Planting seeds for collective action to address food insecurity
It’s a long road to community recovery for London, and we’re not there yet. To see how far we’ve yet to go towards social and economic rehabilitation, you needn’t look further than the month-over-month rise in numbers of clients accessing the London Food Bank.
In February, the organization projected a record 5,000 families, or 14,000 individuals, will depend on the Food Bank to meet their basic needs. The Food Bank has seen a steady increase in service demand since the beginning of the pandemic, a trend that’s currently placing great strains on most community-serving organizations.
The factors leading to food insecurity for many living in Canada demonstrate the systemic nature of the problem – a combination of the soaring cost of living, inflation, economic downturns and insufficient public policies to name only a few. As social crises deepen in our communities, it’s clear we must work together across sectors to co-create solutions while also influencing our elected officials.
The London Food Bank has been feeding the community, and working to address poverty, for over 35 years. During that time, in a climate where government support for systems affecting food insecurity is lacking, the organization has demonstrated the great impact of cross-sector partnerships. In collaboration with community agencies, business and government organizations, the Food Bank has explored urban agriculture, greenhouse projects, gathering food surplus and installing green walls to grow produce.
“Gone are the days when governments just kind of took care of things through programming, or corporate groups…came in and helped with a lot of [issues around food insecurity and poverty]. It seems to me that there’s a real need for coordination,” said Glen Pearson, Co-Director of London Food Bank, on a recent episode of Food Bites on Rogers TV. “I think people are increasingly despairing that the governing sector isn’t engaging in the way that it should. On the other hand, within the community itself, there are tons of different groups that are trying to come in and trying to make a difference.”
At Pillar Nonprofit Network, we share this belief in the power of collective impact for social change. Our theory of change is based on facilitating collaboration amongst the three pillars of nonprofit, business and government to create opportunities to shift systems. With deep knowledge of the local nonprofit sector, and social challenges in our community, we connect organizations and individuals working towards common goals, often in our shared space at Innovation Works.
As a part of our commitment to community recovery during COVID-19, Pillar partnered with the Food Bank, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Cargill and RBC Place to get food into the hands of London’s most vulnerable. When we learned about the opportunity to bring a green wall that grows produce to Innovation Works, we were eager to partner again with the Food Bank through Business Cares. While our green wall itself will generate only a modest amount of produce to be donated to downtown agencies, the real impact is that it’s already helping generate a broader conversation around food insecurity, and how we can all help, within our network.
“It’s starting a conversation, and then getting people thinking about, not just a green wall, and whether they can host that in their space, but also the whole conversation around food,” said Maureen Cassidy, Interim CEO of Pillar, on Food Bites. “[It encourages a dialogue] around locally grown food, around providing fresh healthy produce to Londonders and how can somebody become a part of that conversation. It’s a starting point.”
Reflecting on the converging systemic factors that lead to major social challenges like food insecurity, nevermind solving them, can be overwhelming. For individuals and organizations who hope to create systems change, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be an effective tool that allows us to understand the interconnectedness of a broad range of social, environmental and economic issues.
The SDGs are a framework of 17 goals that provide language and targets to help communities and governments create a common vision of shared prosperity for generations to come. Because the SDGs distill all dimensions required for a sustainable and equitable future, they can help us analyze, and raise awareness of, the complex intersections of issues like food insecurity.
For example, while SDGs like Zero Hunger, Good Health and Wellbeing, and No Poverty have obvious connections, factors like Climate Action and Affordable Clean Energy also affect food insecurity. When we look at problems in this way, it’s easier to identify how organizations across sectors and industries might be able to act as agents of change towards the solution.
Using the SDGs in public policy advocacy is another way the framework can be used to influence change. The SDGs are global goals, but every country, province, and city has a role to play. Local governments and networks are best equipped to understand their challenges and develop transformative solutions. While there’s room for improvement, there’s a growing awareness at all levels of government of how their initiatives align to the SDGS and how communities are tracking towards the goals.
Connecting policy recommendations to the relevant SDGs can either show how the issue aligns to an existing SDG target, or to establish the case for why a recommendation is pertinent based on the SDG framework. At a local level, all of the SDGs have targets directly related to the roles of municipal governments. Referencing the SDGs in the context of municipal advocacy connects local work and policy priorities to national and international change efforts.
To get to a place of recovery, we need to move beyond band-aid solutions to issues like food insecurity and understand how broken systems are feeding the problem. Learning more about the SDGs and their interconnectedness is a good place to begin. Wicked problems are aptly named for their complexity, we can’t solve them alone, or with a single project, but we can all be part of the solution in big and small ways. At Pillar, we know one green wall isn’t a solution to food insecurity, but maybe it can help us begin to grow a future that’s better than before.