Drive to End Hunger: Elimination of Food Deserts [Food Taxi Drivers Network – A Long Term Self Suficient Solution Proposal] [Social Target: aging vulnerable population – 50 and older]

Last year (2012) an American well known foundation entered open innovation market engaging a dedicated problem solving platform and starting to look among the crowds for worldwide long term self sufficient visions / programs / pilot studies – for solving hunger problem among aging vulnerable population (50 and older).

This is the general problem’s background – referring to USA situation mainly, but being very the same all over:

” In 2009, nearly 9 million older adults (50 and older) experienced food insecurity or did not know where there next meal was coming from. The number of food insecure older adults has been steadily increasing since 2007.  The problem is particularly pronounced in the Southern United States, among African Americans and Latinos, and among those with disabilities.

Food Insecurity has many causes and consequences.  It is most significantly associated with low incomes, but can also be closely related to limited access to commercially available healthy foods at a reasonable cost.  Areas with low food access are often referred to as “Food Deserts”.

A food desert is any area in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Food deserts are prevalent in rural as well as urban areas and are most prevalent in low-socioeconomic, minority communities. They are associated with a variety of diet-related health problems.  Food deserts are also linked with supermarket shortage.  They are areas of relative exclusion where people experience physical and economic barriers to accessing healthy foods.

In the United States, there are approximately 6,500 food deserts.  In these areas, residents, have low access to nutritious food.  They often have to drive long distances to find commercial food retailers, which for the low income, older adult population, can be a significant barrier and promote food insecurity. ”

Specifically, the seeker focused on the aging population (50 and older) in US. They are usually single adults or couples who have their own set of unique needs such as:

  • Fixed income and possible income reduction
  • Limited mobility (physical as well as transportation)
  • Changing dietary needs
  • Shrinking Social Networks


I will summarize below one of my visions for solving this critical problem of food deserts elimination by fast multiplying positive social and economic effects at that same time – a solution proposal sent to this particular seeker.

My proposed vision did not convinced that particular US Seeker and as a result had not been chosen as winner by its own evaluation commission. My personal opinion is because it is too NGO; asking for innovation but playing after old mindsets and approaches. A typical paradoxical approach: to apply conventional thinking and methods to unconventional problems.

I am not saying that my concept was perfect or genius, but I believe it was extremely operational and efficient on a large scale regarding this particular problem solving and its impact.

I have a very strong belief that other seekers from US and from other corners of this world trying to better solve Food Deserts problems – may need more support and inspiration and they might feel a vision match with mine.

As a result, I gladly share my thoughts upon a pilot program I designed dedicated to eliminate food deserts as my personal contribution to these specific efforts.




To create a very dynamic and flexible network of independent “food taxi drivers” meaning to design a low cost supply chain (alternative / unconventional distribution channel) – a core service able to:

  • Offer food suppliers the opportunity to penetrate food deserts markets at lower costs – on one side
  • Provide and deliver 50+ beneficiaries food at the lowest cost possible – on the other side


I. Program’s main elements:

  1. Create a low cost food distribution service dedicated to:
  • business owners who activate in the food industry – on one hand (resource creation)
  • 50+ target beneficiaries – on the other hand (resource spending)

2. Establish a social business enterprise (placed between profit and non-profit)

3. Engage all people who own and/or can drive a car and want to make extra-money (alternative employment service dedicated to unemployed, students, other social vulnerable categories, 50+ still active fellows). These will be food taxi drivers coming from all social categories; the operational field players who will place food orders on command based on a well defined system.

4. Engage strategic local delivery points in the Food Deserts areas (i.e. church, city hall, police station, school, other public places).


The proposed program aims to offer food suppliers a low cost supply chain alternative (unconventional distribution channel) but also a good theme to think about in perspective – as it is an area where commercial and social responsibility (CSR) sides of the business meet and from where new business dimensions can be created.

This unconventional alternative is the core service and it allows food business owners to provide food in those areas where is not profitable for them to open stores and other commercial points.

As a result we offer them a low cost food distribution service in the food deserts areas which is a market worthy to take into account if we think at food deserts overall population.

In order to be able to offer them such business alternative we have to engage a large number of people of all ages who own and/or can drive a car – making them “Food Taxi Drivers” (on one side) and public delivery points in the Food Deserts areas (on the other hand).

Using existing information databases, maps, mobile and GPS technologies we can establish this service at its best. From this perspective we may design our own dedicated IT platform (IT integration of the business service/solution).

In the Food Deserts areas there should be people in charge with collecting orders on a regular basis so food delivery to be made as targeted and cost-efficient as possible. These food orders collectors should be ideally engaged from local officials because they may have better education, a good understanding of the field needs and also access to communication resources.

The “regular basis” should be determined on economic basis and based also on technical, operational and logistical possibilities from the field: once at a few days; weekly, twice a month, etc.

