By Jess Carter
It all started on a hot day in a small village in rural Bangladesh four years ago. We began the morning chopping garlic and potatoes, and had hired a rickshaw wallah to cart five big pots of curry to a nearby school. When we arrived, there were questions, shy giggles and suddenly, lots of hands – making mounds of rice, passing spoons to serve a friend’s meal, and scrubbing bowls clean.
It was the birth of Everyone Eats. And friends, students, teachers and community members were celebrating over a first meal of khichori and duy for 145 children in a village where hunger is common.
Everyone Eats was a plan hatched between friends across continents, kicked off by the community relationships and expertise of NGO Hunger Free World Bangladesh (HFW) coupled with the can-do attitude and fundraising vision of Founder Justin Watts. We wanted to add value to an existing community development initiative and explore ways to make giving easier.
Since then, we’ve provided nearly 100,000 school lunches by raising about $10,000 a year. It’s been a bumpy and fun ride, and we thought we’d share some of the lessons we learned along the way to inspire and encourage other social entrepreneurs keen to make a difference.
Let the locals show you the way
Both Justin and I were passionate about ending hunger – no child or adult should need to go hungry and yet every day one in nine people do. Two-thirds of those people are in Asia. We’d both grown up in country Australia on farms, and were also outraged that many of the world’s hungriest people are farmers.
Justin had been raising money for the World Food Programme and I was working with HFW on their food security programs. HFW already had existing expertise in delivering school meals, but wanted to provide additional meals to students at schools in poorer areas of the community. They’d also identified some ways they could improve their school meals program, but lacked the resources to investigate this further.
On the advice of HFW, we selected another community as the pilot location for expanding the school meals project, as previous community assessments by HFW identified this as an area where the community would benefit from school lunches, and community members confirmed this.
This step was really important. By partnering with an existing organisation with local relationships within the community, we were able to move much faster in setting up the project. Community trust was crucial, and meant that local mothers volunteered to help cook the lunches (we were eventually able to pay them a small wage for this) and local shops and markets agreed to deals on rice and other produce to make the meals more affordable.
The magic is in the mix
The program started simply. Our goal was to ensure that all children in the community had access to at least one healthy, nutritious meal five days a week. The food was sourced from local farmers that HFW was working with through its other programs, and delivered to the children at lunch time by local staff and volunteers.
One of the first changes we started to see was an increase in school attendance. This led to an improvement in exam results across the board, and also saw kid’s participation rates increase. One little boy, Lipu, had been regularly missing more than a week of school each month. After a few months of school meals, this dropped to two days a month. His parents, who had never forced him to go to school, even commented that he had started doing homework.
After about a year of delivering school lunches, we started to expand the program to take a more holistic approach to hunger. We knew that feeding kids healthy meals at school needed to be complemented by nutritious meals at home. Both students and parents started attending nutrition education classes, delivered at school and also through HFW’s other community networks. The approach was based on a similar project HFW had implemented in a different area, but integrating the classes with meals led to higher attendance and community engagement. The classes were delivered by a local health worker trained through another NGO working in the area – BRAC.
About six months later, we hired a local Doctor to do monthly health checks for the children. This also helped to improve the way we understood the program’s impact by providing valuable insights into how students’ weights, heights, nutrition and overall health were changing.
While the program didn’t have enough budget to cover the cost of medications the Doctor might have recommended, we were able to tap into existing government programs to make sure children got vaccinations for measles and rubella, and de-worming tablets.
By constantly looking for simple adaptations and partnerships to improve the program’s original vision, we were able to develop a more integrated and holistic solution that met the community’s needs more effectively.
Give yourself time
After one year of successfully delivering school meals through the pilot, we committed to provide funding for the Everyone Eats project for a three year period commencing April 2013 until April 2016. This was really important for the program’s success, because it gave us time to incorporate community suggestions into the model, and gave HFW the freedom to explore ways the program could make a bigger impact – improving it with health education classes, adjusting the meals based on feedback, and engaging with local health professionals to ensure we were providing adequate support.
On the fundraising side – which Justin has documented here – a one-year pilot and three-year commitment also gave us impetus to forge ahead despite challenges raising a steady amount of funds from a constant group of supporters. Since we were learning as we went – figuring out how to raise funds while figuring out how we could do more for the community in Bangladesh – three years was long enough to explore opportunities but close enough on the horizon to stop us lingering too long!
When it comes to making a lasting difference, solutions shouldn’t be rushed. While local partnerships and continuous improvement might be development-speak buzzwords, in practice they were key to the success of the first four years of Everyone Eats.
Want to know more? Feel free to get in touch via jess.carter [at] yahoo.com.au or LinkedIn.
By Justin Watts
Everyone Eats has been a real adventure and in many ways a massive success. The previous blog post outlines what we’ve achieved and the impact that it has had. We’ve also faced some challenges in fundraising – as many non-profits do. Here is an overview of the fundraising side of Everyone Eats. There have been a number of ideas that we have tried and tested using an MVP (minimal viable product) and methodologies used from the Lean Startup by Eric Reis. One thing that I’m proud of is that the pivots in Everyone Eats became more and more rapid – which (for the most part) cost less time and less money.
In 2009 I worked for TOMS Shoes as an intern and loved their raison d’être, to enable people to make a difference with every purchase that they made. ‘For every pair of shoes we sell, we will give a pair of shoes to a child living in need. One for one’. I thought that this would be a great model to apply to food. Buoyed by seeing the WFP Red Cup Campaign I realised that this could be done quite inexpensively – so I began researching options for making this happen.
