relatively new mindset of “think global act local” or in other words, go Glocal.

To summarize, cultural change is a slow process. As such, DGA is here to accelerate this process for nutritious and sustainable foods. We all look for inspirational instances, hence the great coverage influencers have on social media these days. What triggers are there in the demand cycle which could help us speed up these cultural changes for the better good? As Allison said, we now have a narrow window of opportunity for us to leverage, post-pandemic. We are experiencing a sensation of rediscovering traditional foods, just like Jagdish mentioned with the unbranded foods. Newer generations even change the way they ask questions to businesses. There is less egoism in the younger societies and a more altruistic sense of doing things. Individuals ask more about what can be done rather than how much we can make. This is what DGA is all about, in which the keywords “Demand Generation” come into context.

Lawrence concluded the event by sharing with us DGA’s offical webpage. We look forward to sharing more about the DGA! If you are interested in partnering, please email Maddie Handler at mhandler@gbsn.org.