M Dinesh believes the ideas that make a difference are often the most strikingly simple. He is one of three young founding members of a tech-based social start-up that now feeds over 4,000 people across India every day. All the operation consists of is a mobile app, a phone number and a regiment of service-minded volunteers.
What the organization No Food Waste does, simply put, is to serve people living in food poverty with food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Started in 2014, it now operates in eight Indian cities, including the capital New Delhi. It feeds about 500 people in each city daily.
Ask Dinesh what the ultimate mission of No Food Waste is, though, and he will tell you he’d rather food didn’t go to waste in the first place.
“We are working towards reaching the point where we will have to end this start-up,” he says, somewhat fancifully, perhaps. His friend and co-founder, AG Padmanaban, expands: “Though we rely on patrons to feed so many hungry souls a day across India, our goal is to ultimately stop waste.”
Via an Android app and a helpline, the group gathers information on food that is about to be disposed of, especially at public events and functions. “We then immediately send our volunteers to check the quality of food, pack it and distribute it at nearby known hunger spots,” says Padmanaban.
Any user of the mobile app can geo-tag and suggest a hunger spot. “We will verify it and include it in our database,” Dinesh avers, adding that, “so far, we have crowdsourced and identified hundreds of hunger spots in the cities we serve.”
In Coimbatore, the city where Dinesh and Padmanaban, along with their college friend M Sudhakar, launched the service, they have identified 56 hunger spots. No Food Waste also serves Erode, Tiruchy, Salem and Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu; Paddpalligudem and Tanaku in Andhra Pradesh; and the National Capital Region (NCR), which includes Delhi. Over 80 hunger spots have been identified in the NCR.
All three were Production Engineering graduates but chose social entrepreneurship instead of pursuing work placements. “First, we put up posters with the helpline number in marriage halls. On the second day, we received a phone call. As months passed by, we started garnering more and more support. We drew volunteers and donors who donated vehicles for transport, and containers,” Dinesh adds.
The trio soon won international recognition, bagging a ‘best initiative’ award from Pollination Project, a US-based NGO, which also donated a US$1,000 grant. As they started expanding, they found local authorities and state governments keen to help by offering storage space. Meanwhile, social media provided a useful tool in spreading awareness and gathering volunteers. “Right now, we have about 200 volunteers,” says Dinesh.
Besides food donated from one-off events, No Food Waste has tie-ups with restaurants and hotels to distribute their excess food.
“Apart from distributing food that would otherwise go to waste, we deliver public speeches and visit institutions and organizations to evaluate their food waste and establish distribution systems,” says Dinesh. “While the primary aim is to minimize waste, the second option is to distribute it to the needy nearby instead of dumping the food. When distribution is also not possible, we suggest systems [for recycling].”
He adds: “We do get regular calls from home-makers as well who wish to donate excess food. On hectic days, we try to distribute food to the nearest hunger spot to where we fetch food. On normal days, we distribute it first to those most in need. As of now, we have served 325,000 people.”
“We can witness change now – social startups are becoming popular and awareness about conservation is also on the rise”
Other innovations are in the pipeline. Says Dinesh: “We are developing a tool using temperature sensors to check the quality of food. Currently, we check the freshness of food based on color, smell, texture and taste.”
No Food Waste has now garnered several awards, including an Award for Social Entrepreneurship from the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Rashtriya Swayamsiddh Samman Award from the Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) Foundation and the United Nations Global Compact Network India (UNGCN).
“We can witness change now – social startups are becoming popular and awareness about conservation is also on the rise,” says Dinesh. “Ultimately we want people to think twice before wasting food.”