GFN co-founder Bill Rudnick looks at GFN’s history from a unique perspective: that of a visionary. He and Bob Forney came up with the idea of a global food banking organization as the two food banking veterans contemplated: “What’s Next?”
By Bill Rudnick, GFN co-founder and member of GFN’s board of directors.
“What’s next?” Bob Forney and I were pondering that question after an America’s Second Harvest (now named Feeding America) board meeting in Dallas. We were having dinner outdoors, just the two of us, enjoying red wine, beef, and good conversation.
It was 2004. Bob’s tenure as CEO of America’s Second Harvest was coming to an end. My time on the board was coming to an end. As we reflected on our experiences doing food banking locally and nationally (in the US), the idea seemed clear and obvious—we needed to expand the food banking model internationally.
Bob was a dreamer … an ambitious dreamer. So, once we came up with the idea of taking the US food banking concept to an international level, he was fully engaged and wasn’t letting go. That was the nature of his passion and drive and vision. As was often the case in our relationship, my job was to organize the effort and help bring the vision to life.
Bob prepared a very thorough white paper detailing our concept for a new global food banking organization. We presented it to the America’s Second Harvest board of directors and asked for approval and financial support. They agreed.
This was a monumental decision because it enabled us to move the project forward and seek support from the other North American food bank networks.
Peter Dunn, one of the board members at the meeting, made the comment: “This is a moment I will never forget.” That has stayed with me. So, for me too, this was a moment that I will never forget.
With the green light from America’s Second Harvest, our idea became a project. To move it forward, Bob and I convened a meeting of the North American food bank associations to explore the concept of advancing and supporting food banking around the world.
We met in Chicago at my office. After two days of discussion, food bank leaders from each country—US, Canada, and Mexico—agreed to work closely together, share resources, and further explore the development of a global food banking organization. We also agreed on the guiding principles by which we would work to create this organization.
The group got together again, this time in Mexico, and made the formal decision to create a new organization dedicated to alleviating world hunger by creating and strengthening food banks around the world. We created a business plan and agreed on a name. So, the idea that became a project was now The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN).
Although GFN was not officially in operation until July 2006, David Prendergast (an America’s Second Harvest employee who later joined GFN) and I traveled to Ghana to meet with potential stakeholders to determine the viability of food bank development in that country. We selected Ghana because we knew of a local social entrepreneur who was interested in the concept of food banking. We also were aware of a food manufacturer with the potential to support a food bank venture in Ghana.
In the end, we never did create a food bank in Ghana. But what we learned during that trip helped form the foundation of our process. Among the important things we learned:
In July 2006, GFN officially began operations. In March 2007, we embarked on our first programmatic trips: to the UK, Turkey and South Africa.
The initial trip to South Africa was in response to invitations from Kellogg’s and a locally-based NGO, Joint Aid Management, to determine if food banking was a viable goal. This led to a two-year, intensive in-country project, and our first big success story.
We put GFN boots on the ground and invested time, talent, and resources in South Africa. We helped create a national coalition comprised of civil society, government, and private sector leaders interested in food banking that, with the support of GFN, founded the national food bank network — Food Bank South Africa. Alan Gilbertson, who currently serves on GFN’s board, jumped in as chairman of the national system, a position he holds today.
Putting this collaborative model to work on a local level, we also helped establish food banks in four cities — Cape Town, Durbin, Johannesburg, and Port Elizabeth—connected by the national network.
The success in South Africa gave us further insights, including into how to work with people on the ground in other countries. We learned that, when we find the right people and give them the necessary information and support, we can accelerate the development of food banking in countries around the world.
During this trip to South Africa I started to think about food banking as a technology and GFN as the masters of that technology. Food banking is a way to take a series of inputs and affect an output. You handle and manage the food in a certain way, and you have a way to feed people. What we needed to do was to translate that technology for the people on the ground.
A good example of how effective that approach can be is Feeding Hong Kong, a successful and growing GFN certified food bank. It was created by Gabrielle Kirstein, a young social entrepreneur who had an interest in environmental issues. That translated into an interest in reducing food waste. And that led to her interest in food banking.
When Gabrielle learned about food banking as a way to mitigate food waste, and thus, help the environment, she contacted GFN for more information. We provided education and advice, and we brought her to our annual education and training forum for food bank leaders (H-E-B/GFN Food Bank Leadership Institute/FBLI). When Gabrielle returned from FBLI, she used the information and inspiration we provided and opened the food bank in Hong Kong.
This success is a model we continue to this day. Our work in the field is critical. So is the education, training, and mentoring we offer both in-person and from afar. We don’t need to be there every day. But we do need to share our knowledge, be the resource, and be the guide.
We are now marking ten years as an organization. GFN leads a thriving, international network of food banks, and we currently work in 34 countries. We continue to grow, evolve, and find ways to have greater impact by sharing the experience and knowledge we have gained over the years.
For example, GFN is launching a new online Learning Center this year. This will enable GFN to provide more resources, and better resources, and make them available 24/7 for food bank leaders who want to accelerate food banking in their communities.
With resources like the Learning Center, social entrepreneurs who are interested in food banking can raise their hands, and we can be right there with the resources they need to get involved in food banking.
On behalf of all of us at GFN and the many people whose lives you have touched through your work in food banking, thank you for asking “what’s next?” And thank you for finding the answer in global food banking.