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.
Less than a year after our founding, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) took on an ambitious task: building a national food bank system from the ground up—an innovation that paved the way for much of our work over the last 15 years. From GFN’s earliest days, we heard from local leaders interested in starting new food banks where they did not yet exist. Our founders soon found themselves asking: Which communities are best suited for the food bank model, and how can we work alongside local leaders to help them realize their visions? At the time, nearly a third of people living in South Africa were at risk of hunger. The country was experiencing extreme economic inequality and increasingly high unemployment rates; nearly 10 million tons of food was being lost or wasted; people were moving in droves from rural to urban areas, often into informal settlements; and many people already impacted by hunger and poverty were also confronted with HIV, AIDS, and tuberculosis at rates dramatically higher than the worldwide average. At the invitation of civil society and private sector organizations, GFN supported the creation of a national food bank system in South Africa in 2007. “GFN played a vital catalytic role,” said Alan Gilbertson, a longstanding supporter of what would become FoodForward SA and former chair of GFN’s Board of Directors. “Its credibility attracted invaluable support from leaders in the public, private, and third sectors. GFN’s vision and expertise then sparked unprecedented collaboration among existing hunger relief organizations. The combination rapidly provided a firm foundation for the new national organization.” After two years of planning, carrying out feasibility studies, assessing needs, and building partnerships, Foodbank South Africa (now FoodForward South Africa) began serving the cities of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Port Elizabeth. “What made our work in South Africa so innovative was that this was the first time we had taken on a project of this size,” said Chris Rebstock, director of field services at GFN. “It was our first real exploration into a country where the food bank model did not yet exist.” That exploration turned into an enduring success and laid the groundwork for future food bank launches. One key to FoodForward SA’s establishment was the creation of distinct business, financial, fundraising, and food distribution plans for each location that honored the unique needs of the communities they operated in. Such preparation—in close collaboration with local leaders and experts as well as partners across the supply chain—is now a cornerstone of GFN’s approach, and it was essential for the food bank to address hunger and food loss and waste in South Africa. Critically, this was underpinned by the development of a national brand and shared food banking standards. “The food banking concept was not well known in South Africa at the time,” said Andy Du Plessis, managing director of FoodForward SA. “Thanks to the passion, foresight, and guidance from GFN, we were able to set up a national network and establish partnerships with farmers, manufacturers, and retailers, along with a network of registered community organizations that could use this food to augment their existing food programs, significantly reducing the cost of procuring food.”