Initial idea was to start a one-for-one restaurant. This was quickly disbanded as I realised the money needed to start one and my lack of experience.
I partnered with an upmarket Tapas restaurant in Malvern Melbourne to enable diners to give a meal overtime that they bought a meal. My value add was that Everyone Eats would bring interest to the restaurant in the form of public relations – driving more customers, which would make the 25c cost to the restaurant worthwhile. At this stage I was giving the money directly to the WFP Australia. I spoke with their representative and they were unwilling to provide me with any photos or to let me use their logo until I had a successful program running. I conducted surveys and found that in general people supported the idea – but the results differed.
The diners questioned where the money was going and also how the restaurant was able to give an extra meal each time they sold one, as one diner put it ‘are you guys charging us way too much to begin with?’. The restaurant owner decided not to continue with us.
I pivoted and switched to coffee, which was a more frequent purchase. By this time I had set up the relationship with Hunger Free World Bangladesh and had established the cost of supplying the meal, nutritional education and health check up at 17cents (the Bangladeshi Taka was low then). The cost of a paper cup is roughly 14cents when you include the cap. Every time that a customer uses a reusable coffee cup, they are saving the cafe 14 cents, and some cafes actually give a discount of 20cents for customers that do this. I approached a few cafes and started a program where each time that a customer used a reusable coffee cup, they gave a meal to a child instead of receiving the discount. We had a launch party (can be seen on the Facebook page) and partnered with a small reusable coffee cup company who gave us some cups to give away.
Less than 5% of coffee drinkers use reusable cups and everyone already knows that they are better for the environment than disposable cups. An extra reason to use the cup didn’t prove sufficient enough of an incentive for people to change their behaviour. Even the free cups that we gave away were never seen again by the cafe owner. On top of that, the coins that were saved by the cafes would need to be manually collected, so it couldn’t work on a large scale basis.
I approached a disposable coffee cup supplier and received a box of 1000 free coffee cups which I labelled with an ‘Everyone Eats’ stamp. I then gave these to cafes to sell for an extra 20 cents. The idea being that it would be a premium coffee experience where people could give a meal and drink their coffee. ‘Can I have a take away Everyone Eats Flat white please’. I also tried selling these directly to the cafes so that they could absorb the cost and have all of their coffees as ‘giving coffees’.
Cafes have wafer thin margins are are very protective of this, not wanting to give away anything for nothing. Before I could convince customers to pay more for a cup, they needed to be educated. They could only be educated by the baristas, who were often really under the pump as lots of people wanted coffees at the same time – so they didn’t have time to explain what the ‘Everyone Eats’ cups were about. This was tested in 5 cafes.
This idea was based on replacing loyalty cards that cafes give to customers. The premises were that giving a meal each time a customer buys a coffee would be cheaper for a cafe than offering a free coffee after 10 coffees bought, and that customers would be more incentivised to give meals than they would to get a free coffee for themselves. The development of this app was outsourced to a company in Bulgaria with a local contact. The app would track how many meals a user had given using a QR code that they would scan when they bought a coffee, they would then receive an image that they could share on Facebook. The cafe would receive an invoice with a tally of how much they would pay Everyone Eats once a month.
Cafes viewed the cost of the coffee they were giving away at cost price, not as sale price – so for them it was a loss of about 70cent, not $3.50. They also do a lot of cash in hand and don’t want to pay another bill. Additionally, they couldn’t see any benefit for them. The app development ran over budget and over time – in the end it was never used. This was the largest outlay on Everyone Eats undertaken, and it never saw the light of day or was used. A major hurdle here was not getting tax deductible status for Everyone Eats – as this would have made it more lucrative for the cafes involved.
By this time the program in Bangladesh was well and truly underway and I didn’t have any income coming in. I set up boxes with plates on top and a slot in the middle. This was against what I had wanted to do from the start as it was so traditional.
These were placed in 7 cafes and have remained the most consistent fundraiser – averaging $40/cafe/month. People know what to do when they see a box on a counter – put money in it. This is not scalable as it requires people to manually collect the money and bank it. This system has continued until now and is the only one that has made any considerable impact with fundraising.
I tried to see what Everyone Eats was doing differently to any other charity, as it was now resorting to collecting funds in a very traditional sense. I figured it was the ability to share with the donor exactly what the money was going towards, something tangible. With this in mind I developed Evri which would enable donors to see a regular video of the children receiving a meal once a week. I could then use Everyone Eats as a test bed for the technology and supply it to other charities. Everyone Eats cafes could then sell stickers with a link to download the app and see the video – or else they could show the videos on small screens at the cafes – just like they show advertisements at some cafes.
It was going to be very hard to implement in Bangladesh as they were not even used to recording things on paper and taking digital photos was rare and difficult. Additionally after speaking with the heads of Communication at CARE Australia, Save the Children and the marketing consultant who works with the 5 other largest humanitarian charities in Australia, I discovered that they are very focussed on making an immediate ROI and weren’t interested in spending any money on a ‘potentially good product initiative’.
With some savvy partners, I helped start a software company that utilises some of the learnings in Evri and applies them in the for-profit space. With the technology that can create real cost savings, communication benefits and open transparency – we believe we can transform whole industries. With this proven and a business model in place, Trunk will be in a position to arc back to it’s roots and focus on the not-for-profit sector.
If you’d like any further information on Everyone Eats, I’d be more than happy to share our learnings. Please feel free to contact me at: justin[at]trunkplatform.com Linked Inwww.au.linkedin.com/in/justinwattsyeah or Twitter: @JustinWattsYeah