What’s the Future of Chocolate? Tech, Innovation, and Human Connection

The path of consumer goods from production to consumption is mainly invisible to the general public. Where do the raw materials for our clothing come from? Who are the people who sew them? For the vast majority of things we buy, we never find out.

The food industry has recently seen a transformation in this regard as the slow food and farm-to-table movements have grown in popularity. However, beyond some gourmet brands, this transparency and connection to our produce has not impacted the commercially processed foods much of the world now consumes.

So, as the digital revolution increasingly brings transparency to government and industry, how can we leverage new technologies to illuminate the path our food takes to us and the challenges facing those who produce it?

Evonne Heyning, co-founder of online education startup Eddefy and a 2012 alum of Singularity University, has some ideas on how to make that happen.

Heyning recently won the $10K Singularity University Labs Open Innovation Challenge. The competition was intended as an experiment in open innovation to help SU Labs refine their process for successfully running challenges with various partner organizations. Participants were asked to help the Hershey company reimagine their future. Specifically, how might they deliver “moments of happiness” in a digital world…a world that will exist in, say, 10 years?

Heyning’s winning submission proposes a more transparent supply chain, from the harvesting of cacao beans to the creation of iconic Hershey’s Kisses.

Drawing on her work with Eddefy, Evonne proposed a platform that includes a series of learning apps and games created to help farmers develop more efficient production methods. Connected to agricultural sensors, these digital platforms would allow farmers to track the spread of environmental threats such as harmful fungi. On the other side of the production chain, her vision would enable consumers to customize the taste of Hershey’s products and track the creation of their chocolate.

We recently had a chance to ask Evonne about her work with Eddefy, and her participation in the Open Innovation Challenge…

Mali, West Africa
Mali, West Africa

What is Eddefy?

Eddefy creates personalized pathways through existing digital content to help people build new skills. An Eddefy path can embed on top of existing resources (courses, blogs, videos and events) adding a learning layer to any media. We start with community leaders and field builders, inviting experts and teachers to request a private beta key. Together we grow a shared knowledge base that’s designed to be free and open for all. Eddefy was founded in 2012 at Singularity University’s Graduate Studies Program.

Currently, Eddefy is aligning allies for the Global Learning XPRIZE to deliver free learning tools worldwide—join the conversation circle and expert network to expand action and impact.

Why did you choose to approach the Open Innovation Challenge from the perspective of creating a more transparent supply chain for the chocolate industry and educating cacao farmers? 

In West Africa, there are two million cocoa farmers. In Cote d’Ivoire, where almost half of cacao is grown, many rural communities do not have access to primary schools. Working together, the chocolate industry, partnering with local governments and NGOs, can provide free learning tools and access for rural youth who are working on small cocoa farms around the world.

How did your work with Eddefy influence your idea for the SU Labs Open Innovation Challenge?

Innovation depends on beginning to help producers, like cacao farmers, build skills. Addressing gaps in the education supply chain can reduce travel losses and costs while promoting innovative new practices and products.

When we first designed Eddefy, my first use case was a young cacao farmer; my goal is to deliver free and relevant learning resources from around the world to farmers.

When I interview farmers to better understand their challenges at work, most mention a lack of knowledge as a key barrier.

We must deliver access and opportunity down to the last mile—including people on the farm, who have never visited a website. Many young, displaced farmers have no local access to formal learning and have never seen the internet. The Hershey Company’s mobile phone program, CocoaLink, is already connecting 50,000 cocoa farmers in more than 1,200 Ghanaian communities. This proposed platform would be an additional step to improving the system.

Why do you believe it is important to develop a connection between producers and consumers? Why would creating this type of connection make good business sense for large companies?

Food connects us—as we touch an item made halfway around the world, it’s natural to wonder about the hands that made it. We humans enjoy human connection, especially over delicious chocolate!

Using this solution, Hershey’s could deliver happiness and access to ripple innovation through the supply chain. Through its continuing commitment and NGO partnerships, Hershey can help producers build valuable skills that benefit young farmers and an emerging group of successful women farmers. Using games, AI and supply chain transparency they could deliver fresher chocolate, reducing losses and cost while improving product quality.

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