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FoodCon 2017, Good for All: Sustainable. Accessible. Profitable.

90% of North Carolinian seafood is consumed outside of North Carolina, and 90% of seafood consumed in North Carolina is imported from out of state. 25% of North Carolina children face food insecurity. Family owned farming is becoming less and less prevalent in the state.

Despite how intractable these problems seem, solutions exist. It just takes getting the people with the answers to the puzzle together. FoodCon is an annual conference in North Carolina that is dedicated to the business of sustainable food systems. On December 8, 2017 it was hosted at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School. The theme of the event was “Good for All: Sustainable. Accessible. Profitable.” The intent was for the conference to hit on the three key elements of a sustainable triple bottom line: environment, profit, and people.

The highlight of the conference were our two keynote speakers. First, Megan Shea, CEO of the Soulfull Project, spoke about her inspiration for starting a social enterprise and how she has turned it into a success. Soulfull sells healthy hot breakfast cereals and for every cup sold donates another to a food bank, including many in North Carolina. Soulfull helped conference attendees see how it’s possible to balance business financial success along with having a positive impact on people.

Our second keynote speaker, Joel Salatin, the owner-operator of Polyface Farm, tied together the three elements of the triple bottom line and spoke about his vision for sustainable agriculture. Joel has built a successful family business that is in sync with the natural patterns of the Earth and the animals that inhabit it. He feels that smart government policy can help invigorate economies and bolster our food supply chain, benefiting even the least well off among us.

FoodCon is more than just two keynote speeches and some related panels. More importantly, it’s a community where growers, farmers, food manufacturers, retailers, consumers, activists, academics, and students can all get together and share their perspectives on issues in food sustainability. FoodCon is also a collaboration between UNC, Duke University, and North Carolina State University. The schools are best known as fierce sports rivals, but by bringing together the intellectual talent from the three schools important issues like improving access to local foods and reducing the extent of food deserts in the state can be solved.

The highlight of the networking aspect of FoodCon was the Moveable Feast at lunchtime. Four local food vendors were joined by three local beverage producers to offer a menagerie of delicious and innovative food items. I heard multiple people exclaim that the Korean style fried broccoli was the best broccoli they had ever eaten in their lives! Many people were also introduced to shrubs and switchels, expanding their fermented beverages knowledge beyond kombucha. Best of all, one of our conference sponsors, Hungry Harvest, provided our food vendors with fresh local produce that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Beyond the Moveable Feast and the wonderful keynote speakers, FoodCon attendees learned about the wonderful initiatives that are being undertaken to solve sustainability issues in the food system. The NC 10% initiative is promoting the consumption of locally grown food and in turn supporting family farms. Refugees are receiving assistance to become farmers and to begin contributing to the local food system. The Soulfull Project is donating healthy breakfasts to NC families in need, all with the help of other NC consumers. FoodCon is a conference that brings these people together and provides an environment where they can come up with these sorts of solutions. We look forward to FoodCon 2018 at Duke University!

FoodCon is an event that was in part, a collaboration with The Soulfull Speaker Series - a program available to Net Impact chapters in the United States. Bring a speaker from The Soulfull Project to your campus or community to speak about food security, the role of businesses in tackling local community issues, and the nuts and bolts of starting a social enterprise within a large corporation. Click here to apply today!

"Much Is Expected" - Reflecting on the 2017 Net Impact Conference

Days before being sworn in as the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy urged, “To whom much is given, much is required… At some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us—recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities.”

I don’t know if my grandmother realized she was echoing JFK, but she loved that lesson: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” It was her constant refrain during my childhood, and at some point I internalized the ideals of servant leadership and developed an abiding urge to contribute to a better world.

I know many of my peers feel similarly. According to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management, 94% of millennials want to use their skills to benefit a cause. This passion is consistently evident at Berkeley-Haas, and that drive brought me and a group of my classmates to the 2017 Net Impact Conference – looking for answers and opportunities.

At the Conference, it was exciting to hear from private sector leaders who reflected a vision and commitment to create positive change through business. I was especially impressed by companies that were willing to act as leaders – bringing together coalitions, inspiring action, and enabling other organizations to join their efforts.

