In The News.


  • November 2, 2015

Barbara Byrd Keenan, Grand Challenger

“The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.” – Peter Diamandis

In 2013, I worked with Barbara Byrd Keenan while she was CEO of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). These are the researchers and scientists who create astronaut food, designer desserts like Twinkies, and who make sure your cabbage isn’t crawling with bugs when you pick it up at the grocery store. They are the geniuses behind the world of food. While she was there, Barbara saw the potential for IFT to make a global contribution to a complex and multi-faceted problem.

She met with representatives of multi-lateral development agencies and developed what she called the Power of Three. The name is derived from the unique interdependence of water, food, and energy, each of which are equally valuable if we are to feed the nine billion people expected to inhabit Earth by 2050. To discuss food without thinking about water and energy is pointless; all three factors are inherently and irrevocably intertwined. The more populous the planet becomes, the more complicated the availability and successful delivery of each.

So in 2013, Barbara convened the first Power of Three conference. Corporate giants like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) participated. The World Health Organization, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other organizations were attuned to the issue, too. With visionary zeal, Barbara brought each of these very different players to a common table.

Before all this was possible, she took her volunteer leaders on a journey that built credibility for the value of dedicating resources to such a powerful issue. She did this by reinventing governance at IFT so that it supported entrepreneurial opportunism. She still encountered barriers, but with a new governance structure she was able to move rapidly when circumstances were in her favor. Speed is an asset to entrepreneurs.

Barbara also founded the Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC), a unique organization able to work with large international organizations to identify the supply chain when there were problems with food.

Launched in 2013, the GFTC is a collaborative partnership that brings together public and private stakeholders to address common concerns in the world of food, issues that impact all of us. When Barbara started the Power of Three, experts came; IFT had earned the ability to convene. With this initiative, a Grand Challenge was launched. The Global Food Traceability Center is a benchmark for the power of liberating the latent value of an organization.

Seth Kahan

About Seth Kahan

Seth Kahan is an executive business strategist.

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