Like all the best things, it began with a simple idea. “We were struck by two facts: it costs WFP just 50 US cents to provide nutrition for a child for one day; and yet there are many more smartphone owners than hungry children,” explains Robert Opp, Director of Innovation and Change Management at WFP. “We wanted an easy means for anyone, anywhere, to donate.”
The result is the free-to-download ShareTheMeal app, which is used by more than 620,000 people and provided $4 million worth of meals for hungry children since it launched in November last year. ShareTheMeal has completed four goals since its global launch: providing school meals to 20,000 Syrian refugee children in Jordan for a full year; supporting 2,000 mothers and their children in Homs, Syria for a year; helping 1,400 Syrian refugee children in Beirut; and then 1,500 Syrian refugee children in Bar Elias (Bekaa Valley, Lebanon) for a full year.
For World Food Day on October 16, the focus turns to drought-stricken Malawi.

 

One goal at a time

 

 “We’ve found it increases motivation if the app community rallies around one goal at a time,” says Opp. “We can define the need in detail, which works well for users.  Zomba, a district in southern Malawi, has been very affected by the drought caused by the El Niño weather event. We aim to provide school meals for 58,000 children aged 6-13 there for one year.”
Because WFP largely purchases food locally, it saves on transport costs and is able to supply the kind of food that the children are already used to. The daily hot meal has been shown to boost attendance and can improve children’s ability to learn, helping to offset Zomba’s problems with low enrolment and high dropout rates, especially among girls – all of which tend to be exacerbated during times of crisis.

share the meal app

 

User-generated content

 

As a user, you choose a duration as well as amount, so you may decide to donate every day for two weeks. It’s easy to see where your donation has gone and the impact it’s having, as well as share photos via social media. World Food Day will also see the introduction of a new facility that allows users to form teams.
“So far, all app users have been participating in a single campaign. Now we are opening it up so that everyone can create a team”, says Opp.
“For example, if it’s your 40th birthday, you have the option to set up a challenge among your friends and colleagues to donate on your birthday, or at the party. People can rally around the moments where we gather to share food – Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, holidays.”
The app is relatively young, but Opp says it’s having a terrific response around the world.

 

International appeal

 

“With the Syrian crisis, the needs are so immense, it can seem overwhelming. We’ve had people from all over the world saying, ‘Thank you for giving me a chance to share at a level I can manage, and see how it’s helping’.”
The app is available in nine languages. For the moment, most users are from Europe – the app launched in Germany – and North America. “It was very interesting when we launched the Arabic version at the beginning of Ramadan in May,” says Opp. “Our goal at the time was providing food for Syrian children in Lebanon. It brought many new users, that region is growing a lot.”
Because there is no other app like that, “we have a lot to learn” he points out.

 

Accelerating innovation

 

90 per cent of donations to WFP go directly to the people affected by the crisis, with a mere 10 per cent spent on administration costs. The ShareTheMeal app itself has been one of the first initiatives supported by  WFP’s Innovation Accelerator in Germany, but more innovations are on the way.  “There are lots of ideas out there, but in reality our colleagues are busy responding to emergencies,” explains Opp. “We’re working on taking some of the WFP entrepreneurs out of their daily routine and bringing them to Munich to connect them with experts and the private sector to see if their ideas can be scaled up effectively. Some of these small ideas may just need a business plan and mentoring to succeed.”
The Accelerator is fast-tracking ideas that improve the lives of vulnerable communities, such as NutriFami, an e-learning platform to make nutrition education accessible in rural, remote areas in Bogota, Colombia. Later this year, WFP will be launching a global call for bold new solutions to hunger. “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are very ambitious,” Opp points out. “If we continue with business as usual, we probably won’t get there by 2030. The Accelerator invites innovators and entrepreneurs to step up with ideas on how to achieve Zero Hunger. We want everyone to contribute.”