Five years ago, Neel Ghose was in Lisbon, Portugal, managing international operations for food-tech giant Zomato. During his time there he came across Re-Food, a volunteer network that would collect surplus food from local restaurants and caterers and distribute the same to the needy.
That was the spark! Once he came back home to India, he got together with his friend Anand Sinha to test the model in Delhi. On the first night they served 150 people in Delhi; in 2018, Robin Hood Army (RHA) has served over nine million people in 103 cities! They continue to be a volunteer based, zero-funds, hyper-local organisation that helps the underprivileged with food.
On World Food Day, we got Ghose to share with us his vision for Robin Hood Army to know how this army plans to fight hunger and malnutrition.
On the RHA journey
We're still the same organisation with the same goal. What's primarily changed is the scale and how we think about it in terms of team, processes, and goals. From the first 150 people we served in Delhi we are now preparing to close 2019 with a million meals per month, we do hope we are only one per cent done.
On RHA’s biggest achievements
I think it's too early to start counting achievements. What has been most gratifying is seeing people come together from all walks of life to help those who need it most. We do hope there are many milestones to cross before we start measuring achievement..
On RHA’s tremendous success in Pakistan, and plans for other developing nations
Our Pakistan team is led by an incredible set of people, they've taken the Robin Hood Army across five cities now. We are in constant touch and the teams share insights, learnings, ideas and action points. The only time we are on different sides is when the India and Pakistan cricket teams are pitted against one another on field! (laughs)
On a global front, we've now spread across four continents and have regular impact across Sri Lanka, Botswana, Canada and Uganda.
On lack of understanding of food waste, leftovers, and the challenge it poses
If anything, the lack of understanding is an opportunity because when people realise the extent of wastage and presence of hunger, they are much more willing to help. We've routinely picked up excess food at weddings and served more than 5000 people with the wasted food. It's unimaginable what a huge difference it would make to the world’s hunger problem if instead of wasting, food is redistributed.
On building a diverse, dedicated team of Robins
We are a decentralised organisation there are three rules which everyone follows: we do not collect money, we serve all religions, and we stay strictly apolitical. We have Robins from all walks of life and everyone follows these core principles.
In a diverse organisation with passionate people, conflict is bound to arise. We have processes and a culture statement which guides our teams when dealing with this. For example one of our culture nuance is #CitizensFirst, which basically means every point of argument and debate we spend time on, should be about directly impacting the people we serve, and never about us.
We take from the privileged and give it to people who need it the most. I'm incredibly proud to be in our Robin team, each person has a deep commitment towards making their community a better place along with a strong bias for action, I think the original Robin Hood would've approved!
On the future of RHA
It's still early days in our journey; we are currently in 140 cities and hope to serve small towns and the rural heartland. The Robin Hood Academy is a big focus area where we admit hundreds of children to school for the first time. Lastly, as we grow, we need to bring the right tech partnerships to ensure that our model is scalable and sustainable.
What do we need to do for that? Keep focusing on execution, everything else will fall into place.