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Why focusing on people can deliver real societal impact

In his first interview since joining EIT Food as Chairperson of the Supervisory Board, Jo Van Biesbroeck gives his open view of the size of the challenges facing the food system, and how ‘realising things with people’ is his own personal recipe for success

24 Jul 2019

Hi Jo – can you tell us your own personal ‘elevator pitch’ about who you are and your background?

I have spent 38 years dedicating myself to the food and beverage sector, having discovered this was my passion as soon as I’d left university. I have always wanted to work with food products as food touches us all in some way and has a big influence on people’s lives.

And was it your passion for food and drink that motivated you to join EIT Food as Chairperson of the Supervisory Board?

Absolutely. I’m very careful about the roles that I want to take on, and EIT Food really interested me due to the unique food-focused network of people and partners that we have, with everyone figuring out together how the food system works and how it should be in the future. The huge involvement of EIT Food in the academic world was also a big personal draw for me, as I am very passionate about giving back to society by mentoring and developing people. I believe that our closeness to the world of education will also give us great insight into the latest trends and innovations in food.

Great to know. With our mission to transform the food system, what role do you think our Supervisory Board needs to play?

That’s a very important question and something that I’d like to take my time really working through. We have the firm backing of Europe to focus on innovation in food, so I think we all have a huge opportunity to have a real impact on the food system. The Supervisory Board therefore has a responsibility to guide the organisation and keep us focused on the end goal to make sure we are able to deliver on our mission successfully.

If you reflect on your first 3 months working for EIT Food, what has been your impression of the organisation?

I have certainly witnessed a very committed group of people working very hard to deliver our mission. My question is how we turn this commitment into something that is truly impactful? I am convinced that EIT Food should be a leveraging organisation, where we partner up with other big global networks to accelerate our impact together. This has to go way beyond just focusing on delivering projects, as in order to deliver the transformation of the food system we need to make this big!

That’s excellent to hear! How will we know when we have achieved success?

Quite simply, the day when we can demonstrate that we have had a big impact in one way or another. If we want to speak to 100 million people, or even 10 million people, we are going to need a big platform, or a network of platforms, and then amplify this in order to deliver the ‘big dream’. Our organisation needs to decide on the platform that we need to develop, and my role will be to help us figure out the next steps that we need to take to get us there.

Can you give us some examples of the kinds of activities that you are working on with the Supervisory Board at the moment?

Currently, we are focused on clarifying the way that the organisation works. We need to reflect on the last 2 years to see what’s working, what’s not, and why. Then what should we change and what should we keep? For example, what is the optimum model of the way that our regional hubs should work with the corporate centre? We have started a lot of things and now we need stability if we are to deliver what is needed - we can’t be ‘an eternal promise’ organisation. I want to help us with this delivery and avoid frustrations as, at the end of the day, our duty is to get to the ultimate goal.

What would success look like for you personally at EIT Food?

My objective is to find the right people, with the right focus, and help them to make the right choices so that they can deliver successfully together. Delivering with teams has been the approach I have taken my whole career, as it is people that deliver, not projects or programmes. It is only a focus on people that will ensure that we deliver on the big picture.

Finally, what is important to you and drives you in your life outside of EIT Food?

My focus in my personal life is the same as that I take at work: realising things with people. This is why one of my big passions is education and mentorship, and I work with a lot of school students who often get in trouble at school to help them find and deliver on their potential. Working with young people was also one of my motivations for taking a leadership role in the leading Belgian soccer team, RSC Anderlecht, as they have a very strong youth academy. I’ve always been very interested in football and am now using my experience to help the team deliver not just great sports results, but also great people and organisational results.

About the author: Matt Eastland is the Writer and Content Manager for EIT Food. He holds a degree in Politics and Masters in Renewables. He is passionate about the connections between food, sustainability and innovation.

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