“In developing countries, TNO can make a far bigger difference”

Mathilde Miedema is Programme Manager, Innovation for Development. One of her showpiece projects is Flying Food in Kenya. Where cricket protein is the future!

“Four billion people live below the poverty line, the majority in developing countries. At TNO, I establish innovative projects to benefit this section of the world’s population. We do that in partnership with Dutch and local businesses, NGOs and governments. The idea behind our approach, ‘inclusive business’, is that you apply technical and social innovations to tackle pressing welfare issues like scarcity and poor nutrition, but in such a way that they also generate business models through which local entrepreneurs can give the economy a boost. In this way, we’re working to create greater equality in the world.”

Edible crickets

“One good example is Flying Food, a project to encourage farmers in Kenya and Uganda to start cultivating crickets for human consumption. These insects are sustainable source of protein and so make a good alternative to meat, eggs and other scarce, expensive foods. In the past, people would catch locusts in the wild for three months of the year. We’re working with numerous partners in the Netherlands and Africa to ensure they have a regular supply all year round. Our knowledge is helping to forge an entire value chain, from breeding to the manufacture of cricket-protein powder for use in cooking. Meanwhile, the collaboration with our local partners is generating know-how useful for Dutch cricket producers – what you can make out of them, for example, and how you market those products. In some parts of Africa, locusts and other insects have always been a delicacy.”

Twenty-six international projects

“TNO currently has 26 active Innovation for Development projects. My main focus is fielding questions from the market, looking for innovative solutions, forming partnerships, defining projects with added value for TNO and organising their financing. Once a project starts to gain its final shape, I step back and colleagues take over.”

Bottom rung

“I’m a physiotherapist by training, and originally studied human movement sciences. During that time, I also spent a gap year living and working on Java. There I set up medical rehabilitation project at an orphanage which was home to a lot of children with disabilities. When you work with people on the bottom rung of the social ladder, you come across all kinds of problems you’d like to be able to solve. That become my driving force, and it remains so to this day. After a traineeship at TNO, I stayed on as a junior researcher and worked my way up to senior account manager. But I wanted more. Because I knew from experience how much of a difference technical and social innovation can make in developing countries, I wrote a plan describing how TNO could make a market-led contribution to combating poverty. That was received enthusiastically by the board, and so I was allowed to go ahead with it. In development co-operation, we want to go from aid to trade. For the Dutch business community, there’s a world to be won there. Now I want to put even more of my effort into helping do that.”

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