CEO and OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn is leading an international movement to rethink food waste, working with the UN to address this pressing issue across seven countries. Find out how you can make a difference.
On a journey that began with one small food van in Sydney, CEO and founder Ronni Kahn is the one woman wonder behind Australian food rescue charity OzHarvest. Since 2004, she has been developing a global food redistribution model that now includes a large donation and distribution arm working with over 3500 businesses, an extensive education programme, the world’s first rescued food supermarket and a partnership with the UN. Publicly recognised as an ‘Officer of the Order of Australia’ by the Australian government for her innovative social welfare programmes, Ronni and OzHarvest have so far delivered 100 million meals and saved 35,000 tonnes of food and counting. Find out how she’s determined to help the world change, and how you can help her do it.
Photo by Mark Rogers
It all began with a simple problem. “I had surplus food from my event management business, and I knew people that were hungry,” Ronni recalls. “I thought, what if I connect that food with those people?” The more involved she got, the more apparent the true scale of the problem became. “A third of the world’s food gets wasted,” she states.
Fortunately, the idea proved popular. “Everyone knows good food shouldn’t go to waste,” she explains. “Corporates loved it because their people could get on board with it.” Taking advantage of this universal truth, OzHarvest went on to forge partnerships in every sector, reaching everyone from supermarket giant Woolworths to energy conglomerate BP. “Some people have food and time. And some have food and money,” Ronni says. “We just say, whatever you’ve got, that’s amazing.”
Photo by Alice Boshell
Aside from its corporate collaborations, OzHarvest also engages with individuals and schools, encouraging everyone to take responsibility for the food they buy. Their four-step approach – look, buy, store, and cook – advocates more deliberate food management. In addition, OzHarvest offers a diversity of volunteer opportunities. “There are always extraordinary things for our volunteers to do, from sitting in reception and answering the phone to manning our stores at markets to supporting our education programme,” says Ronni.
Photo by Vanessa Rowe
It’s not all been smooth sailing. Ronni encountered significant legislative barriers when she first started. “People were scared to give us food out of their businesses. Some were worried about their own liability. We got pro bono lawyers to help support and lobby, so we could have the laws changed.” Over the course of several years, OzHarvest successfully lobbied multiple Australian states to support liability-free donations of good food.
The non-profit has now opened the world’s first free supermarket OzHarvest Market. Without tills or registers, the franchise operates on the principle of taking what you need and giving if you can. Their OzHarvest Food Truck can be hired to provide sustainable, nutritious catering on wheels at events, incorporating biodegradable packaging, rescued food and seasonal produce to minimise their footprint even further. OzHarvest is also creating and implementing technological solutions. With a brand new digital platform, they’re connecting food donors in remote or rural areas to recipient organisations.
Although much remains to be done – AUD 20 billion worth of food in Australia still goes to waste every day – Ronni is grateful for what she’s achieved so far. “It’s taken a long time, but there’s been a fundamental shift in everything about food production and distribution,” she reflects. “We’ve gotten the Australian government to commit to halving food waste by 2030 in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and there’s now infrastructure including a national committee being put in place to help steer that.” Above all, meaningful change, not financial reward, is what drives her forward every day. “I think each and every one of us needs to give back in some way,” she affirms. “It’s more enriching than any money I’ve ever earned.”