In large, complex systems, the ability of a single player—whether a farm cooperative in Guatemala or a multi-national food company—to create positive change is severely limited. This is because (among other reasons) any company that adopts more stringent rules for its own operations is likely to suffer a competitive disadvantage.
This is the “tragedy of the commons” at work, similar to how—in the absence of enforced fishing limits—a fisherman who limits his own catch is simply leaving more fish for others to harvest.
The Sustainable Food Lab operates out of the possibility of creating dynamic new alliances of players who—in many cases—have known each other in the past only as competitors or adversaries. Our members are realizing the power of collaboration.
A large part of our work, therefore, is about creating a safe and productive space in which dialogue leads to innovation. Essential elements of this strategy include:
• A multi-sector membership of organizations dedicated to making global food systems healthier;
• A process that challenges participants to abandon old assumptions and see food systems from new perspectives;
• A set of high-leverage initiatives that hold potential for leading us to big change;
• Well-documented learning about how such cross-boundary partnerships can address highly complex societal challenges.