At Youth Food Movement Australia, we often get asked for advice about starting a food organisation. So we decided to collate some of the lessons we’ve learnt along the way. Part 1 looks at some of the freeing awesome discoveries, and Part 2 will look at funding and staying focused while still thinking big picture.
Alex: For our first four years we were funded mostly through government grants, as well as revenue from our events, speaking engagements and donations. We also do market research and some fee for service work around food experience design and community engagement. In 2015 we received multi-year funding from the Vincent Family Fairfax Foundation who have a remit to support Australian agriculture. This has partially covered our operational costs, as we refine and develop our business model. Our long term goal is to have equal revenue from government, industry, corporates and philanthropy.
To date collaborated with Government, at the local and state levels, as well as with peak industry bodies. We have also worked with corporates like Google, and various universities. To date, most of our work has focused on engaging stakeholders involved in the production end of the supply chain (growers and peak bodies). Over the next 3 years we will be increasing our work in the retail and marketing end of the supply chain. We believe it is by working across the food system, and with various stakeholders, that we can create more systemic change within the Australian food system.
…and the “s” word
Alex: The other reality check I wanted to share is going to be uncomfortable for some. To run a food start-up, or even a cool food project, you have to embrace selling and sales. Yes I know that sales can feel like a dirty word to some, and is something only done by experts. But what I have learnt successfully in various forms every year of running YFM is that the ability to sell (not just a tangible thing, but an idea) is of utmost importance. Your passion and your LinkedIn profile will only get you so far. Your amazing product will only get you so far. Sales will secure you investment. It will get you amazing team members and volunteers. It will allow you to earn a living off your idea, so that you can reach even more people and change their lives too.
On staying focused while also thinking big picture
Alex: We design all of our projects around our Theory of Change. It is the guiding framework and theory for how our work is going to help us achieve our vision of a more sustainable food system in Australia. While there are many ways to achieve this vision, we believe that our most valuable and effective path is by increasing the food literacy levels of young Australians. That’s the knowledge, skills and experiences young people have around food. Also, by increasing participation in food and agriculture. That could be supporting young people to be a leader in their community, have a voice in political and other conversations that matter about food, and to take action on the things they care about. Each of our projects and the content we publish is centred on these two objectives: increasing food literacy and participation in food and agriculture.
We believe that it is by increasing these that we will help young people to build value for food that they haven’t had before, and to understand the impact that their food choices have, which in turn will drive demand for a more sustainable food system. The theory of change is an important tool because it allows us to have a long term focus, which is important as social change takes decades and centuries not months and years.
We evaluate our projects and also survey our volunteers and broader community to understand what impact our work is having. For example, we know that young people volunteer with us because they build skills they aren’t able to acquire in their studies or their jobs, and that they value contributing to something for society.