Fifteen years ago, The Global FoodBanking Network was created to ensure that people around the world have access to food. The mission was simple: launch, strengthen, and sustain a global network of local food banks to support communities when they need it most. This mission still guides us today.
Innovate to Alleviate celebrates our 15th anniversary by highlighting 15 unique innovations—game-changing approaches and adaptations from GFN and member food banks that make hunger alleviation efforts more efficient, effective, and inclusive. Kicking off on International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste and concluding on World Food Day, this campaign demonstrates how food banks are an important component to solving hunger that are rooted in the communities they serve and essential to resilient food systems.
In 2007, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) held its first global convening of food bankers. At that time, we had no idea 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) was born out of the need for a formal platform to connect food bankers and provide an opportunity for learning with peers and partners. Indeed, FBLI is the only global food banking forum in the world. FBLI’s successes are 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.
2007: The Birth of FBLIThe first FBLI was hosted in 2007 in San Antonio, Texas, through the support of a generous partner. 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 ExpansionAfter 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 InnovationsFour 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 FBLIIn 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, 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 VirtualIn 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 Food Bank Australia. “It is so inspiring to know that we are part of a global movement that is making a difference every day!”