GFN Brings Food Banks Together to Share Challenges and Opportunities
March 17, 2023
Since its beginning, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) has had a vision to create opportunities and spaces for food bank leaders to connect, share goals, and ultimately learn from and inspire one another.
This peer-to-peer knowledge sharing has taken many forms and last November, more than 30 food bank leaders from seven African countries met in Kenya, for the first in-person Africa Food Bank Conference to exchange best practices, share learning experiences, and initiate big ideas on topics including food and product sourcing, fundraising and volunteering, and impacts caused by the cost-of-living crisis.
Many of these food banks were in the very early stages of development when they joined GFN’s Incubator Program in August 2019 and could not have anticipated the growth they were about to experience. COVID-19 proved to be the ultimate test, rapidly launching new food bank programming and projects with the support of GFN to meet the intense increase in need they were experiencing.
During the three-day conference, attendees were able to see, in person, the successes Food Banking Kenya (FBK) has built over the last several years. For Zenawi NaigziWoldetensay, executive director at It Rains Food Bank of Ethiopia, the most valuable part was visiting FBK’s operations.
Food bank leaders attending the conference visited Food Banking Kenya's warehouse to learn about operations and logistics. Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network
“Seeing the food bank infrastructure and learning about the management of their daily operations and visiting their agricultural recovery program was incredibly useful for us,” explained Woldetensay. “Visiting a commercial farm and learning how they created those connections will help us improve our own food recovery program in Ethiopia, where agriculture is the backbone of the economy.”
FBK hosted attendees at their new warehouse, invited them to visit a commercial farm partner, and even visited an informal settlement where the food bank has created easier access to fresh and nutritious food in the community.
“Meeting in person created bonds, strengthening food bank relations across borders, and allowed me to exchange information and ideas with other countries,” said Ranaivoniarivo. “It also brought me a lot of hope for the future of our food bank after learning about similar experiences being faced by my colleagues and learning how they handled those situations.”
Ieja Ranaivoniarivo poses with Susan Muthoni of Food Banking Kenya on the way to visit a commercial farm in Naivasha, Kenya. Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Gabriela Kafarhire
Meeting in person created bonds, strengthening food bank relations across borders, and allowed me to exchange information and ideas with other countries.
In person gatherings like this are one of the pillars of GFN’s work and at the core of our mission. With our network approach, more food banks and local leaders can access resources and knowledge from around the world, resulting in a Network of strong food banks, giving more people access to safe, nutritious food.
“What was most interesting about the conference was it created a sense of synergy among the food banks all working together to achieve this global vision of a world free of hunger,” said Woldetensay. It helped create an even stronger space for African food bank leaders to exchange ideas about challenges and opportunities. During my interaction with each food bank leader, I was able to ask for advice on how they managed to overcome similar challenges.”
Woldetensay said he has already taken what he learned in November and has begun to make changes at the food bank, including developing a product sourcing and fundraising plan.
Zenawi Woldetensay collaborating with food bank leaders and staff from Food Banking Kenya on the first day of the conference. Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Gabriela Kafarhire
During my interaction with each food bank leader, I was able to ask for advice on how they managed to overcome similar challenges
Zenawi Naigzi Woldetensay
Similarly, Ranaivoniarivo has taken what she learned at the conference and has even reevaluated the food bank’s distribution methods. The food bank in Madagascar mostly distributes food directly, but through conversations with her food bank colleagues, her team discovered they might be better suited to work with community service agencies and other partners to aid in the distribution of food. They have already seen results, moving food much faster and at a higher volume.
“It is really important for us to gain this knowledge and see the alternative solutions being done at other food banks,” said Ranaivoniarivo. “We are very excited to continue learning at the upcoming Food Bank Leadership Institute, where we will be able to see how things are progressing in food banking outside of Africa and learn from even more food bank leaders from around the world.”
Next week, more than 200 food bank leaders from 50 countries will convene in Mexico City for GFN’s flagship event, the Food Bank Leadership Institute (FBLI). In 2007, 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. To this day, FBLI is still the only global gathering that convenes food banks, food industry partners, and thought leaders to help food banks evolve to better alleviate hunger, reduce food waste, and meet community needs in the face of global challenges.
FBLI 2023 in Mexico City is the first time this group will gather in-person since 2019 and it brings with it the strong sense of community felt by people who share similar challenges, despite facing different circumstances and living in different parts of the world.
Follow the conference and the journey of the food bankers at #FBLI23.