Impossible you say? Not if you are Mick Ebeling. In fact, he refuses to accept that anything is impossible. Mick is the founder of Not Impossible, an organization that prides itself on innovations that make a positive impact on people’s lives. If he sees an issue that negatively impacts society, Mick thinks about how he can apply technology for the sake of humanity. In one instance it was helping an artist with ALS communicate and paint again. In another, it was 3D printing a working artificial arm for a Sudanese boy who had lost both of his in the war. Now, it is about feeding the hungry.
Consider hunger in America. Forty-eight million Americans struggle daily to put food on the table. Not because there isn’t enough of it, but because people cannot access it – a concept Mick and his team at Not Impossible find absurd and unacceptable. Porter Novelli was working with Mick in New York last week as he talked about his latest initiative, Hunger Not Impossible, to hundreds of attendees at the 7th Annual UN Social Good Summit. This is a two-day event conducted by Mashable as part of UN General Assembly Week that brings together the brightest thinkers in the world to explore the intersection of technology and social good.
Commit. Then Figure it Out.
Solving world hunger is quite the task – and something humanitarian groups work on every day. It’s bigger than one person and bigger than simply technology. If Not Impossible had set out to solve world hunger, they might still be at the drawing board, considering the complexities. Instead, they committed to trying to affect one aspect of the problem – access to food among youth and veterans. Not unlike the work we do at Porter Novelli, Not Impossible immersed themselves in the problem and in the audience, looking for insights that could lead them to a solution. The insight they found was transformative.
“What do homeless youth prioritize the most? Not shelter, not food, not clothing, but mobile phones,” said Ebeling.
Yup, you read that correctly. A phone. That story, that surprising, insightful detail, is at the core of a program Not Impossible launched on Sunday.
“That’s where we started, using their need for phones to help them get what they really need, food. And it’s working,” Ebeling told the audience of social change experts who no longer accept the status quo.
In the pilot, the Not Impossible team partnered with Venice Beach-based non-profit Safe Place for Youth (SPY) and local Subway restaurants. Young people already served by SPY could opt-in to the SMS-based platform; twice per day they received a text asking if they wanted to order a meal. If they said yes, they could visit the most convenient Subway location for them and build a sandwich. Then they simply went to the restaurant and picked up their meal like any other customer.
They achieved the trifecta. Hunger Not Impossible gave restaurants a way to prepare food and keep staff busy during traditionally down times when their equipment otherwise idled. Community-based organizations constantly burdened by an unrealistic desire to feed people around the clock suddenly saw their efforts augmented. And SPY went from feeding its community three days per week to seven days per week. Most importantly, the young people could access food like so many others do – via technology and without shame. They are focused, more productive, and in their words, better for it.
“The Hunger Not Impossible program has made it possible for me to eat every day. When you feed us it means we don’t have to do other nasty things to get money for food. We don’t have to steal from stores cuz our stomach is touching our back. We don’t need to sell drugs to get food,” said one of the Hunger Not Impossible teens.
Social Impact. Not Impossible.