Passion for food wins ECA’s Innovation Challenge

Winning an award was never part of Sylvie Ogoudedji’s expectations when she joined the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) as a fellow in 2019.

It was during her induction that she learned of ECA’s Innovation Challenge for the first time. What got her “really excited” was a new understanding – after a Google search – that “innovation does not necessarily mean invention” and that “it could simply be a new way of approaching existing matters.”

“I knew right then that there was something I could offer,” she said.

The Innovation Challenge is part of ECA’s Innovation Accelerator Programme that aims to recognize staff contributions to the success of ECA’s programmatic achievements as well as foster a culture of innovation within the think-tank.

32-year-old Sylvie Ogoudedji saw the Challenge as an opportunity for her to “talk about something that really matters to me: food.” She noted (with a smiley) in her email response to this reporter’s questions – that, “after seeing my picture, you would realize that I love eating.”

But her love for food is not selfish. She yearns for an Africa where everyone has access to healthy food. She is concerned about the roughly 300 million people suffering from hunger in both rural and urban areas in Africa.

“These are the kind of statistics that make me feel that we are still far from the end of the journey towards a prosperous Africa,” she lamented.”

Her project proposal to the Innovative Challenge is titled “Building Africa’s New Farmers.” 

She makes the case for why “agriculture should not be for unskilled labour and rural areas should not be the place from which Africans run away.”

Among her recommendations was a stimulus package for urban agriculture whereby farmers are equipped with land, modern agricultural skills, access to credit, modern climate-resilient houses with rooftop gardens, and other services that can attract young people to agriculture.

The output, she noted, is to “provide poor people with decent work, the happiness of being owners of the houses they live in, the opportunity to eat the food they produce, sell the surplus, and live in a safe place where they have access to needed services.”

The Benin born ECA fellow who holds a PhD in Applied Agricultural Economics and Policy argues that government should create a ministry in charge of this specific program, and that good land policies and good governance are the cornerstones of her initiative.

The contest awarded two grand (first position) prizes in the categories of substantive innovation and operational innovation – won by Sylvie Ogoudedji and Bineswaree Bolaky respectively. 

Bineswaree, an Economic Affairs Officer at ECA’s Southern Africa Office, focused her project on ways to “Enhance how ECA as an institution delivers its support to member states on AfCTTA.”

A total of 18 submissions were received for the Innovation Challenge. The second and third winners in the substantive category are Rachael Nsubunga of ECA’s Office for East Africa and Maame Paterson of ECA’s Office for West Africa respectively.

In the operational category, Ermias Wondie and Kelemwork Kejela (ECA HQ) won the second and third prizes, respectively.

The Grand Prize winners will receive direct mentoring from a member of ECA’s senior leadership team, who will contribute to developing and bringing the winners’ ideas to fruition.

Winning the grand prize is a “dream come true” for Sylvie who is also “very happy to see how ECA, in addition to all the incredible work it does for our continent, opens a wide door to new ideas for a prosperous Africa.”

Ms. Ogoudedji credits her success to her “very supportive colleagues and director” of ECA’s Office for Central Africa who gave her the necessary assistance to emerge victorious.

Having bagged the material and intellectual rewards from the contest, Sylvie continues to flaunt her love for food, stating “as human beings, nothing unites us more than our universal need for food.”

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