At Levi Strauss & Co., Becca Prowda, Director of Community Affairs, shared that employees “push themselves to choose the hard right over the easy wrong.” The LS&Co. Collaboratory is one example of the company’s profits-through-principles ethos, and recognizes that LS&Co. can help lead “lasting change [that only] happens when we work together.” Now in its second year, the Collaboratory is bringing together entrepreneurs committed to reducing the climate impact of the apparel industry. These entrepreneurs are given invaluable access to industry insights, mentorship, outside experts, LS&Co. leaders, and a community of like-minded peers, and have the opportunity to receive grant funding from LS&Co. to implement an idea that reduces the climate impact of their organization or the apparel industry.

David Oclander, the Director of Global Social Impact at Starbucks, explained that Starbucks made the decision to “lead by example.” Starbucks started the Opportunity Youth partnership, which now includes more than 50 employers seeking to “bridge the opportunity divide for the 4.9 million Americans ages 16 to 24 who are out of school and not working.” Oclander noted that the initiative’s opportunity fairs can transform communities; for example, a recent fair in Washington, D.C. engaged nearly 7,000 youth.

Ben & Jerry’s is another company committed to leading change, perhaps on an unexpected issue – racial equity. In one of the most poignant panels at the conference, Dominique Derbigny, Associate Director at Prosperity Now, calmly shared the stunning statistics. White households have a median net worth of $127,200, while for households of color it’s only $17,600. 71% of white households are homeowners, compared to only 41% of Black households and 45% of Latino households. Wealth and homeownership create opportunities for families, and these inequities are only increasing. Jeffrey Furman, Chairman of the Board of Ben & Jerry’s, recognized that there’s a “fear factor” inhibiting private sector involvement with racial equity initiatives, but he asserted that “our company would be irrelevant if we didn’t take a stand.”

Reflecting on my experience at the 2017 Net Impact Conference, I am inspired by companies including Levi Strauss & Co., Starbucks, and Ben & Jerry’s that are leading incredible initiatives. However, the Conference also served as a reminder that these challenges can be intractable and exceedingly complex. Each contributor can only do so much, and progress may be too slow to help the many individuals who desperately need change today. These limitations are not an excuse to disengage, but rather an opportunity to recommit with even greater fervor – because “much is expected.”


Abby O’Reilly serves as a student advisory board member for the Center for Responsible Business. She is currently pursuing her MBA at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, focusing on corporate sustainability. Prior to Berkeley, Abby was a strategy consultant supporting clients across industries and sectors. Her work included sustainable supply chain operations, social impact measurement, and inclusive business strategy in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Abby also worked with the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a focus in finance and management.

Originally posted on Redefining Business

Solving paratransit challenges with design thinking

“Let’s propose a tax from tourism to fund transportation” 
“We need to rebrand the bus: how do we send the message that the bus is not only for low-income people?” 
“Let’s use the university community”
“How do we make the community aware of what’s available?”
Those were some highlights from a transportation stakeholder meeting in Tupelo, Mississippi. A group of people ranging from service providers to government representatives had been brought together by Toyota to design a new public transportation plan.
I attended this meeting after my Georgia Tech team and I won the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, a national competition to use design thinking to solve mobility issues.  Our winning solution was a concept for an app-based paratransit service that would provide flexible, affordable and safe transportation options to people who use wheelchairs. As part of our prize, we had the opportunity to intern in collaboration with Toyota’s Social Innovation group in partnership with Net Impact. (Learn more about our idea here.)
Stickies and sharpies, maps and data visualizations - I was fascinated by how quickly ideas were generated and how easily people were able to get on the same page and start to tackle problems right away. 
The power of community engagement is one of the most valuable lessons from my internship that shaped our own mobility project, ParaPickup. Working with stakeholders and paratransit users got us out of our design comfort zone and put us on the ground where the idea could be tested, refined, and regenerated with the help of the community. 
We didn’t just hear what officials had to say; we also delved deep into engaging with our users. We believe that the stakes for a service like ParaPickup are higher than for a commercial product or app, since availability of transportation significantly affects people’s lives. We knew that people with disabilities travel significantly less than the rest of the population, but we wanted to better understand why. 
To do that, local nonprofits helped us connect with paratransit users to conduct interviews, surveys, focus groups, and diary studies. Instead of simply asking their feedback on a proposed solution, we focused on drawing a picture of existing travel behaviors. 
Most of what we did was listening and asking questions such as: 
  • “How often are you able to go out?” 
  • “What are some your favorite locations to visit?”
  • “What kind of transportation do you currently use?”
  • “How much money do you spend on transportation?”
We heard stories like below: 
  • Kathy* always buys two pairs of season tickets to the Dallas Star-only to give one out for free in exchange for a ride to the stadium;
  • Anna*, whose son has mental disabilities, would like to find ways to take her son to movies/outings without having to compromise on work; and
  • Brie* would like to visit the Perot Museum in Dallas and libraries more frequently without depending on the current Paratransit, which make a usually short trip last an entire day.
The availability of transportation for people with disabilities directly influences which elements of their lives they get to enjoy and which they have to sacrifice, something that many of us never have to think about. We found that people are still getting by and going to the places they absolutely need to go, but there is huge room for improvement to increase their mobility to live more fulfilling lives. 

