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Q&A with Irish Social Entrepreneur Iseult Ward

Nov 14, 2014

You studied business and economics, but now you run a non-profit. What made you want to go into the charity sector?

In February 2012, I went along to an event in college and I met Aoibheann O'Brien, the co-founder of FoodCloud and we got talking basically about how much food is wasted and how little is happening in Ireland [to combat that]. There was only one tiny, registered food bank in Ireland at the time and internationally, like in the U.K. and Europe, there are networks of food banks that were dealing with the problem. So we both thought that we’d work on it and do something together.

How did you first go about tackling the problem?

At first we started calling businesses and charities just to see if they wanted to do something like this – where the businesses would donate their surplus food to charities. We actually started out by connecting a local farmer’s market to a local charity so that every Wednesday and Saturday, at the end of the day, the charity would come over to the farmer’s market and pick up any food they had left. Now this was without using technology or anything. It was literally just matchmaking. We realized that if we wanted to expand, we’d need to do more than picking up the phone and matching businesses.

How did you build the app?

We outsourced it to a small Irish company, iCloud Mobile Application. We went to them with the idea and they built it for us. There’s a content management system on it as well so each evening we have one of ourselves on call, basically, watching the app and making sure all the donations go out and are accepted.

There are other food-sharing programs out there in the U.S. and the U.K. How is FoodCloud different?

I suppose it’s different because we were very focused on getting a revenue model because we knew then we could focus our efforts on providing a really good service and we wouldn’t have to spend all our time fund-raising.

So that really shaped how we worked. And then I suppose it’s our use of technology. We knew from day one, when we first left that farmer’s market, that if we really wanted to scale what we were doing we were going to have to turn to technology. So I suppose that being very focused on technology and revenue is what makes us quite different from other charities.

Is there anyone who guided you or supported you when you were starting out?

I suppose [FoodCloud’s co-founder] Aoibheann [O’Brien], actually, because we spent so much time together and there was just the two of us for a long time, so we really would have learned a lot [from one another]. She was doing a Master’s when we met in university and so she brought a lot of experience with her. Since I was fresh out of college, I would have learned a lot from her, especially in the early days.

You guys have expanded across Ireland and even internationally with a project up in Belfast. How much extra work has that meant for you?

We just had the launch for Belfast recently and that’s our first kind of franchise, I guess you could say. They’re managing it themselves, so it’s like a social franchise, which we’re working on developing in partnership with a business in the community in Belfast.

And then in Ireland we’re expanding ourselves so it’s our team here that is basically on the phone all the time looking for charities across Ireland to sign up and then going out and visiting the Tesco stores and launching FoodCloud within the stores.

How did the partnership with Tesco come about?

They were one of our first businesses, from back when we were literally cold-calling up everyone in Ireland trying to get businesses to sign up with the app. So we were just very lucky Tesco said they would have a meeting with us. We literally just went into a Tesco and said that we had heard feedback from charities and we [want to start] working with you. They agreed to do a trial in one of their stores and then they expanded the trial. In July, we entered into a national partnership with them so at the moment we’re expanding into their 146 stores across Ireland.

How much food are you sharing per week?

It’s expanding week-on-week but last week I heard it was about eight and half tons. So we’re moving more than a ton of food a night at the moment. It’s crazy how fast it’s grown.

Interview by Megan Gibson. This interview has been edited and condensed

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