By: Adam Dole, Managing Director for Not Impossible Labs, and project lead for Hunger: Not Impossible
As a social good venture from Not Impossible Labs, Hunger: Not Impossible was created to tackle one of the most absurd problems facing the United States: feeding the more than 42 million people, including nearly 16 million children, for whom hunger is a daily reality. In the U.S., the wealthiest country in the world, solving this problem is not a matter of supply–there is more than enough food to feed those in need in our country–it’s a matter of finding new, creative ways to connect available supply with the demand.
The absurdity of America’s food insecurity problem is at the heart of what we do at Not Impossible Labs. Our definition of an absurdity is pretty simple: as a human being living in a time where we have vast technology, resources, and wealth available to us, what are the things you look at and say “That’s not right. It shouldn’t be that way?” Hunger: Not Impossible is a response to that question.
For all of our projects, we begin by getting really close to the absurdity or problem we’re learning about. So we spent a lot of time with people who are food insecure–whether they’re living on the streets, living in their car, or working three jobs to make ends meet. While their situations varied, we realized they all had access to a mobile phone. Instead of forcing people to wait in a line at a food pantry, we knew there must be a way for us to use simple text messaging to connect those living with food insecurity with a convenient, healthy, prepaid meal from nearby restaurants.
The ease with which someone could text “Hungry” and be connected to a hot meal from a nearby restaurant, paid for in part by local organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Houston and individual donors, is a novel idea. However, perhaps the best benefit of this new way of linking existing food supplies with hungry people is that it allows someone to walk into a restaurant and pick up their order like any other customer, with dignity, effectively destigmatizing the need for free food.
With that framework developed, scaling became the next hurdle. Combating food insecurity and hunger is a massive hurdle for anyone, but especially for our small, nimble team at Not Impossible Labs. For such a huge need, we knew we’d need significant pro bono support and horsepower to have any shot at tackling this problem. Partnering with Salesforce, the leader in CRM technology, and Postmates, the San Francisco-based food ordering platform, was a no-brainer.
Over the last six months, our partnership with Salesforce and Postmates, as well as teams at Traction on Demand and Accenture, has been amazing. The result of our collective effort is a fully-scalable platform capable of onboarding hundreds of local communities and serving millions of meals to those in need.
Hao Dong, the lead Salesforce architect on this project, explained just how extensive the collaboration is, “The solution touches every part of the Salesforce product suite. For participants, we are using a chat bot to communicate with them via text. Behind the scenes, we have Nonprofit Cloud for Fundraising, Constituent Engagement, and Program Management that integrates with Postmates’ back-end ordering. We’re even using Tableau to measure the impact.”
What made this partnership all the more impressive is how quickly the team was able to expedite the timeline to make the product available in select areas once COVID-19 hit. We had originally planned a comprehensive project roadmap with extensive testing before releasing it for use, but that went right out the window as the pandemic swept across the country and the fear that schools would be shutting down quickly became a reality. That long-term timeline was accelerated to a 30-day window for the team to connect the pieces and deploy the solution in response to COVID-19.
With this project especially, the feedback loop for impact is really tight because working a weekend or an evening today means that people will be fed tomorrow as a direct result of those extra hours. What would’ve been an unimaginable timeline under normal circumstances became imperative as the virus spread, rapidly increasing the need for alternative ways for at-risk communities to get food, and proving how crises can spur innovation, creative thinking, and out-of-the-box solutions.
On Monday, April 13 at 6:24 a.m., the Salesforce team deployed the feature that connected the front-end chat bot to the back-end automated ordering. We all held our breath as we watched the first east coast orders start flowing in that were handled entirely end-to-end by the technology. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t get emotional at that moment thinking about the potential of how many people this solution could help.
What started out about 10 weeks ago with 30 or 40 orders a day has expanded to hundreds of orders a day. Just this week we passed 6,000 orders! While we are just getting started, our vision for this is huge. With 38M people on government food assistance, we believe this will prove to be a more efficient, healthier, and more accountable way to feed people at risk.
Give What You’re Good At
Through our work on this project with Postmates and pro bono volunteers at Salesforce, Traction on Demand, and Accenture, we really witnessed firsthand the lengths to which people are willing to go when they’re passionate about their work and when they know that what they’re doing will directly impact people’s lives. Nonprofit Principal Strategist, Emily Eakin, from the Traction on Demand team said it best, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. This is a philosophy that we share at Traction and as a result, we believe in giving what we are good at. This kind of work supports why the application of technology in nonprofits is so necessary for the advancement of shared causes.”
I can’t articulate strongly enough what a selfless and team-first group the volunteers from Salesforce, Postmates, and Traction on Demand are–they deserve so much credit and are truly heroes. In collaboration with the Not Impossible team, they chose to spend their nights, weekends, and holidays working on Hunger: Not Impossible to ensure people were fed and it’s because of them that this project now feels like a well-oiled machine that is accelerating its impact every week–it’s truly incredible to see.
If you’re on a mission to change the world, Salesforce.org can help. Learn how to use the latest Salesforce innovations to take on the world’s most absurd problems.
About the Author
Adam Dole is the Managing Director of Not Impossible Labs, where he is responsible for overseeing the company’s day-to-day strategy and operations. Adam’s primary objective is to accelerate the growth and impact of Not Impossible Labs to enable the team to achieve its mission of “Changing the world through technology and story by solving human absurdities to impact the lives of those in need.”
Adam began his career at NASA and was later named a Presidential Innovation Fellow, serving in the White House under the Obama Administration. He was also a former Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Mayo Clinic where he co-founded, operated, and invested in early stage healthcare startups aimed at addressing America’s healthcare crisis.