FOOD DISTRIBUTION REDEFINED

 

Robin Food App

 

ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION


The Robin Food app emerged as the winning idea from the Sime Darby Young Innovator’s Challenge 2016 (SDYIC 2016) but the idea really came to life when a dedicated team at Group Strategy and Innovation, Sime Darby Berhad and Yayasan Sime Darby took to operationalising the idea.

The concept of a food surplus management app is not unheard of, especially in France, the UK, and US. The obvious thing to then do, would be to directly replicate the system here in Malaysia; but by doing so, the team would have neglected crucial elements of the local culture that made the app work well for its users here.

 
 

Launched in 100 days, the Final Design and Product - Robin Food App.

Credits: Yayasan Sime Darby & Robin Food

BACKGROUND


SDYIC is a programme funded by Yayasan Sime Darby, consisting workshops and competitions for 13 to 16 years old in Malaysia to collaborate, discover, and innovate actionable solutions to real world issues.

The inaugural 2016 edition of SDYIC began in March that year with four regional workshops and competitions. It saw the involvement of 221 participants who had to come up with innovative solutions to problem statements relating to the theme People, Planet and Prosperity. Four teams from Melaka, Penang, Sabah, and Negeri Sembilan advanced to the final stage. Team Robin Food from Sabah were crowned champions of SDYIC 2016 with their idea of a mobile application to tackle food wastage in Malaysia by channelling excess food to the needy.

The app connects organisations with food surplus to prompt charitable food banks to collect the food, so that they can be repurposed and distributed to those in need, in a structured manner. Considering its potential social impact, Yayasan Sime Darby covered the costs of developing and hosting the app. The app was officially launched in December 2016 and has been the catalyst for the distribution of more than 70,000 kg of food to the needy via their collaboration with the Food Aid Foundation and Tesco Malaysia. As of 2018, the Robin Food app has garnered 57 donors.

WHAT DESIGN THINKING HELPED UNCOVER


Through their empathy research, the team came to realise a key factor that separated the Malaysian landscape from its Western counterparts – the profiles of their end users. Unlike the UK whose end users are low income families, the homeless and other possible direct benefactors of the service, the end users in Malaysia were really NGOs and supermarkets.


The team discovered a few reasons for the disparity:


  1. Market maturity – NGOs in the UK and US have had the chance to develop more advanced infrastructure whether it is storage facilities or availability of full time staff. The NGOs operating in Malaysia however, largely rely on volunteer-based recruitment where scheduling becomes much trickier to work around. We also do not have very established food storage capabilities to preserve food for extended periods of time.
  2. Funding – NGOs in the UK and US receive a steadier stream of funding from multiple foundations whereas funding in Malaysia is more sporadic, relying on limited government funds and to a certain extent, CSR efforts from corporates.
  3. Consumer base – the consumer base in the UK and US are also more open to reaching out directly to NGOs to a greater extent than it is here in Malaysia.

Design Thinking gave the team the awareness to pivot the project toward the right end users considering the local context.


To get a better grasp of their users’ journey and pain points, the team had to approach two distinct parties: those who had a surplus of food, and those who received and further distributed the food. The team approached Tesco Malaysia because it already ran a food surplus distributing initiative as a directive from its headquarters in the UK. On the food dispensing end, the team approached several food banks in Malaysia including Kechara Soup Kitchen and Food Aid Foundation.

Tesco Malaysia’s CSR initiative being a directive from its headquarters in the UK, necessitated tracking and monitoring of the food surplus for reporting purposes. Before the introduction of the app, Tesco Malaysia would rely on manual recording. This system posed challenges in the following areas:

  1. Created an added administrative burden for the already limited resource involved.
  2. Coordination on what is available versus what is needed was poor.
  3. Due to the nature of how food is collected and distributed, there was no end-to-end tracking of food from store to plate.

Learning this offered the team an avenue to look at opportunities to enhance the existing process.

The project team testing their prototype with stakeholders.

Credits: Yayasan Sime Darby

The Project Team and the stakeholders discussing and brainstorming ideas for the app and website.

Source: Yayasan Sime Darby and Robin Food

TAKING ACTION


As Design Thinkers, the team immersed in the typical end-to-end journey of what it is like to be a person working on different parts of the distribution chain. The early adopters who really came together to make this idea a reality were Kechara Soup Kitchen, Food Aid Foundation, and Tesco Malaysia, who linked them with immersive, on-ground experience and gave constructive feedback.
Their empathy fieldwork led them to the insight that their app should not only make tracking, data collecting, and analytics a lot less cumbersome, but that it should also create a system of accountability between donors and distributors for food donated and food received. The analytics from the app goes beyond just numbers. It equips donors and distributors with the necessary knowledge to take action more proactively. This really helped the project team empathise with their users and better envision the actual usage of the app.

As with the Design Thinking process, the app was prototyped and tested using wireframes that end users could interact with. Design Thinking gave them an avenue to co-create solutions with their end users, so that the end product addresses their needs. Testing and prototyping helped them decide what information should be reflected on the mobile app versus what is seen on the web interface (quick facts versus details).

OUTCOME


The Robin Food app stands as a strong case to prove that there are tangible ideas that can be implemented to alleviate societal issues. Food Aid Foundation currently directs the management of this app and serves as its main parent. Ever since, they have expanded their network of donors and distributors to include hotels, restaurants, and manufacturers.

Tee Ee Lynn, project lead of this initiative from Group Strategy & Innovation, Sime Darby Berhad said that Design Thinking offered them a way to scale up the initial idea. Chooi Yew Vern, a project team member expressed that Design Thinking helps orient a person’s thinking from “what do we stand to gain from this?” to a more user-centred “how would our solution make people feel?”

“The obvious thing to then do, would be to directly replicate the system here in Malaysia; but by doing so, the team would have neglected crucial elements of the local culture that made the app work well for its users here.“

To see Robin Food in action or want to know how you can be involved, check out http://www.myrobinfood.org/web/