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Maturity Level 1 Case Study - World Food Programme

June 9, 2020


Maturity Level 1 Case Study - WFP

Achieving the Goal of Zero Hunger with the Support of AI

"applied AI workshop helped us think through our AI strategy in a fun and structured way." – Fiona Huang, Frontier Innovation Consultant, WFP Innovation Accelerator

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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger, saving lives and changing lives while assisting almost 100 million people in around 83 countries each year. Their highest priority is to achieve zero hunger by 2030, directly linked to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

So how can AI help to reach this honorable goal? To tackle this question, appliedAI is working with the 2016 founded WFP Innovation Accelerator, which is dedicated to identifying, supporting and scaling on promising ideas and solutions towards a world without hunger and starvation.

On 27 February 2020, appliedAI joined the WFP Innovation Accelerator for a workshop on AI strategy to support WFP on their journey towards an increased AI maturity.

1. Initial Situation and Problem Statement

At first glance, WFP seems to be facing challenges similar to those of many other large enterprises when it comes to AI use cases. There have been some promising outcomes in test cases, but there has been no systematic approach to ideate, prioritize, or implement new use cases , which has ultimately led to isolated developments with limited impact. Additionally, there has been a lack of alignment in relation to where these efforts are supposed to be headed; namely, there is a lack of a clearly articulated, coherent AI vision.

In addition, there are a particular set of challenges that are unique to WFP: the organization is decentralized, which can make it more difficult to have a clear overview, to communicate results, and to foster initiatives efficiently. Data comes from all over the world with very different regulatory requirements, and while the Accelerator is fully dedicated to innovative solutions, there is no core AI team within the larger organization that would be able to invest their whole time pushing this particular area of development. On the other hand, results achieved by solutions have the potential to immediately save thousands of lives.

Moreover, WFP has an immensely broad range of innovative products and services. As a very first step in the AI vision development process, it is essential to look at the complete spectrum and then select those particular areas in which the assigned team recognizes the biggest potential benefit when applying AI. Determining clear focus areas naturally gets more complex when the range of products, processes and services an organization is providing increases.

Overall, WFP’s challenge lay in the lack of systematic methodology to develop their AI strategy, and particularly their AI vision, as well as an approach to find the most beneficial use cases to prioritize accordingly the limited resources and to achieve the highest impact.

appliedAI Strategy Workshop
Source: appliedAI

2. Approach and Methodology

To tackle WFP’s challenging situation, a full-day workshop was organized at the Accelerator based in the heart of Munich. Eight people, including staff and managers from the Accelerator with various backgrounds, were in attendance. Some were equipped with long-term field operational experience, while others had a technology and innovation background. These diverse skill sets were very beneficial when addressing the varied topics awaiting us that day.

The approach was two-fold: firstly, we introduced our methodology to the development of an AI strategy. Secondly, we worked together on concrete use cases that would give the Accelerator team a solid starting point to take things further.

The methodology of how to develop an AI strategy starts off by providing a framework, which is the appliedAI strategy house. Basically, this is a model that includes all essential parts of an elaborate AI strategy, from the AI vision defining where to go with AI, through use cases and enabling factors such as organization, people, technology and ecosystem, right up to the execution of the AI strategy.

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AI Strategy House
Source: appliedAI
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After providing the framework, a systematic process for the AI vision development was shared and carried out with the team. We had an extended discussion aboout what the vision could look like, followed by the team developing a first draft of a potential vision for WFP. Following that, the workshop’s major focus shifted to sharing and applying a structured process around use cases. We took a step by step approach to this, covering a systematic way of use case ideation, assessment, prioritization and execution. As part of the ideation, we also introduced the appliedAI use case playing cards, which were deployed by the team quite creatively.

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Use Case Playing Cards
Source: appliedAI; AI Use Case Playing Cards

3. Outcome

The results of the workshop were, firstly, the identification of four concrete products, processes and services for which the team saw the biggest benefits in AI application, and to come out with a first draft for a potential AI vision matching these benefits. Secondly, concrete use cases catering the vision were ideated, which the team plans to pursue within the organization. Finally and most importantly, the workshop resulted in the provision of a clear methodology for the development of a comprehensive AI strategy for WFP.

The WFP team concluded that to envision and execute an actionable and valuable AI strategy will take not only time but buy-in from top management to field officers. As next steps, the Accelerator will facilitate conversations around AI topics amongst various country offices and business units within WFP, while developing successful use cases to demonstrate the potential of AI. The appliedAI workshop was the first step towards building this AI competency. The workshop armed the team with methodology and tools to kick-start the tough but exciting journey of utilizing artificial intelligence to disrupt hunger, on which appliedAI will continue to accompany WFP.

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WFP applying Use Case Playing Cards
Source: appliedAI