To learn more about Toyota's social innovation work and the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, read a post by Latondra Newton, Social Innovation and Chief Diversity Officer, Toyota Motor North America.

design thinking

“Going to the Place Where the Work is Done": My Summer Internship with Toyota’s Social Innovation Group

This year, Toyota and Net Impact named me and my teammates at Georgia Tech as the national winners for the Next Generation Mobility Challenge.  Our concept was for an app-based, para-transit taxi service that would give people who use wheelchairs a safe, affordable and flexible way to get around to supplement current public para-transit transportation services, which are affordable, but can be inflexible and slow. (You can check out a demo here.)

As part of our prize, we had internships this summer in collaboration with Toyota’s Social Innovation team in partnership with Net Impact at Toyota’s new North American headquarters in Plano, TX to help build out this concept.

Over the summer, we learned to approach tasks in what they call “the Toyota Way.” 

Our manager, Ryan Klem, Director of the Toyota Mobility Foundation, gave us a crash course in Toyota Business Practice (TBP), the problem solving methodology developed at Toyota. TBP focuses on breaking down a problem to discover its root cause before developing countermeasures. With TBP in mind, we were able to find a niche where we can serve the market and help bring mobility to more people who need it most. 

The first step of TBP is problem clarification. We realized that we were trying to address too many mobility problems at once. To focus on a measurable objective, we narrowed our scope to the lead time in paratransit trip reservation; basically, how far in advance people have to plan their trip. 

The Americans with Disability Act states that transit authorities are not required to provide any service until 24 hours after a trip has been requested. This greatly hinders the mobility and spontaneity of the disabled community, which led us to identify the key problem as the 24-hour lead time. I know many of my dinners or hang-outs happen with less than 24-hours’ notice!

To further break down the problem, we implemented the idea of Genchi Genbutsu (現地現物, "actual place, actual thing”), which means to understand an issue by going to the place where work is done. We visited the local Paratransit service to observe their scheduling and route matching procedure. 

There, we found that the technology was the root cause of the 24-hour delay for Dallas residents who use Para transportation systems. Through our interview with the dispatching supervisor, we learned that their software was too outdated to perform real time scheduling. Further, different software employed in the system did not synergize well with each other, causing confusion and operational inefficiency.

The team decided the countermeasure is to create the technology to fill the gaps - both in the software and vehicles. 

While there’s still more work to be done, TBP helped us discover the space where we can make the biggest difference for paratransit riders.

To learn more about Toyota's social innovation work and the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, check out this post by Jamie Bonini, Vice President of Toyota Production System Support Center. 

Samsung Gives and Net Impact team up to support Feeding America

Last Wednesday, Net Impact collaborated with Samsung on an event at their experiential store in NYC, Samsung 837, to launch a 30-day campaign called Small Change, Big Effect to benefit Feeding America. At the event, local Net Impact members enjoyed a private show by Galantis and access to Samsung 837’s virtual reality displays and products while enjoying food and drinks with likeminded people. During the event, Samsung CEO, Tim Baxter, announced that the company would be kicking off the campaign with a $15,000 donation.

Ian Hunter, Director of New Partnerships at Feeding America, also spoke at the event about the amazing work his organization is doing to combat hunger. 1 in 8 people in the United States struggles with hunger, including 13 million children and more than 5 million seniors. Feeding America serves 1 in 7 Americans by working with food pantries and food banks across the country. Feeding America is the country’s largest hunger relief organization, feeding 46 million people annually. Hunger and food insecurity are more ubiquitous than you might think - visit Feeding America’s interactive map to see what hunger looks like in your community.

Our campaign, #SmallChangeBigEffect, is all about the little things we can do – both with our money and with our actions – to have a positive impact on all those who are suffering from hunger. Plus, when you donate now through September 3rd Samsung will match all donations up to $50,000. Every dollar counts - just $1 can cover the cost of 11 meals for those who need them. The #SmallChangeBigEffect you can have on the hungry in your community doesn’t stop with a donation. Check out our list of 30 ways (for 30 days) you can fight hunger right where you are. 

