Optimus is a tool developed by the World Food Programme to optimize its food assistance programs from an end-to-end perspective. It looks simultaneously at the design of the food basket and the sourcing & delivery plan to maximize beneficiary outcomes (e.g. dietary diversity, calories) given operational constraints (e.g. lead times, funding). Using advanced analytics, Optimus is able to combine data from dozens of sources and helps WFP decision makers to continually improve their operations.
@WFP is undergoing a digital transformation to achieve #zerohunger, using data science to improve food assistance for 90 million people every year
What problem are you trying to solve?
WFP is the United Nations frontline humanitarian agency addressing hunger and malnutrition worldwide. Each year, on average, WFP feeds more than 90 million people in over 80 countries. This involves a global supply chain that is extremely complex to design and manage, and decision makers spend a lot of time adapting their operations to the ever-evolving situation on the ground. To do this, they need to continually balance conflicting goals and constraints. For example, while a procurement strategy relying on procurement from smallholders is a great way to improve local resilience, it may mean that fewer people can be reached with food assistance. And in case of limited funding, how can WFP strike a balance between reaching all those in need and ensuring that the most vulnerable actually receive the nutrients they need to avoid wasting or stunting. These challenges are highly cross-functional in nature, and something humanitarian decision-makers have to deal with on a regular basis.
What is your solution to this problem?
With Optimus, WFP is combining data from dozens of sources (nutrition databases, shipping data, funding projections, warehouse reports, and much more) to get an end-to-end view of its operations, and then using advanced analytics to find better ways of providing beneficiaries with assistance. Implemented as a web application, Optimus allows decision makers to quickly explore alternatives (different food baskets, different sourcing strategies, different delivery networks) and identify their impact. This helps them understand the trade-offs between conflicting goals, such as the number of beneficiaries reached, the investments in local economies, the nutrient coverage of the food distributed, the time it takes for the assistance to arrive, and many others. Providing decision makers with a strong evidence base helps them continually improve the way WFP provides its assistance to 90 million beneficiaries across 80 countries every year.
What is your latest update on your innovation?
A team of optimization experts have been fine-tuning and applying the solution to improve some of WFP’s biggest operations, such as those in Iraq and Yemen. Applications in these operations have resulted in massive efficiency and effectiveness gains. In Iraq, Optimus helped reduce the cost of the operation by 17% (more than one million dollar every month!) by optimizing the composition of the food basket. The resulting food basket was more nutritious, and aligned better with the consumption pattern of the beneficiaries. In Yemen, Optimus has helped WFP to scale up their operation over the last two years from three million beneficiaries to now almost seven million beneficiaries, by helping them tailor their distribution and sourcing strategy to funding projections. We are now working intensively with UPS and Palantir to bring Optimus to scale, so that over the next two years every decision maker in WFP will be able to benefit from data-driven decision making.