The impact of mobility, the cloud, and real-time technologies are being felt across government and industry. Feeding Forward, a food waste management platform, applies the same mobility, cloud, and real-time technologies that power today's mobile workforce to the fight against hunger.
Komal Ahmad, CEO of Feeding Forward, founded the company after a life-changing encounter with a homeless veteran. It was 2011. She had just returned from United States Navy training and was attending the University of California at Berkeley to begin work on her undergraduate degree. Instead of giving the veteran cash, she invited him to lunch. She later started a program at UC Berkeley that allowed their dining halls to donate excess food to local homeless shelters.
Currently, Feeding Forward matches businesses with surplus food with nearby shelters and organizations serving low income communities that need food donations in real-time. Businesses save money and receive tax benefits for each food donation they make.
Technologies powering Feeding Forward
Feeding Forward uses OnFleet, a delivery management platform, to dispatch their drivers for food pick-ups. Currently, many of their drivers were previous food recipients. It's a well-paying job that helps break the cycle of poverty for the driver. The Feeding Forward drivers are equipped with the OnFleet mobile app (iOS/Android) includes real-time predictive technology that tells the food donor, the driver's estimated time of arrival (ETA) and includes a real-time mapping system.
Ahmad said Feeding Forward is working on backend technology that enables their agents to dispatch drivers, so they pick up as many donations that are in the vicinity and then disperse them equally to as many recipients agencies that are all in the vicinity. Feeding Forward is also overhauling its iOS and Android apps that further extend their reach to mobile users who might be potential drivers or represent organizations seeking food donations. The new releases will be announced on their website. Mobile users have full access to the Feeding Forward website.
People can also request food pickup for their excess food through the Feeding Forward mobile app or the Feeding Forward website."Drivers can sign up, and they can put their schedules in when they are available to do drop-off and the more people that are in this network, the better we can do," Ahmad said. Feeding Forward through the use of a mobile app, the cloud, and real-time technologies have created a scalable and just-in-time framework for redistributing food. Technology companies, non-profits, churches, and local governments could easily adapt the Feeding Forward platform.
Lessons learned applying technology to the hunger fight
"It's an extremely complicated situation, there is a reason hunger hasn't been solved so far," Ahmad said. She went on to say that amongst the lessons learned is that communication is key. Technology also can be a differentiating factor in the fight against hunger.
Advancements in technology will make it better for everybody involved. Ahmad gave me the example of a time when she was still a student at Berkeley. The dining hall manager called her about 500 sandwiches left over from an event. Dealing with perishable food was extra challenging in Feeding Forward's early days before the cloud, mobile apps, and real-time technologies.
"I called the entire list of recipients for all the non-profits in Berkeley and Oakland and even as far as Richmond, California," Ahmad said. "A third of them don't answer the phone, a third of them are like 'No, we are good for today' and the last third are like 'No, we can take up to about 15 sandwiches, or 10 sandwiches. I think, 'Awesome, now I have 485 sandwiches, I have five hours of reading and I'm on the side of the road.'"
Technology now bridges this gap for Feeding Forward. Now, non-profits can sign up on the platform directly. As part of the sign up, they can specify the food they need, when they need it, storage and refrigeration onsite, and other details.
"Our food matching intelligence on our backend can tell us 'Okay, this is where this donation is, we'll be here," Ahmad said. "This is a list of recipient agencies that are available at this time that can accept this food. That streamlines the process infinitely, so that is the differentiating factor between other organizations and us and this is how we make this process smarter."
Future of technology in the hunger fight
Ahmad told that Feeding Forward recently spoke with senior government officials from Germany and Austria, who are considering the Feeding Forward platform to help them deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees from the recent Mideast crisis. She said this potential application of their platform is something she and her team never thought about when they started. The applications of the Feeding Forward could be huge in this use case because the supply and demand on both sides are massive.
Ahmad predicts that technology will get even smarter and grow exponentially faster with the gaps in communication will slow down. Mobile apps, in particular, will draw in more drivers and people who want to do good things in the world during an hour after work by doing a food pickup.
"I expect that people will take advantage of this on-demand instant gratification technology, but also try to do something good with it," Ahmad said. "You can hail a cab in minutes, you can order food from your phone in minutes, and now from Feeding Forward, you can also do good in minutes and I think that is the future.
Mobility for good
"I think the future is a lot less bleak than a lot of other people do, but it is also that I am helping to create it," she said. If you are involved with a church, food pantry, or non-profit, you can sign up for Feeding Forward online. Feeding Forward is still in a high-growth phase and Ahmad emphatically told me that they are also looking for worthy places that need food donations.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.