Donate here


Join the Fight to End Hunger: 30 Ways in 30 Days

Check out the infographic below to learn how you can fight hunger right where you are.


Click here to download this infographic and share with your friends!

Net Impact and Samsung have joined forces to support Feeding America in the month of August to raise money for the fight against hunger. However, there is so much more you can do to help besides donating money. Read on for 30 ways to challenge yourself to fight hunger in your everday life:


  • "Know your zones" to ensure you store your food properly for longer life
  • Get social! Snap, tweet, and post hunger facts to educate your social network #SmallChangeBigEffect #30Ways30Days
  • Learn more about the impact Federal food assistance programs have on Americans struggling with hunger 
  • Learn how your community is impacted by food insecurity using Feeding America's "Map the Meal Gap" interactive map
  • Read a book about hunger in America like "Nickeled and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich or "Drawdown" by Paul Hawken
  • Host a viewing party with friends and family to watch a documentary about hunger in America



  • Support the USDA and EPA on the US' "first-ever national food reduction goal"
  • Make a call to Congress on behalf of federal assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
  • Participate in programs and challenges that are answering how we might feed the growing population
  • Urge your community leaders and elected officials to implement EPA's "Too Good to Waste" program
  • Support fair wages for food workers and increased minimum wage
  • Submit an op-ed in your local paper about hunger in America and encourage others to get involved in the fight



  • Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and only buy what you need
  • Use an app like Supercook or Cookpad to make recipes from what you already have in your fridge or pantry
  • Pack a lunch with your leftovers (tip: label them with the date prepared so you know when to consume them by)
  • Start a compost
  • Conduct a food waste audit at your school or workplace or start a personal waste diary to track your daily footprint
  • Challenge yourself to go vegetarian or vegan, even if it is for one day or meal a week



  • Help provide hundreds of meals by donating as little as $10 or $25 to Feeding America
  • Before you throw away unused food, check with your local food bank or shelter to see if they could use it
  • Support social entrepreneurs creating innovative food solutions
  • Shop smart, and spend your money on products that were made with respect to people and planet
  • Ask friends and family to donate to your favorite hunger-fighting charity in lieu of gifts for your next birthday or celebrated holiday
  • Support local incubators and organizations, like the Detroit Grocery Incubator Project, who are tackling Food Deserts



  • Find your local food bank through Feeding America's locator
  • Make it a group outing! Encourage your chapter, club, or company to join you in your volunteering efforts 
  • "Set the Table:" Host a dinner party and ask your guests to bring a donation instead of a dish
  • Many food banks get a swell of volunteers around holidays like Thanksgiving, consider volunteering outside of peak times in the year
  • Help ensure support for programs like SFSP (Summer Food Service Program) persists for children who need school provided lunches during summer months and school breaks
  • Run a food drive on your campus, at your office, or in your community


Jackson State University wins the 2016-2017 Up to Us Campus Competition

"The energy and creativity of Jackson State University's winning team and all the students who have joined this growing movement is a shining example as we seek to create greater economic opportunity and a brighter fiscal future" - Michael A. Peterson, President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. 

In the fifth year of the Up to Us campus competition, students from 75 colleges and universities around the country participated. From those 75 teams, 20 finalists were chosen by a panel of judges including Shai Akabas, Director of Fiscal Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center; Kerry Searle Grannis, Associate Director of the Brookings Institution’s Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy; Gordon Gray, Director of Fiscal Policy at the American Action Forum; and Steven Olikara, Founding President of the nonpartisan Millennial Action Project. 

The leader of the winning team from Jackson State, Terrance Dillon, was very creative with the events he spearheaded to raise awareness on the national debt. He leveraged the popularity of television game shows and held events such as "Debt Jeopardy," "Wheel of Debt," and the "Debt is Right" on his campus. Dillon led the team to very successful events with high attendance. Nearly 900 people attended Jackson State's My Two Cents Day activity and the team inspired 936 students to take the Up to Us pledge. The team was also able to partner with a competition-high 19 other campus groups in order to raise awareness among their peers. 

The winning team from Jackson State will receive a $10,000 prize, recognition at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's 2017 Fiscal Summit in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to travel to meet with legislators and policymakers in the nation's capital. 

