How Startups Can Harness Tech Solutions for Positive Social Change
Tuesday 6th December
Food waste is a pressing supply chain issue, with knock on effects that can be detrimental to our society and environment. But now technology is leading the way in taking on the issue and finding new ways of achieving a positive impact on society. We spoke to STEVE HAINES, Head of Community Engagement at Neighbourly to see how they are using technology to connect charities with surplus food, working with retailers such as Marks & Spencer.
Neighbourly is where people and companies inspire each other to collaborate on community projects. It is a single destination for donating funds, volunteer hours and surplus from companies, colleagues and customers side-by-side. Neighbourly has been an effective tool in helping combat food waste by connecting surplus food with charities who can make good use of this food.
Neighbourly enables people to act on the issues they care about
Neighbourly Food began in 2015 in partnership with Marks & Spencer, who wanted to use technology to connect surplus food to charities across their whole network. At the end of each day, store employees logged on to Neighbourly, listed the edible surplus food they had and connected it to local charities, such as hospices, homeless shelters and food banks and the platform sent an alert to the charities.
How does Neighbourly Food work?
By working directly with retailers and charities, Neighbourly Food creates connections between stores and local communities. As well as having clear benefits for the community, store employees become the food heroes leading the charge, meaning employees value their company even more, as they can now see for themselves the impact they are having.
More than just food, these charities also need other forms of support such as financial donations and volunteers. Neighbourly enables people to act on the issues they care about. Neighbourly asked over 200 food charities what they needed most to continue their vital work and learnt that many of them lacked cold storage facilities to preserve the food donations they were receiving. In response Neighbourly launched the Fund a Fridge campaign, where people are encouraged to find a local project in their area and donate money to help them buy a fridge or freezer. This perfectly sums up how Neighbourly tackles not just the immediate issue, but connects charities with the things they need.
Maintaining focus and balance in a partnership between small startups and large organisations
As a B Corp, Neighbourly are part of a growing movement of for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Neighbourly works with companies that demonstrate a clear commitment to social purpose.
Marks & Spencer was one such early partner. M&S has a social purpose at their core and are enthusiastic about contributing towards solving social issues, with a clear CEO-level commitment to look at their whole supply chain. Neighbourly now connects every M&S store with local charities to distribute food surplus, as well as supporting their Charity of the Year and Spark Something Good employee and community volunteering.
More companies are starting to become invested in making business choices that reflect greater social purpose and see the value for engaging customers. This way of working means that startups and large organisations can work together to drive the partnership towards greater social purpose and have room in the partnership for constructive dialogue and finding solutions.
Neighbourly’s business model
As a business model, it is fundamental to Neighbourly to not charge the charities they work with. With a clear commitment to social purpose locked into their mission, Neighbourly has been able to stay focused on supporting business to be a force for good. For Neighbourly, growth means empowering communities and companies to work together to take on social initiatives themselves. It’s not about building big resources or infrastructure – but about picking an issue and finding an operational solution that can be delivered by the communities and companies working together.
Coordinating operations smoothly from a logistical point of view to stay aligned with the sustainability of their business model
Neighbourly can be accessed from smartphones, making the platform accessible using existing technology. Beyond the tech, Neighbourly’s operational solutions include providing ‘how to’ guides, operating a helpline and troubleshooting. It also helps that they have kept their development team in-house to relentlessly optimise the platform and develop new features.
Challenges faced when leading social change on food waste
One of the challenges of tackling food waste is collecting data across supply chains. A lot of organisations are not properly set up to genuinely know or understand the scale of the problem. There needs to be a push for data transparency.
Inspiring behaviour change is also vital to delivering sustainable change. A generation of environmental education, and the motivations of older people and millennials show how different choices can be made in consumer behaviour.
Similarly, initiatives such as the Courtauld 2025 Commitment are needed to bring together and drive progress amongst companies and charities.
The role media plays in getting people involved
The Media has been a brilliant way of drawing attention to food waste, such as BBC One’s Hugh War on Waste and the Evening Standard’s Food for London campaign.
As many solutions lie in the tech space, social media can also drive awareness about issues such as food waste and shed light on the true costs of products and to evaluate the sustainability of supply chains.
Steve shared his insights with us when he came to talk at Food Tech Wednesdays on 30th November 2016. Food Tech Wednesdays is our free monthly meetup held every last Wednesday of the month. We get founders, startups, future-preneurs and larger brands coming together over their interest and passion for Food Tech and we’re always welcoming fresh and familiar faces. Be sure to join us next month for another exciting instalment!
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