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Collaboration should be contentious. Especially when you’re trying to solve hunger

Bento and Genpact are working together on a platform to help bring food to people in need. What have they learned? Business and nonprofits should leave egos at the door—but bring the passion.

Collaboration should be contentious. Especially when you’re trying to solve hunger
[Image: emarto/iStock]

Collaborating in business doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean that every party agrees on everything. There is room for “spirited, contentious, provocative” debate among collaborators—in fact, it’s welcomed.

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Take it from two companies collaborating to solve one of the world’s most fundamental problems: hunger. Mick Ebeling, CEO of Not Impossible Labs, and Tiger Tyagarajan, president and CEO of Genpact, spoke at the Fast Company Innovation Festival to discuss their partnership.

Not Impossible Labs, an innovation studio, aims to solve the world’s most infuriating “absurdities”—issues that have detrimental effects on real people, issues that the team believes should not exist.  Certainly, food insecurity fits that mold, so much so that it deserved its own spin-off company, Bento, which harnesses mobile technology to get people fed. People who don’t know where their next meals will come from are Bento’s target population; once enrolled in the program, they simply send a text, answer a few prompts, and then can pick up a meal from a local restaurant or grocery store, paid for by donations. (Bento was a finalist in Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas awards, and was selected by Fast Company editors to receive help expanding its work with Genpact.)

Hunger is such a fundamental problem, and the root cause of a host of others, that the solution-in-the-making deserved a digital upgrade. That came from Genpact, a digital transformation company offering a wealth of data analysis and insights tools. Genpact found this a worthy project, especially because it fit with its own company purpose: “the relentless pursuit of a world that works better for people,” Tyagarajan said.

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Genpact’s resources have allowed Bento to receive real insights from otherwise unstructured data, especially important for efficiently scaling up a solution to a problem that affects millions of people. Tyagarajan said predictive insights are important, especially for nonprofits that often have to allot scant money in the best ways possible. “If you want to drive innovation, why should it only be in a for-profit commercial situation?” he asked. The alliance is mutually beneficial: For Genpact, this is a perfect conundrum of supply and demand—linking excess food to hungry people—one that, once solved, can then be taken over to commercial partnerships, too.

For Not Impossible, partnering with authorities in a field isn’t new. “We always talk about surrounding ourselves with the people who make you feel stupid—the geniuses and the mad scientists,” Ebeling said, citing some of the ambitious topics they’ve taken on—making music accessible for the deaf, reducing Parkinson’s tremors, 3D-printing prosthetics.

When you’re around smart people like that, it’s not possible to hold onto egos. That doesn’t mean everybody can’t bring passionate opinions. There is plenty of room to disagree; in fact, the whole team shouldn’t be so like-minded. Tyagarajan cites the need for “cognitive diversity” across colleagues—and that applies to business partners, clients, and any stakeholders who may be involved. The workplace should then become a safe space “to get in someone’s chest, and tell them that they couldn’t be further from having a good idea,” Ebeling said.

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But, once a team has come to a consensus, they should then work together to achieve the agreed-upon goal. “We are big believers that no single person has an answer to anything,” Tyagarajan said.

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