GFN History

Creating the Global Food Banking Movement: History of the GFN Global Summit

In 2007, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) held its first global convening of food bankers. At that time, we didn’t know that this meeting would become the preeminent gathering of food bankers worldwide, and an important locus for broader food systems conversations.

The Food Bank Leadership Institute (FBLI)—now called the GFN Global Summit starting in 2024— was born out of the need for a formal platform to connect food bankers and provide an opportunity for learning with peers and partners. And it became the only global food banking forum in the world.

FBLI’s successes have been innumerable. Conversations between FBLI participants have resulted in local leaders opening food banks in places of need, expanding programs to address issues like childhood hunger and malnutrition, and increasing capacity to feed more people.

This year’s GFN Global Summit from 9-12 September, in Sydney, Australia, will expand on that tradition. It will be a dynamic, international conference that shapes solutions to the challenges of hunger, food security, and sustainability.

As we look forward to this year’s event, we also wanted to look back on the milestones that have made the event what it is today.

2007: The Birth of FBLI

The first FBLI was hosted in 2007 in San Antonio, Texas, through the support of H-E-B. GFN led a series of workshops that taught the fundamentals of sourcing food for distribution. Twenty-three food bankers from nine countries attended the event, the first put on both by and for food banks, with a global focus. The event brought to life GFN co-founder Bob Forney’s dream of bringing food bankers from around the world together to share ideas and learn from each other.

2013: Growth and Expansion

After hosting FBLI in San Antonio for six years, GFN moved FBLI to Houston, Texas. The Houston Food Bank, the largest in the United States, which houses both significant conference space and an extensive warehouse, provided a perfect gathering location for FBLI. By 2013, the event boasted an attendance of 64 food bankers and others from 33 countries. By hosting FBLI at the Houston Food Bank, food bankers had the opportunity to learn from one of the largest food bank operations in the world. 

FBLI was no longer just a “how-to” workshop for food banks. The agenda had evolved to include complex food banking topics such as fundraising, food bank board governance, and nutrition programs. In 2013, the City of Houston proclaimed the week of the event “FBLI Week” to honor those committed to hunger alleviation. 

2017: A Spotlight on Food Bank Innovations

Four years later, in 2017, FBLI celebrated its 10-year anniversary in Houston, convening 76 food bankers from six continents. The first Innovation Award was presented at this FBLI to recognize food banks with exceptional programs that creatively leverage technology or address niche food security issues. 

2019: Renown Experts Speak at FBLI

In 2019, FBLI took place outside of the United States for the first time, as more than 200 attendees from 54 countries gathered in London, England. Convened in cooperation with the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA), FBLI 2019 attracted some of the most influential minds in food banking and the food industry, as well as in policy and international aid. This FBLI was a high-profile event featuring international thought leaders such as Lawrence Haddad, 2018 World Food Prize Laureate and executive director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco. 

“The program was high level, strategic, and with trends,” said Maria Teresa Garcia, at the time the executive director of Bancos de Alimentos de México. “Putting the Sustainable Development Goals in a leading role and having expert guests was very successful, in my opinion. The participation of the various food banks and networks gave a sense that we are all one.” 

2020: FBLI Goes Virtual

In the face of COVID-19, FBLI 2020 had to quickly pivot. Originally this convening was supposed to take place in Mexico City; however, due to the onset of the pandemic, rather than a single, in-person conference, FBLI went virtual. Since March 2020, GFN has hosted 28 sessions, global events, and regional workshops, bringing together almost 2,500 attendees from 92 countries—an enormous feat in an incredibly challenging time.

“There is so much passion and drive under one roof when food bankers from [many] countries come together to share their challenges and wins,” said Sarah Pennel, general manager of Foodbank Australia. “It is so inspiring to know that we are part of a global movement that is making a difference every day!”

2023: In-Person FBLI Returns

After a three-year hiatus from in-person events, FBLI reconvened in Mexico City, bringing with it a strong sense of community felt by people who share similar challenges, despite facing different circumstances and living in different parts of the world. In collaboration with GFN member Bancos de Alimentos de México, FBLI convened over 350 people from 50 countries.

For three years, food banks responded to the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic and related issues with effectiveness, innovation, and resilience. The theme for the conference, “Food Banking in an Age of Volatility,” reflected that.

“FBLI is a place where all the food bankers come together, they get to know each other, they get to know their stories,” said Hande Tibuk, president of Turkey’s TIDER food bank network. “Because every country has a different situation, different circumstances. So we learn from one another and benefit from one another. And that’s priceless. You cannot buy it anywhere.”

2024: GFN Global Summit

The inaugural GFN Global Summit 2024, in partnership with Foodbank Australia, will feature interactive sessions, breakout discussions, networking activities, and field trips in Sydney and the surrounding area. It will provide opportunities to visit food banks to deepen understanding and observe innovations.

It will also be an opportunity to connect with businesses, government officials, multi-lateral partners, academics, philanthropists, nonprofits, and community leaders from more than 50 countries, and to share knowledge, forge connections, and explore solutions to shape the future of food systems.

The Summit will explore the linkages between the food system and climate change with a focus on ideas, stories, and solutions at the local, national, and global level. If you would like to participate and have not received an invitation, please reach out to

Related blogs

Back to Blogs