This blog post was written with the help of Irene Chong who took the Acumen Leadership Essentials Course last winter. Irene shared how the course inspired her group to take action in their local community. Registration for the next Acumen Leadership Essentials course is open till September 23rd and the course will begin on September 25th.
The Food Banksy project was inspired by a module on empathy in the Acumen Leadership Essentials course. Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their situation, feelings, and motives, is highly valued at Acumen. Empathy enables a social entrepreneur to better understand her customers’ needs and design products/services to meet those needs. It enables people with different backgrounds, personalities and points of view to understand each other and start to find ways to work together. It’s a necessary ingredient for so many things – good storytelling, sales, fundraising, design, etc. – which is why we think it’s a core element of good leadership.
As part of the course, we ask participants to take an empathy walk and experience the world from the perspective of a community they are trying to serve or a community they don’t usually interact with. The inspiration for the Food Banksy project came from the experience of Duncan So, a course participant from Toronto who chose to visit Parkdale.
Parkdale is a landing place for many new immigrants to Canada, and is one of Toronto’s most diverse, low-income communities. Duncan’s walk took him to a local thrift shop, library, and eventually ended at the Parkdale Community Food Bank. Food banks, as they are referred to in Canada, are similar to food pantries in the U.S. and are one of the key food programs for those in need in Canada.
Parkdale Community Foodbank, Toronto, Canada
The Parkdale Community Food Bank serves up to 3,000 people each month and plays a critical role in helping people economically reintegrate into the community. Furthermore, the food bank provides advocacy services on issues related to housing and other social services as well as abuse. They receive no government funding but support their operations with money from individual donors, relying on one paid employee and 50 committed volunteers.
While hanging out, standing in the food line, listening to the conversations of those around him, Duncan saw an opportunity to revitalize the entire food bank experience and expand its roles as a resource hub for additional opportunities. He saw hope to transform this social service such that it could thrive instead of barely survive. “My experience was very insightful and stretched my perception. There is so much potential in the community.” Inspired by what he witnessed through the empathy walk, Duncan rallied interest from his course group (Mir Hossein Tabatabaei, Mimi Ng, Maritza Estridge and Irene Chong) and friends (Paolo Korre, Fred Li, Terrie Chan, Elettra Pizzi, Viktor Popov, Asha Aggarwal and Ali Taiyeb) to join him in what is now the Food Banksy Project.
Ali Taiyeb and Irene Chong visualizing their research with post-its
While still in its infancy, The Food Banksy Project is taking a human-centered design approach, a method they briefly touched in the course, but also building off the skills of their team members to better understand the food bank, its clients, and pain points of both communities in providing and receiving this service. From the group’s initial observations and conversations, they’ve learned the food bank is a frontline service that is a life line for many. However, their journey in accessing food does not start when they enter the doors, nor ends when they exit. The experience extends much further than that and to understand the depth of the communities’ hunger needs, merits further exploration in understanding the entire spectrum of that challenging journey.
We plan to continue to follow The Food Banksy Project’s journey and that of hopefully many more +Acumen course participants inspired to take action in their communities.