Beyond Helping Hands

How Pro Bono Service Can Support the Fight to End Hunger

Who among us doesn’t remember the ubiquitous TV ads produced by the Christian Children’s Fund and Save the Children? Their images of children in dangerous states of malnutrition with the toll-free number at the bottom encouraging viewers to make a donation today to save lives were splashed across televisions throughout the United States. It was easy to think that the best way to end hunger was to give money. But what if the ads had mentioned that nearly one third of the world’s food is wasted or lost annually? How would you want to help then? What if more money wasn’t making enough of a difference?

Recognized as one of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), hunger and food insecurity is an intractable global challenge. Today, one in nine people globally are food insecure. Yet most of us feel paralyzed to tackle this challenge given its magnitude. The scale and complexity of this issue are too often considered barriers to taking incremental steps forward to solve the challenge.

For over 15 years, Taproot Foundation has helped to define, build, and advance the field of pro bono service around the globe. We know that human capital and professional expertise are invaluable resources in addressing society’s most pressing challenges. In 2017, we are piloting the Taproot Campaigns, each of which is a statement of our commitment to deepening the impact of pro bono service. The campaigns enable Taproot to leverage professional expertise to strategically address a critical social issue, maximize the individual development opportunities that are inherent within pro bono service, and respond to the ever-evolving needs of our partner organizations.

Image courtesy of Kate Holt-AusAID.

By building awareness of the benefits of pro bono service, Taproot Foundation reveals values that extend beyond increasing organizational capacity. While facilitating cross-sector dialogues that surface points of tension, we create paths for alignment and share common practices that transcend sector designations. As part of our commitment to maximizing campaign impact, Taproot also leverages our pro bono programs by offering training and capacity building to nonprofits nationwide. Taken together, these activities afford us opportunities to develop new resources and thought-leadership to advance how we maximize the use of human talent for social good.

An issue as overwhelming as hunger is intimidating to confront head on, and many companies turn to damage control measures such as stocking shelves and serving meals to make their contribution as they struggle to understand what unique role they can play that is additive rather than duplicative. However, by focusing on pro bono service, we can begin to break down this challenge and provide tangible ways for companies to make a lasting impact.

We start by acknowledging that an issue as complex as food security must have equally complex solutions. The food value chain – and the causes of waste along it – must be used as a guide. By honing in on inefficiencies in the value chain and identifying where corporate talent can best address the gaps, pro bono can then serve as a key lever in tackling the problem’s fundamental drivers. It is unmanageable to think “I’m going to solve hunger,” but it’s entirely realistic for a company with a team of data analysts to ask “how can we support research efforts in Rust Belt farms to understand how crops should be rotated across fields to ensure a waste reduction of 15 percent?” When companies focus on how their specific expertise can be applied strategically, they are then able to pinpoint high impact interventions.

When companies focus on how their specific expertise can be applied strategically, they are then able to pinpoint high impact interventions.

Image courtesy of Neil Palmer-CIAT.

Secondly, NGOs must be considered the experts if, when given the right tools and resources, they can solve the challenges ahead of them. For the social change organizations whose mission is to end hunger and food insecurity, pro bono service can diversify and deepen how they engage volunteers. With over 10 million volunteers eager to serve in the fight against hunger annually, the opportunity to channel a fraction of this interest has a tremendous return on investment. By redirecting volunteer interest towards critical organizational support, we can see a transformation in the impact of volunteer engagement.

By redirecting volunteer interest towards critical organizational support, we can see a transformation in the impact of volunteer engagement.

The SDGs offer a clear metric in the fight against food insecurity: zero hunger by 2030. We won’t get there by stocking food kitchens, expanding free lunch programs, or serving more soup. It’s not to say that any of those services should be decreased – and in fact, the investments that expand those social service programs are critical and necessary.

But to solve hunger, reactionary responses that address the symptoms of the problem must be only a part of the larger solution that focuses on the root causes. By aligning corporate talent, employee volunteers, and NGO partners to the food value chain, we can identify – for example – how to eliminate food waste, how crops can be equitably distributed across nations, and strategies for avoiding post-harvest loss.

Taproot’s commitment is to help end hunger and strengthen food security by redefining how human capital can move the needle through pro bono service. By engaging our best talent, innovations, and solutions, we can, and will, see zero hunger by 2030.

Feature image courtesy of Nana Kofi Acquah-IWMI.

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