In the beginning of the year, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) welcomed Alan Gilbertson as Chair of its Board of Directors. Mr. Gilberston, who has served on the board since 2013, takes the helm following the organization’s 10-year anniversary celebration and will be charged with overseeing the implementation of its new strategic plan.
“Alan is passionate and committed to serving those in need, in regions around the world,” said Lisa Moon, GFN President and Chief Executive Officer. “His experience in scaling operations in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors will be valuable as the organization enters its next phase in both growth and services offered to food banks.”
Mr. Gilbertson spoke recently with GFN about how he became involved with the organization, his goals for the next three years as Chair, and his thoughts on GFN’s potential.
GFN: Tell us about yourself. How did you get involved with food banking?
AG: Although my roots are Scottish, my career in the world of investments led me from South Africa to Hong Kong and ultimately to Bermuda, where I met my Irish wife, Carol. We have one son, who just turned 15. When I’m not working in food banking, I spend my time on the various Board positions I hold in Bermuda. When I’m free, I swim, sing in musicals, and occasionally try to finish second to last in triathlons.
In 2000, Carol and I were aiming to contribute to a deserving cause. We stumbled upon a new food redistribution scheme in South Africa, which seemed like an ideal fit for us. Before contributing, we wanted to understand the organization a bit more. So we helped to distribute food for an afternoon. Doing so immediately opened our eyes to the incredible need and, eventually, to the potential of food banking.
Over the subsequent 17 years we became increasingly committed to food banking, time-wise, financially, and emotionally. In 2009 we collaborated with inspiring and talented people from GFN and other organizations to form and launch FoodForward South Africa (formerly called FoodBank South Africa), the national food banking network.
Carol would join me in saying our work in food banking is the best thing we’ve ever done.
GFN: What made you decide to take a leadership role within GFN?
AG: My first exposure to GFN was thanks to our collaboration in South Africa.
Eventually this led to the GFN Board inviting me to join the project as a non-executive Director. Carol offered voluntary IT support to the organization as well.
Personally I do feel a responsibility to use whatever time and experience I can offer to contribute to society – no matter how large or small my contributions may be. Joining the GFN Board felt like a logical extension of my efforts in South Africa. I hoped that I’d be able to contribute something and that I’d provide further assistance to FoodForward by learning from GFN’s global best practices.
I was deeply honored when GFN invited me to assume the role as Chair of the Board. Before accepting, I thought long and hard about the related commitment and about my own potential to do justice to the role. Ultimately I accepted and, having done so, I’ll do my level best to justify my colleagues’ confidence in me.
GFN: What are your goals as Chair of GFN?
AG: Simply put – my goal is to help the GFN team feed as many people who need support as possible.
It’ll be my responsibility to contribute and coordinate the work of a very talented and dedicated Board of Directors. I’ll help the Board leverage their energy and ideas to ensure that GFN and its member food banks around the world feed as many people as possible.
GFN is in many ways still a young and developing organization. I’m determined to continue to hone our strategy, understand our potential – and reach it!
GFN: What makes the work so rewarding?
AG: Everybody needs help sometimes. I don’t just consider it a responsibility to help when I can; I also consider it a privilege. Secondly, my Scottish roots make me want to get value for my money or my time. By supporting the food-banking model, I can have an impact that is disproportionate to any contribution I can provide on an individual basis. That’s because the efficiency of food banking – its ability to recover food and redistribute it to those in need – is worth a multiple of the cost of deploying it.
Yet it’s only when I’m personally interacting with the people who ultimately receive the food that I am reminded how vital food banking is. Seeing the difference that food banking makes in the lives of good people who have very little is the ultimate reward. It also reminds Carol and me, on a daily basis, how relatively lucky we have been.
GFN: What is your most memorable experience with GFN?
AG: Collaborating with GFN and others to form FoodForward South Africa was certainly memorable. I shared some extraordinary in-country experiences with GFN Co-Founder Bob Forney and current GFN Senior Vice President Chris Rebstock. We worked tirelessly to harness the efforts of some remarkable people in South Africa to form the country’s first four food banks within less than a year.
My most memorable experiences in food banking generally are more prosaic but even more meaningful: seeing elderly people who had walked miles in the African sun to receive food from one of the agencies supported by FoodForward, being jumped on by impoverished but happy kids with newly-filled tummies, and meeting folks suffering from HIV who could only take their antiretroviral medication thanks to having food support. The list goes on.
GFN: Where do you think GFN is headed?
AG: Onwards and upwards!
As Chair, I fill the large shoes of retiring Board Chair, Pat Tracy. Pat and other wonderful people such as Bill Rudnick, Cheri Fox worked tirelessly to create great foundations for GFN. Although they have now completed their terms on the Board and cycled off, their legacy endures. The best tribute that the remaining Board can pay to them is to continue and to grow GFN based on these foundations.
GFN: What are your thoughts around GFN’s potential?
AG: Despite a decade of invaluable work, there is opportunity for GFN to do more. I hope that we’ll work hard to broaden our reach and offerings to serve more people in need and rescue more food.
My instinct is that as valuable as our work may be today, we have just scratched the surface. I encourage you to keep track of GFN, or, better yet, join us!