Since 2011, Up to Us has engaged the next generation of leaders on the importance of addressing our country's fiscal challenges. Learn more and join the movement at

Georgia Tech Wins the 2016-2017 Next Generation Mobility Challenge

The team from the Georgia Institute of Technology has won the 2016-2017 Next Generation Mobility Challenge, a competition organized by Net Impact with Toyota and the Toyota Mobility Foundation. This challenge aims to inspire millenials to develop solutions for mobility needs in local communities and around the world. Fifteen different universities across the country hosted an on-campus design sprint and welcomed interdisciplinary teams of students to participate in designing and developing solutions for mobility issues related to social equity and inclusion. Local transportation and technology experts from Toyota and faculty members from host universities provided feedback and industry perspecitve to the students' final concepts.

Winners from the 15 events competed for 3 finalist spots which went to the teams from Georgia Tech, California College of the Arts and University of Colorado, Boulder. These three teams traveled to Plano, TX for a intense boot camp with Toyota experts to hone their concepts. After the Boot Camp, the teams submitted the refined versions of their ideas for judging by a group of experts.

This year, the winning concept is Para Pickup, designed by a team of students at Georgia Tech. The team included Sally Xia (Masters in Digital Media), Riley Keen (Masters in Industrial Design), Pranav Nair (Masters in Industrial and Product Design), and Kris Weng (Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Their final solution focused on the gap in transportation services for people who use wheelchairs. It's an app-based, para-transit taxi service that gives people who use wheelchairs a safe, affordable, and flexible way to get around. Para Pickup would supplement current public para-transit services, which are dependable, but are often inflexible and slower. 

The students have accepted summer internships through Net Impact in partnership with Toyota at the company’s North American headquarters in Plano, TX. They will support the Social Innovation team and continue to develop Para Pickup for the Toyota Mobility Foundation, which works to address mobility challenges around the world. The winners may then be considered for funding to bring their idea to life from the Toyota Mobility Foundation. View the team's winning idea here


California College of the Arts Chapter Wins First Ever Global Food Solutions Challenge

On April 20, 2017, the top 6 team finalists of our first ever “Foods Solution Challenge” arrived on campus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to pitch their ideas in front of industry experts for a chance to win $5,000.

Finalists were selected based on the solution their local event developed for how might we move toward a carbon neutral or carbon positive food supply chain. Finalists represented campuses and cities across the world, including:

Click on each school to view their video submission.  

The winning idea, “Foodle” presented by California College of the Arts Graduate Net Impact chapter, tackled the challenges faced by consumers with food waste at home. By implementing an RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) reader inside your refrigerator, you can track and be informed of expiring products before they go bad via a smartphone app. The team estimates that implementing this existing technology can save users $400/year, reduce total methane emissions by 6%, and stimulate a shift toward a more efficient food supply chain.

Second place honors were awarded to the DC Professional chapter for their idea “Oscar” which also tackled consumer food waste and Appalachian State University for their idea “Fueling the [tortilla] Chip Industry” which converts cooking oils into biofuel to be used during transportation. The award for “Fan Favorite” went to McGill University for their idea “Myco-Rise,” a peri-urban mushroom product that provides a healthy and environmentally friendly meat alternative.

Congratulations to all of our chapters who participated in this insightful and impactful event series.

Top teams answer how we might move toward a carbon positive food supply chain in the global Food Solutions Challenge.
Top teams answer how we might move toward a carbon positive food supply chain in the global Food Solutions Challenge.

Day 3 of the 2017 Toyota Next Generation Mobility Challenge Boot Camp

On the last day of the Toyota Next Generation Mobility Challenge Boot Camp each finalist team presented the newest edition of their idea. The presentations showed the results of the hard work each student put in as well as the expert input they received over the weekend from the Toyota team and IXL Center facilitators.

After their presentations, the teams were challenged to put together a 90-day action plan get their ideas to a viable point. Each student was also asked not only what they could do over time to make their idea a reality, but what their first step would be on Monday morning. Each student gave themselves a tangible task including user research, competitive analysis, and design prototyping. All parties left Texas inspired for the next leg of the innovation journey.

When asked about a favorite part of the weekend, each student had a different answer but there was a common thread of communication, learning and iterating throughout all their responses. One student said that during the Boot Camp he was reminded of what makes a great meeting – a worthwhile question (in this case, solving mobility issues for vulnerable populations) and emotion and passion. Each student, facilitator and advisor brought plenty of emotion and passion to the Boot Camp and this will definitely be reflected in the final presentations and proposals.

Interested in keeping up with the #nextgenmobility challenge? Each finalist team will create a video explaining their idea. Sign up here to be notified when voting opens – help your favorite idea become a reality!

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