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.
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.
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.
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:
Learning this offered the team an avenue to look at opportunities to enhance the existing process.
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).
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?”
To see Robin Food in action or want to know how you can be involved, check out http://www.myrobinfood.org/web/