The role of cities on Impact Investing for food system

The World Economic Forum together with the Food Action Alliance convened the international community for an action-oriented discussion centred on leading flagship initiatives that hold the potential to realize regional and country-led actions for food systems.

From global food systems thinking to local impact, the meeting offered a platform for collective action with a focus on country deep-dives and flagship-specific opportunities, mobilizing partnerships, investment and coordinated action. 

The meeting focused on the global demand for healthy and nutritious food in ways that are equitable, efficient and environmentally sustainable together with solutions that are customized to local needs and realities. To achieve a significant change of the food system, coordinated and large-scale actions by different stakeholders across countries are fundamental. 

During the breakout discussion, Food Trails organized a discussion involving partners and cities sharing the efforts, approaches and solutions on the impact investing opportunities in the framework of the Food Trails Investors Living Lab.

The breakout discussion was organized in two parts: a first round of speakers to present the work of Food Trails partners on impact investing opportunities to be connected to urban food systems in committed municipalities and local authorities; then a cities’ roundtable to explore the field of the food system more attractive for impact financing solutions in Birmingham, Copenhagen, Groningen and Milan.

With remarks from Filippo Gavazzeni, Head of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact Secretariat, was introduced the fruitful community of cities and people active on food system transformation, starting from the signatory cities also proposing new projects and sharing new game-changing ideas.

Roundtable 1: 
Food Trails impact investing approach

The Food Trail project with its ambitious challenges was introduced to test in 11 European cities 25 pilot solutions, co-desinged with 168 local actors convened in Living Labs.

Thom Achterbosch, Senior Researcher from the Wageningen Economic Research showed a mapping of impact investing best practices for urban food systems. The impact investing is an approach for investments made into companies or organizations with the intent to contribute to positive social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Demonstrating how the problem is not in the ability to recover funds, but in the lack of coordination between investors. On this basis, the idea of Food Trails is to work in a Pan-European Investors Living Lab that can exploit the power of cities in summoning different actors.

Joe Robertson, Senior Adviser of Sustainable Finance at EAT Foundation, presented the Food Trails Impact Investors Living Lab where cities can play a role in leveraging incentives, to ensure impact investment help create new tools. 

The Impact Investors Living Lab is the space for sharing ideas and joint discovery. After one year of monthly meetings all the knowledge will be shared through a final report with urban food system impact measurement framework, index of impact functions and a brief outlining investiment instrument for investors and policy-makers for the pilot interventions of urban food system transformation.

Roundtable 2: cities' perspective

The second rountable was dedicated to 4 Food Trails cities participating in the Investors Living Lab to start a discussion among those that are actively designing food policy solutions to generate co-benefits for their local food systems. Representatives from Birmingham, Copenhagen, Groningen and Milan were invited to join the discussion on which field of the food system could be perceived more attractive for impact financing solutions.

Copenhagen is a flagship city active on sustainable and healthy public procurement for school canteens. In the new procurement policies, the city is setting ambitious goals like reducing CO2 footprint, consolidating 90% of organic procurement, sustainable logistics and packaging requirements. By working on the new procurement policy Copenhagen wants to cut budget of about 600,000 € per year with a data analitics officer to monitor the change.

Birmingham is working on very interesting initiatives on nutrition and health. The city is planning to build a new urban farm in the city center exploiting a public carpark. This will enforce the economic opportunities as well as the fresh food offer for the whole city, with attention to vulnerable groups.

Milan is active on food waste prevention from a different point of view, in the framework of its food policy. Being able to prevent food waste generates large savings, like the equivalent commercial value (in Milan it is 3,000€/ton), the value in CO2 equivalent (in Milan about 2 kg for each kg of food waste). The direct ones are easier to quantify, because behind each ton of food not sent to waste, there is money saving for the municipal budget. Within the Investors Living Lab, Milan wants to develop a “Food Waste Impact Bond” a tool to help achieve these goals.

Groningen has been working for several years on its food system and developed an urban food policy engaging citizens and stakeholders to improve citizens quality of life. In Food Trails the city is developing solutions at neighborhood scale on food aid intervention engaging vulnerable people by involving social entrapreneurs and social restaurant.

Takeways from the Bold Actions for Food plenary

From the breakeout discussion to the plenary Bold Actions for Food – Regional and Country Flagships 2022 it is possible to highlight 3 takeaways:

  • There are many food policy actions that generate impact and co-benefits on health, environment, society, economy like public procurement, food waste, urban production and social inclusion. 


  • The potentiality for impact investing in urban food policies will further be discovered during next years of Food Trials project.


  • Cities are the right players to innovate our food system: they are interesting actors to discuss on the economic sustainability of their efforts towards sustainable food system.

Find here the slides of the session

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