In 2011, IBM very generously awarded the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) with a grant valued at $250,000 to develop and implement a new online tool that would improve food distribution to those in need across the province. After thousands of donated hours from IBM staff, the Smarter Needs Allocation Program was developed and launched in December 2011. Nearly 120 food banks across Ontario are now using a new online food distribution system to help put donated food onto hungry families’ plates – faster and more efficiently.
In providing this assistance, IBM chose to work on a limited number of high impact projects per year. The company’s strategic philanthropy goals focused on projects in education, workforce development, smarter cities, and in particular helping to reinforce a smarter social safety net. The emphasis was on projects where IBM could leverage its skills and technology to help the not-for-profit sector improve its business processes, run more effectively, and deliver better services at lower cost – stretching precious resources as far as possible.
The OAFB grant was borne of relationships IBM and IBMers had in their local communities. In this case, employees in Ottawa had a long relationship with some local food banks, and the conversation and idea evolved from there.
IBM provided the OAFB with the technology and expertise to create a software program that efficiently manages the coordination of donations to each of its member food banks. IBMers worked with OAFB staff to develop and deploy the Food Bank Allocation System – Canada’s first. The program features the following advantages:
- Food distribution among all Ontario food banks is faster, more efficient, and more equitable.
- Ontario now can record and track expiration and “best before” dates to improve food safety and address potential product recalls.
- A feedback loop enabling food banks to report on the quality of donations has helped OAFB decline unsuitable donations and address transportation delays.
The OAFB manages a huge flow of food to Ontarians each year – more than eight million pounds of food, including one million liters of fresh milk. Distribution was previously coordinated through phone calls, faxes and emails. But instead of relying on uncoordinated data to make food allocation decisions, the new online system accesses past account inventory information to determine where the greatest needs lie.
For example, the system will take into account the last time a particular food bank received an allocation, the expiration date of that supply, and the expiration date of a new supply that’s ready to be distributed. The system also can determine the proximity of donation sources to various food bank destinations to minimize transportation costs and environmental impact.
The program has already generated beneficial results – making food distribution in Ontario transparent, efficient and equitable, and dramatically improving the OAFB’s ability to distribute food to its members.
Leslie Plant is an External Communications Manager with IBM. A version of this article originally appeared in Hunger eNews.