Social enterprises aim to conquer the food crisis

The world's largest student competition for social good is taking on the global food crisis. Founder and CEO of the Hult Prize Ahmad Ashkar sat down with Fox News’ Jonathan Hunt to explain how.

Ashkar has a background in business and started the Hult Prize four years ago. When the financial markets collapsed, he went back to business school.

“My intent was actually to maximize, essentially, my own wallet by going to business school,” said Ashkar. But his focus changed after one meeting.


"It was the revelation I had when I met Chuck Kane, who was the CEO of one laptop per child at the time, talking about how do you sell a product to help poor people? And that was an aha moment for me,” said Ashkar. “As a business student, I thought that if my peers around the world could also understand what it meant to do good, do well, help the poor make money, that we could essentially turn this problem on its head and tip the market.”

The Hult Prize invites students from around the globe to solve the world's most pressing issues. Through crowdsourcing, training, mentorship and funding, the competition seeks to launch next wave of social entrepreneurs. More than 10,000 entries on how to feed hungry people around the world were submitted in this year’s competition. They have been narrowed down to six finalists.

Ashkar explains why feeding the world was picked as the issue to tackle. "Food is the easiest challenge to solve in the world. It is really a concept of distribution.”

According to Ashkar, the world produces enough food to feed all of its inhabitants and the key is to figure out how to shorten supply chains, make food more efficient, bring costs down and make it accessible to those living in the urban slum.

One of the teams is from McGill University and has pilot projects in Mexico and Ghana. They are focusing on bugs.

“One out of every three people in the world are already consuming some type of insect as regular part of their diet, so our startup proposes to come up with something they call micro-livestock,” says Ashkar. “An entire industry which says we're gonna commercially farm insects and insect bi-products to essentially produce a shortage in the supply chain that allows insects to get to those consumers that need it daily.”

Another project focuses on efficient gardening. A team from the University of Cape Town has created a startup called Reel Gardening. It allows food to grow with 80% less water.

Ashkar says the project uses a gardening strip that makes planting easy by “taking a piece of paper that is pre-embedded with seeds, fertilizer and pesticides and literally planting it in the ground with clear instructions.”

“Urban farming is so difficult,” said Ashkar. “People think it is so easy to farm, but I challenge anyone to go out there and try to grow a plant of tomatoes. It's a challenging process.”

The six finalists will present their ideas at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting on September 23rd.  The winner will receive $1 million in startup capital to launch their new social enterprise.

Listen to the full interview above and watch LIVE every weekday at 12 noon ET.