If, for example, there is the possibility of food depositing in proper conditions in some of the Food Deserts areas, the supplying may be done rarely (like twice a month or once a month) and this way costs may be kept lower. With time maybe small food deposits may be built if the solutions turn to be functional and business tests show good parameters.

Engaging independent car owners and car drivers dedicated to deliver food in the Food Deserts – lowers food costs from the start, being possible to deliver it at production cost only plus a small profit margin.

The food providers don’t need to invest in cars, logistic and don’t need to employ more people, engage other logistic and operational costs. All they have to do is to provide the food. In future maybe also know-how & training services will be delivered, depending on the network evolution.

Under such circumstances – we may start the program by delivering only the kind of food that doesn’t need freezing or special transporting conditions. This may be one of the start-up limitations but it can be answered with time while program starts to shape / develop.

If also CSR alliances are made with food providers – maybe the food costs may go much lower. In a concrete way, food providers may provide us a part of their production and stocks with profit zero for them (at cost price). For many it may look like a much more attractive CSR measure and project to engage in than to just give away food or money with no direct return of investment.

It is critical for our unconventional supply chain service to be incorporated into a social business enterprise (placed between profit and non-profit) because of the following main key reasons:

  •  We practically buy the food from food producers and suppliers of all kinds at production cost (plus a small profit margin for the suppliers in some cases) and redistribute it further in the Food Deserts Areas where they have no delivery commercial points and access but where we have through our network of food taxi drivers. No deposits in the middle. The food is picked-up from their bases and delivered directly in food deserts communities at organized delivery points and according to a schedule.
  •  We have to apply a small profit margin to all food in order to be able to pay gasoline + a pre-determined service fee for the Food Taxi Drivers engaged in the program and to sustain head office and operational expenses. We do both business and social work, so we have to create the freedom to do them both at their best. On short, we answer a social problem in a business way in order to achieve long term sustainability.
  •  We have to be able to both make profit and receive donations / sponsorships
  •  We have to be able / have the freedom to attract and to propose food business owners a sustainable deal with our supply chain alternative.

This means that food providers don’t just give money / food for free to our social enterprise (like in NGO / exclusive not-for-profit cases) but they also see the return of their investment – a strong argument for engaging in our program many powerful & strategic partners in order to achieve great social and economic impact.

Choosing the country / place for registering the social enterprise and even establish its base must take into account also fiscal and political frameworks dedicated to such legal entities as they are critical factors for ts success.

Food Taxi Drivers may be engaged by public announcements made towards: unemployed people, students, other social vulnerable categories, 50+ active people, etc. The targets is all those people who have a car and/or a driving license and are willing to engage in our program and make extra-income.

(CSR) Alliances may be made also with cars producers / dealers / owners. They may be engaged and convinced to offer our program new, old or second hand cars and in return we pay during many years very small renting / lease fees. These cars may help our network to expand and to attract in the program also people who don’t have a car but who can drive a car.

(CSR) Alliances may be also made with insurance companies for Food Taxi Drivers: car insurances, medical and life insurances (especially for those who have to drive and deliver food in dangerous zones with high criminality or other suck risks).

(CSR) Alliances may be also made with gasoline producers (gas stations owners) to provide our program gas at lower cost, at least partially or whatever the terms are negotiated.

Other strategic alliances regarding the latest technologies that may be of help to our program may be sealed (like cheap fuels, engineering cars engine adaptations for lowering the fuels consume, etc)

Once entering the program, all cars are customized with the program’s logo & slogan (which will be designed) so cars to be safer and easy to identify when they cross dangerous zones. Maybe other safety elements should be implemented.

Car drivers must also sign in for a minimum period of time in the program (like 6 months or 1 year minimum) so a dimension of stability and fluidity to be possible to achieve from operational point of view.

The service will be calibrated while walking in accordance with the number & types of the cars attracted in the program and their location in comparison with food deserts areas and food producers/providers.

Food Products selling prices may be differentiated according to 50+ target population’s income: cheaper to those who have lower/lowest incomes; a little more expensive to those who have bigger incomes. A scale of revenues system should be designed or if exists – to be used.

[ In order for our program to produce more resources and to better & faster develop further, food may be provided and delivered through this system at higher costs to other less vulnerable population living in food deserts areas, others than 50+ target population. Such approach may look attractive for food providers and better alliances may be done as a result as it equals good business. From another perspective, talking about food deserts – there are also the rest of younger and less vulnerable populations who need food and may be considered as secondary target market. ]

Our program should link with existing efforts in order to better answer food insecurity challenge overall.

The program holds also the potential to be scalable at a national and regional level.

Of course, depending on food deserts particularities (like for example very dangerous zones), some of the program’s aspects must be reconsidered, readjusted in order to function properly and to have the predicted impact.

Note: more detailed information (like operational and strategic plans, IT concept view and so on) and my personal support may be provided if needed. Just contact me if you think that I can contribute with my knowledge next to your and/or your organization efforts – at solving better this particular world’s problem.