Tens of millions of Americans face food insecurity, and at the same time, massive amounts of unused food gets thrown away every day. Philabundance, the largest food bank in the Philadelphia area, realizes the simultaneous need and supply. Earlier this month, the food bank partnered with the Haverford Innovations Program (HIP) and Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership for an impact challenge, an applied learning workshop in which students could confront a real-world problem with problem-solving methodologies.
Haverford and Swarthmore students used Design Thinking, a concept that uses interviews or observational techniques to empathize with a problem’s stakeholders, and Lean Startup, a concept for developing a minimum viable product, to address a question posed by Kait Bowdler, Philabundance’s director of sustainability: how can Philabundance be a leader in creating a systematic approach to small-scale food recovery in Philadelphia?
“Learning problem-solving methodologies and foundations in entrepreneurial work provide a framework to develop, test, and refine thinking when engaging with a problem or idea,” said Shayna Nickel, HIP’s program manager. “This event brought a number of these elements together so students could learn and practice these skills using a real-world problem. In this way, students are creating a toolkit to use on their own ideas or for use in future work.”
Over the course of two days, the student participants split into groups of three or four to focus on a specific problem in food recovery raised by a stakeholders at Philabundance, whether it be volunteers, food donors, or the food bank itself. Using tools like empathy maps and value proposition canvases, which situate different stakeholders’ interests and desires, groups devised proposed solutions for efficiently recovering otherwise wasted food. At the end of the workshop, groups presented their ideas to Bowdler, explaining the problem they were solving, their solution, a prototype, and next steps.
“l learned the importance of narrowing down and being very specific on the product you want to come up with,” said Pelagia Maria Majoni ’22, who has participated in several related HIP events including the Techstars Startup Weekend Philadelphia and the Women in Entrepreneurship Panel. “l also learned that there are so many problems and you can’t solve all of them at once, but you can at least, like Philabundance does, decide what appeals most to you and hit it with your best shot.” (Continued after the gallery.)
Majoni worked in a group with Iryna Khovryak ’22 and two Swarthmore students to develop a plan for restaurant employees to be compensated for dropping off unused food at a nearby food distribution agency at the end of their shifts. Majoni had been independently working on a food recovery project here on campus, using mathematical modeling to predict the number of daily patrons at Haverford’s Dining Center to optimize the amount of food cooked each day. With the impact challenge, Majoni got to practice project brainstorming, prototyping, and value proposition, and also found a student willing to team up for her Dining Center project: Ruiming Li ’22
“My team was amazing,” said Majoni. “Everyone was so cool. l loved listening to them talk about the great work they have done before and their unique personalities. I have always appreciated the uniqueness of every individual and a good combination of such makes for a great time.”
A first of its kind at Haverford, the impact challenge was the result of a partnership with Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership, which had similar intentions of an event at which students could confront a real-world case study. The event also benefited from the facilitation of Kevin Moore and Korin Folan, educators from Malvern Preparatory School. Moore was a mentor at the inaugural Tri-Co Startup Weekend last spring, which offered immersive workshopping on entrepreneurial skills. Eve Blondeau-Elman ’21, a Startup Weekend attendee, kept in touch with Moore following her work with him.
A balance of Philly-area connections and a curious and passionate group of students spurred the success of the first impact challenge, giving students skills for facing problems and devising solutions across fields.
Photos by Lev Greenstein ’20.