Mapping Cross-Sector Solutions to Food Loss

How Pro Bono Resources Can Fight Post-Harvest Loss

By Elizabeth Schwan-Rosenwald and Mary Ruth Robinson

Some numbers defy the limits of imagination. What does 1.3 billion tons of wasted food look like? What could we do with an extra billion bags of potatoes or 3.7 trillion apples? What are the implications of 574 billion eggs spoiled? And how could these staggering numbers translate into solutions for the 815 million and rising food-insecure individuals globally? It is too often assumed that given the scope of the problem—which, after all, strains the global economy, devastates our environment, and leaves hundreds of millions undernourished—an individual cannot make a significant impact.

Skilled volunteering offers a solution. Each year, thousands of individuals volunteer with NGOs that serve and support the food-insecure population. If just 25 percent of those individuals gave their skills instead of just their time, the impact on the reach and capacity of the global movement to reduce food waste would be transformative.

It is time for our society to fully acknowledge that we cannot stop hunger by serving people a single meal at a time. Instead, we can look at the diversity of organizations working to transform our food systems, chart their infrastructure needs, and provide pro bono resources that address and support programmatic scale, which provides a sustainable system that is accessible and reliable.

It is time for our society to fully acknowledge that we cannot stop hunger by serving people a single meal at a time.

In the summer of 2018, the Taproot Foundation and the Wallace Center undertook the challenge to map the unique needs of NGOs along the food value chain and identify actionable next steps where pro bono service could impact the problem and offer a new solution. Like any good map, the result provides a new path forward for NGOs and corporate volunteers. With an improved understanding of the relationships between actors in the food chain and the processes that link them together, NGOs will be able to better articulate their capacity challenges and the potential solutions, and corporate employees will be able to more quickly determine how and where to apply their expertise for the greatest impact.

Charting a path to collaboration
The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals emphasize that solutions do not come in vacuums but rather through intentional efforts towards partnership. Successful collaboration is an often messy and sometimes painful process that forges a new way of working together. Despite their heavy involvement in the fight against food waste and post-harvest loss, NGOs simply don’t have the funds or the technical and human resources to achieve all that is necessary; meanwhile, corporations often struggle to determine how to best use the skills their employees have to address an issue as broad as food waste. Understanding where data analytics, logistics experts, marketing professionals, etc. can be best used to solve hunger can seem daunting.

At the Taproot Foundation, we leverage skills-based volunteering to engage skilled individuals in their communities, working with local nonprofits, increasing their professional and organizational capacity.  Taproot builds issue-area partnerships that can advise and direct pro bono work appropriately to impact communities. A needs assessment, conducted at the Wallace Center’s National Good Food Network, identified specific needs of NGOs along the food value chain, and also confirmed the need for greater core capacity, such as human resources (HR), information technology (IT), and marketing, among others.

Collaboration in action
The impact of this kind of core capacity improvement, when put into action, is immediate. Consider a food bank working with corporate volunteers to maximize the effectiveness of its IT infrastructure, with a particular focus on inventory and supply, or an international food access network using corporate analytics to understand how pricing relates to changes in the number of food-insecure individuals in a particular region. Talent from corporate warehouse logistics employees and supply chain analysts can offer new strategies for storage, security, and delivery. Once these connections are easy to see on a map, the opportunity for corporations to use their existing resources to fully fill the gaps along the value chain becomes strikingly visible, and implementation can progress rapidly. Corporate impact is magnified and the NGOs on the front line of food loss have the tools to scale viable solutions.

Mary Ruth Robinson, Executive Assistant at the Taproot Foundation

Mary Ruth provides executive support and assists with a variety of external relations projects. Prior to joining Taproot in 2018, Mary Ruth worked in marketing and early childhood education. She holds a BA in English and Government from Smith College, where she was awarded the 2017 Norma M. Leas Memorial Prize for excellence in written English and the 2017 Elizabeth Drew Prize for the finest honors thesis.



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