By Alex Tyink – Director of Innovation
Innovation and Food Banking, to many people, are an unlikely pair. When was the last time you heard of a nonprofit having an Innovation Department? Upon hearing my title I’m usually barraged by a number of questions. What does a Director of Innovation do all day?Why does a food bank need to innovate, don’t you just feed the hungry? The answer is surprisingly simple.
Social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than current solutions. In other words Social Innovation is innovation for the people, innovation that impacts those in greatest need. I would argue that our society is in greater need of social innovation over any other type of innovation because our world is in dire need of help. We need the creatives, inventors and entrepreneurs of our time looking at the systemic issues of our society and fighting to change them.
We have taken it upon ourselves at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin to become the change we wish to see. Everyone at our organization is an innovator and it is simply my job to help guide the creative process. Our new mission is a bit audacious; we have decided that we are going to go beyond Feeding the Hungry, to truly Solve Hunger. To do that we recognize we will need to develop a wide and deep base of community partners invested in that mission, redesign our food sources so that we are nourishing people, not just feeding them, and implement programs backed by evidence-based research and tested models that assist in moving families out of poverty. This effort is far too large for one man and I claim no responsibility for the incredible work being done by my colleagues and community partners in this field. Rather, I hope to provide support for our creative work and reminders that innovation requires us to fail fast and fail often. Because without failure, without humbly understanding your perspective is limited, there is no learning.
This same universal truth applies whether you’re a successful business person, a struggling family, a for-profit organization or a hunger relief non-profit. Stagnation breeds declination. But to grow you must try new things and be willing to periodically fall on your face. If we can’t think of new, better ways to feed those facing hunger we are always going to be feeding the hungry. And I would love to see a world in which Feeding America did not exist because there was no more need for us – no more people facing hunger. That would be my definition of better world and one I am excited to help create.