This App Has Moved Over 333 Million Pounds of Food

Americans toss out, on average, 72 billion pounds of safe, edible food each year. Around 52 billion of those pounds flow from manufacturers, restaurants, and grocery stores into landfill. Feeding America is a nonprofit that reaches the 42 million people in the U.S. who struggle to afford food through managing 60,000 partner organizations and efforts. They have developed a new tech platform called MealConnect to streamline food donations from stores and restaurants to those in need. They have facilitated 737,000 pickups and moved over 333 million pounds of food–enough for 278 million meals.

MealConnect officially launched in early June after a 3-year pilot period. It is a platform that acts as a dashboard to manage the flow of excess food in the communities around Feeding America’s food banks. Accessible in both website and app form, MealConnect allows business donors—whether it’s a retail chain like Chipotle, a local shop, or a farmers market—to create a free account, where they can upload information about excess food they have to donate, and select a date and time they’d like it to be picked up. On the Feeding America side, an algorithm sorts through the available donations and matches them with a partner organization, like a soup kitchen, based on need and timing. Once a donation is matched with a partner, someone from the partner agency will drive to collect the excess food from the source.

Before MealConnect, if a restaurant offered leftover food, they’d have to call the food bank, and the entire process might take a long time through a series of phone calls. On the app, donors snap a picture of the food, and fill out the reason for donation, ingredients, and sell-by data, if possible (for retailers who tend to consistently have the same type of food to donate; they can also include instructions for pickup logistics. For each donor account, their donations live on a dashboard they can access to view past transactions.

So far, the platform has facilitated 737,000 pickups and moved over 333 million pounds of food–enough for 278 million meals.

The platform was developed with a $1.5 million grant from Google’s philanthropic arm,; another $1 million grant from General Mills will help it scale out to more communities and organizations. Feeding America is hoping to make significant progress in solving hunger – its goal is to save around 2.8 billion pounds of food each year and end “food insecurity” by 2025.

Why it’s hot: This is an awesome example of using technology to simplify a dated process, and works towards getting wasted food into the hands of people that need it. Hopefully this platform is able to work towards solving a fundamental problem in the U.S.

Source: Fast Company

Who programs the AI? (Not women or people of color)

You might assume that technology and AI are neutral forces in this world. The truth is, our technology is biased and created in the image of its creators – as Melinda Gates and Fei-Fei Li argue in this interview, these are “guys with hoodies.”

Have you ever?

  • Tried on an Oculus Rift to find that the hardware does not fit your facial profile?
  • Had face tracking software totally fail because it wasn’t programmed to register your traits (standard human features such as eyes, a nose, a mouth)?
  • Had voice assistants / voice recognition not understand you due to your accent or dialect? Perhaps the voice assistant straight up doesn’t speak your native language.

Consider: Her and Ex Machina, two recent and popular representations of AI in cinema, both of which represent AI, and its characters’ interactions with AI, from the point of view of male psychology and desire.

As Gates points out:
“If we don’t get women and people of color at the table — real technologists doing the real work — we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible.”

The entire interview is worth a read

Together, Gates and Li are launching a national non-profit called AI4ALL, aimed at increasing the diversity of voices behind AI, and getting people of color and women educated in a field where they are highly underrepresented.

Why it’s hot:
AI has the potential to redefine our future. Where is the diversity of minds necessary to make it a future for ALL?

Orbis Don’t Look Away

There are 39 million blind people around the world who are candidates for a surgery that would restore their vision, but unfortunately many of those people cannot afford the operation. Orbis, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent and treat blindness, started the Don’t Look Away campaign. Visitors to the campaign site watch a video through the eyes of a child who has just had the surgery. As the doctor unwraps the eye bandages, the patient sees his or her mother for the first time. The experience is emotional and hopes to encourage viewers to donate much-needed funds.

Why It’s Hot?

The campaign site utilizes HTML5 to operate the video and WebRTC to manage the webcam, which can detect a viewer’s eyes and face. When the viewer looks away from the computer, the film goes dark. Users are shown the number of other viewers who have also chosen not to look away and are urged to share the experience through social media. There were 95K views in the first four weeks of the campaign, and its donations covered the cost of 14K eye operations to cure blindness. This campaign shows how technology can convey emotions and personal experiences that can be shared and viewed by people around the world. Technology in campaigns such as this can raise awareness and encourage donations to help others.

How One Simple Bracelet Boosted an Entire Country’s Blood Donations by 335%

Y&R Moscow partnered with Azerbaijani cellular network Nar Mobile to create a wearable device called Donor Cable, which lets one smartphone owner easily donate power to another. Worn as a bracelet, the charging device is clever enough, but it also features the message, “Donate energy to save a phone, and donate blood to save a life.”

The case study video explains that Azerbaijan has the world’s highest number of children born with the blood disorder thalassemia, a hereditary disease primarily found among Mediterranean cultures. The illness requires blood transfusions for babies, and there is the need for donated blood is ever-present.

When purchasing an Android smartphone at Nar stores around the country, the customer was given a Donor Cable. Mobile blood donation centers were parked in a nearby location to entice customers to donate while the purchase was fresh and the Donor Cable was top of mind.

Why It’s Hot

According to the article in Adweek, “the campaign increased the nation’s blood donation rate an astounding 335 percent, earning widespread attention and goodwill along the way.” I think it represents a nice mix of technology, digital, and social media tactics and ties the experience nicely together from start – buying a phone, receiving the cable to finish, by making it easy to donate blood and help the cause.