Advancing Food Banks

Strengthening Food Banks in an Age of Volatility: 3 Takeaways from the Food Bank Leadership Institute

GFN exists to strengthen and advance the work of food banks around the world. One of the ways we do this is through the Food Bank Leadership Institute (FBLI), GFN’s flagship annual event. FBLI convenes food bank leaders, industry partners, and thought leaders to achieve a shared mission: helping food banks alleviate hunger, reduce food waste, and respond to community needs in the face of global challenges.

FBLI has been a part of GFN since our beginning. In 2007, just a year after GFN’s founding, the first FBLI was hosted in Houston, Texas, after food bank members expressed the need to connect with and learn directly from their peers and partners. This year, in collaboration with food bank member Bancos de Alimentos de México, FBLI convened over 350 people from 50 countries in Mexico City to share expertise to address food insecurity and food systems issues.

The 2023 Food Bank Leadership Institute has engaged the largest number and regional diversity of food bankers and partners to date. (Photo: Ken Jones Photography)

Food banks have responded to unprecedented challenges over the past three years with effectiveness, innovation, and resilience. This year’s FBLI theme, “Food Banking in an Age of Volatility,” explored how food banks have responded to global challenges like the cost-of-living crisis, food loss and waste and climate change, supply chain disruptions, and more. 

Here are three key takeaways from the robust presentations and discussion at FBLI:

Food banks have stepped up in response to crises 

Throughout the week, food banks from all regions of the world shared how they’ve responded to extreme weather events, conflict, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Whether mobilizing resources quickly to deliver food and supplies to people affected by earthquakes in Turkey and typhoons in the Philippines or providing nimble support to areas affected by civil unrest in Ecuador, food banks are equipped to respond to many emergencies.

During the Food Bank Impact Stories session on conflict and the war in Ukraine, Dmytro Shkrabatovskyi, board chair of the Ukrainian Food Banks Federation, gave an impassioned account of the heroic efforts of food bankers and volunteers in Ukraine, who risked their lives to deliver parcels of food to de-occupied areas of the country while wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets. “I am convinced they are really, truly the heroes of our time,” he said.

Using data to drive decision-making and open opportunities 

Data is crucial to tracking a food bank’s operations and communicating their impact and scale. During the session, “Understanding the Importance of Data,” James Leyson, managing director of Scholars of Sustenance Thailand described their robust reporting system that not only tracks kilograms of food distributed and people served but also metrics like greenhouse gases mitigated, the nutritional composition of food parcels, energy efficiency, and more. Leyson explained that data has been important to drive partnerships, saying “Data has played an important role in [everything from] capturing long-term partnerships within the food industry, who are now a part of the food rescue program … [to encouraging] the national government to establish a food bank … to revising the food donation policy… It has opened so many doors.”

Collaboration is key to achieving solutions to complex global challenges 

We know that systemic problems like food insecurity and food waste are best solved in collaboration. At FBLI, we witnessed the power of peer-to-peer partnerships in action. For example, Food for All Africa learned how to develop a pilot agricultural recovery program drawing upon the experience and expertise of Food Banking Kenya, while Bancos de Alimentos Quito in Ecuador has strengthened its ability to distribute food during times of civil unrest, through technical guidance from Asociación de Bancos de Alimentos de Colombia.

Elijah Amoo Addo, executive director of Food for All Africa shared, “FBLI has always been a great opportunity to, first and foremost, meet food bankers across the world who are vast in terms of knowledge … and to learn how countries have [developed] innovate ways in serving their community whilst reducing waste. Food banking on the continent of Africa is still novel and for us, being part of the GFN family gives us the opportunity to look at best practices and build a model that can work for our communities across Africa.”

As GFN President & CEO Lisa Moon shared in her opening remarks at FBLI, “[We] know that we are living in volatile times, but with this volatility, as [member food banks] have demonstrated for the last [few] years, comes opportunity.” Though the world faces major global challenges, food banks have stepped up to meet the unique needs of their communities, respond swiftly to emergencies, and strengthen community resilience. And through GFN’s network approach and the collaboration and knowledge exchange that comes out of events like FBLI, more food banks and local leaders are better equipped to respond to the crises and challenges ahead

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