Advancing Food Banks

Guiding New Food Banks: The Food Bank Incubator Program

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.

While it is never easy to start a new food bank, it can be even more challenging in regions of the world where the food banking model hasn’t been widely adopted.

Nonetheless, GFN has sought to accelerate the development of new food banks in regions where food insecurity is especially acute, such as in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, through the Food Bank Incubator Program, which started in 2019.

This innovation—one of 15 we are profiling in our Innovate to Alleviate campaign—builds on the valuable lessons we learned in our first 15 years of operation. By providing technical support, mentoring, knowledge-sharing, and partnership opportunities to new food banks in high-need areas, the program sets food banks up for success as they seek to serve people facing hunger.

COVID-19 has proven to be the ultimate test for the Incubator food banks.

In Africa, for example, 46 million more people were affected by hunger in 2020 than in 2019, prompting increased and urgent demand for food banks—a massive task for those just starting out.

Through the Africa Food Bank Incubator Program, GFN successfully helped food banks in Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, and Nigeria meet that challenge, exponentially increasing the number of people served and the amount of food distributed.

How did these young food banks achieve such reach? One example is Food Banking Kenya, which had to rethink its food distribution model in the face of panic buying and supply chain disruptions that were a result of the pandemic. Inspired by incubator sessions on FoodForward South Africa’s agricultural recovery program, Food Banking Kenya expanded their own agriculture recovery program, enabling the food bank to serve 174,000 people, a significant increase over the 26,000 people served in 2019.

Similarly, members of the Asia Food Bank Incubator Program, which includes food banks in Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam, met the challenges of 2020 with ingenuity and determination. These food banks also exponentially increased the number of people served and food distributed over the previous year.

For example, FoodCycle Indonesia, a food bank in the Asia Incubator Program, lost their supply of surplus food due to the pandemic but was able to pivot their approach after receiving a grant and technical support from GFN via the Incubator Program. These resources allowed FoodCycle to purchase food, secure warehouse space and transportation, and develop a stronger and broader network of partnerships with corporations in a position to support food banks.

“Thanks to early support from GFN, we grew 20 times in volume during the pandemic and were able to support those who needed it most,” said Astrid Paramita, CEO and co-founder of FoodCycle Indonesia.

Developing and nurturing new food banks is not an easy task, but it’s one that can be done successfully with ongoing support and innovative leadership from those with decades of experience in this area. GFN’s Incubator Program has been successful because it fills those needs through context-specific technical support, mentoring, and partnership opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable to young food banks. While the program is only two years old, it is already enabling food banks to serve more people, more efficiently and will have ripple effects on hunger alleviation in communities for years to come.

Learn more about other unique innovations that support hunger alleviation efforts in communities around the world.

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