Key Takeaways From Dr. Raj Patel’s Fireside Chat 

July 2019 


Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic with a focus on solving global hunger, one of the most challenging problems we face. 

Confronting hunger goes beyond food. Inequity, war, patriarchy, and racism disconnects the world from the nutrition they need. Basic resources are threatened by climate change and the failure to protect biodiversity. There can be no easy fix, but Raj has some ideas about how to solve these issues.

These are the takeaways from his talk at Brew & Brew that stood out most: 

Some oppositions are existential. 

There’s no amount of ink that’s going to stop certain injustices. Academia is not enough. Expertise will not change the world. 

This was a strong reminder that sometimes standing up to injustice means that you have to do more than write a well-researched article or take a bold opinion on Twitter. 

Sometimes, Raj argued, you have to get out in the streets and protest. You have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the communities who need your help building power. Sometimes, taking a stand means being willing to harm your own career, to be tear-gassed, to be arrested. 

That sounds radical – and it is – but the important point here is that some causes are too great and the stakes are too high to simply think or talk about them. 

Solving hunger requires fundamentally different power dynamics. 

Raj proposed a system that rebuilds power in communities that have been overlooked or marginalized. He suggested letting communities define their own systems of values and build their own metrics and goals.  

This idea is deeply fascinating and I agree that existing models of power need to be disrupted. 

I’m curious about what the world would look like under this model of highly distributed power. Is it possible to move forward on global-scale issues like climate change and conflict when each community may have different ideas and approaches to how to make the biggest difference? Will any one community ever have enough power to impact the price of goods or to negotiate trade deals? Once power is evenly distributed, can we build new governing bodies that are truly accountable to their constituents? 

Those are some of the questions Raj’s talk encouraged me to explore. 

To solve hunger, we have to be willing to let communities mess up. 

When we shift power to communities, we have to acknowledge that they may get it wrong sometimes – and then we have to be okay with that. 

Raj talked about accepting responsibility for a report he published while working for the WHO that he didn’t agree with. He ultimately let the organization publish the report in his name; though, he had deep issues with the conclusions and how the report arrived at them. 

He left his name on the report after it was published even after leaving the organization and protesting against it. He felt compelled to take responsibility for his role in the report. Instead of covering it up, he admitted that he thought the report and his part in it were wrong. His name on that report serves as a constant reminder: Any theory of change should allow room for fuck-ups. 

We’re all human, after all. 

Hold the depression and the hope all at once. 

We face a dire future in many ways. Climate change is here and we’re feeling the effects of it today. My generation is more depressed and anxious than we’ve ever been. My peers are even questioning the morality of bringing children into this environment. 

While there is desperation, we have to hold hope at the same time. We have to find humanity, humor, and kindness in each other. We must seek out opportunities for improvement in the world around us. 

One of the questions Raj left us with was What sort of ancestors do you want to be? The kind who gave up and let future generations tackle our current challenges, or the kind who helped define a better future?  

It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. 

This is the takeaway that will stick with me most. Climate change might not be my fault but it is my and my generation’s responsibility. Racism is not my fault, but I am held accountable. Hunger is not my fault, but it’s my responsibility to address it. 

The burden of all of these inequities is great but if I want to have a say in the world my kids will grow up in, I need to be willing to take the burden upon myself. 


About the Author:

Brittany Solano

2019 Fellow

Brittany is a Vice President of Marketing and BD at JDI, a boutique consultancy that brings frontier technologies and science to market.

In her marketing role, she helps startups spark change in large and slow-moving systems like food, agriculture, and health care. Today she is particularly focused synthetic biology and cellular agriculture, digital therapeutics, genomics and precision agriculture.

In he BD role, she is responsible for developing new practice areas like energy distribution, cannabis, space, and nanotechnology. She spends as much time cultivating relationships in Memphis, Raleigh, Blacksburg, and Baltimore as she does in Austin or Silicon Valley.