In this insightful episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Alex Coari, director of Capital & Innovation, ReFED (and also one of Waste360’s 40 Under 40 winners for 2020!).
ReFED is a multi-stakeholder nonprofit, powered by a network of the nation’s leading business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste.
We chatted with Coari about the role of data in solving food waste, building a resilient food system, advice for those who want to get involved in the industry and more.
Here is a sneak peek into the discussion:
Waste360: Could you please tell us about how COVID has impacted the work you do at ReFED?
Coari: Food waste has been a problem for a long time. But, because of COVID, a lot of the weaknesses in our system have been exposed and exacerbated. And so, the work of ReFED has continued, but we have had to make changes. The heart and soul of what we do is all about putting data and economics to the problem of food waste, to really understand how much is happening and what are the viable and scalable solutions. And then what’s necessary to bring the right players to the table to solve this. This work has all continued, but we’ve also added some new projects to meet the moment with COVID.
Waste360: Could you share an example of one of your new projects?
Coari: We realized there was a real need in the market, and a value we could add by launching a COVID-19 food waste solutions fund. We knew we had the network and connections to be able to help funders get monies to the organizations in need much quicker than they could on their own. And I’m excited to say we were able to raise more than $3.5 million, which was granted to more than 37 organizations. It’s a great example of how donors and food-recovery organizations came together really quickly to solve problems. And it has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve been involved with in my career.
Waste360: There seems to be a heightened awareness of food waste now. Are you seeing that?
Coari: I am starting to see that. What gives me hope is that, even before COVID hit, we were starting to see recognition and interest from new segments of funders who want to help fight food waste and scale solutions — in particular climate funders. When COVID hit, hunger funders were really motivated, but it’s great to see the increased funding and work from those climate funders as well.
Waste360: What makes a good partner, and what sorts of tips about collaborating could you share?
Coari: Collaboration and connection is so important at ReFED. We have to convene and connect with the various stakeholders that work all across the value chain if we want to really tackle the problem of food waste. And there needs to be someone in the middle, looking at the problem on a systems level, and connecting the right dots…and that’s one of the key roles ReFED plays.
From what I’ve seen in the industry, a lot of partnerships are aspirational, or the communication is poor about what each party wants to get out of it—so assumptions are made, and that’s when partnerships can break down. I think being really explicit about resources, and making sure missions are aligned, is so important.