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For most New Zealanders, we can't even imagine going a day without having lunch, so then why do we allow so many Kiwi kids to go to school and suffer without it? Research by the Child Poverty Action Group (2020), showed that there are 160,000 children living in severe income poverty and 319,000 children living in some kind of income poverty, while media reports state that New Zealand’s estimated household food waste is valued at $750 million dollars a year (Reynolds, Mirosa, & Clothier, 2016). These worrying statistics are only scratching the surface of the deep-rooted and systemic issue of poverty and food insecurity within New Zealand that so many Kiwi school children face. This led Lisa and her partner to come up with a solution that doesn't just tackle the issue of food poverty within our kiwi kids, but one that also allows them to get more out of their education. Therefore, it is clear to see the success of this solution as through adopting this Buy-One-Give-One business model, they have been able to provide over 1.5 million lunches for kids across the country.
Eat My Lunch is a social enterprise start-up that represents itself as a business with a “social conscience” as they supply lunches for thousands of Kiwi children throughout New Zealand schools through a business model that combines a profit, with a more important purpose. Lisa King and Michael Meredith founded the project in 2015, when she realized the number of children that were either going to school unfed and hungry, or simply didn’t have a lunch. It's no secret that food plays a vital role in how we behave, learn, and function, but this is particularly important for children in a classroom setting. This led her to discover and fall in love with the Toms Model, for every meal a customer buys, it is another meal that goes to a hungry school kid that would otherwise go without. In addition to a simplistic message, the buy-one-give-one approach provides customers with a personal connection that they can immediately recognize, which is a crucial success factor. This not only has a significant impact on a societal level as it reduces child poverty, hunger, and inequality, but it also increases good health, wellbeing, and the chance of quality education (SDG: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10). Furthermore, since Eat My Lunch uses 100% compostable packaging with a recycling system in place, they're promoting a more circular economy while showing commitment and responsibility when it comes to dealing with their waste.
The model is simple if you want to support, all you do is place an order for lunch on their website (two business days beforehand), wait for it to be delivered to your home or office, and then you can sit back and know that you’ve just provided lunch for a Kiwi kid that otherwise wouldn’t have received one. Eat My Lunch and its customers have been able to provide over 1.5 million school lunches to low-decile school kids across the country. Therefore, not only does Eat My Lunch allow for kids to be more engaged and focused during school while achieving SDGs, but it also has sparked a social movement for change within communities across New Zealand.
After previously working as a marketer for Cadbury and Unilever, Lisa and then partner Iaan Buchanan, were relaxing one evening when she discovered the magnitude of Kiwi kids that went to school without lunch right here in our own backyard. After promoting unhealthy products to New Zealanders for years while working for the likes of Cadbury, Lisa states “I saw a show on Campbell live and then read an article about child poverty in New Zealand with reference to the issue of children having no lunch in low decile schools and was trying to understand why no one had done anything about it”. Furthermore, she goes on to say “and then I thought about the negative impacts of the products we were marketing and how I wouldn’t even allow those into my house”. As a mother of two, Lisa didn't just feel empathetic towards the kids, she understood the importance food had in the development of young children and the difference it can make as it helps keep them focused, energetic, and eager to learn. So since Lisa knew she had the team with the right experience and commercial skills, she decided to "leap right into it and give it a go".
So after seeing the Toms ‘Buy One Give One’ Model implemented in different contexts overseas, this led the self-made social entrepreneur on a mission towards offering a service that wasn’t just personally fulfilling and aligned with her values and morals, but one which could sustainably provide lunch to thousands of Kiwi kids across New Zealand who are in need while giving them a better education at the same time. For Lisa, she claims “it has been one of the most fulfilling jobs that have allowed me to combine my corporate background with my values”. As Eat My Lunch continues into the future, we can expect to see lunches provided to more schools across the country as we feed those Kiwi children that need it the most.
From an innovation that started in their family kitchen in 2014, Lisa and Michael as well as thousands of volunteers have all played a part in helping to create a business that has provided more than 1.5 million healthy lunches to underprivileged kids from 91 schools in Auckland and Wellington that would have otherwise gone without. This means that they impacted over 28,000 school kids every week. Although this is a short-term fix for a long-term and systemic issue, due to the scalable business model implemented, it provides the opportunity to expand and grow into the future; meaning more kiwi kids can eat lunch. Furthermore, Eat My Lunch has also provided over 50 paid and fulfilling jobs to people from Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
To some, Eat My Lunch may seem like a short-term solution that may not be sustainable in the long term, however, this can’t take away the immediate impact it has on the child who receives the lunch at the school. In their 2018 impact report, they stated that schools told them 87% of teachers observed improved concentration in class, 89% saw better health & wellbeing, and 69% saw improved behavior. Additionally, one of the more important parts for Lisa is that it "allows for the kids and whanau (family) to feel supported as it removes the stigma for many children in schools around not having lunch which can prevent bullying and increase attendance". This not only helps to reduce the systemic inequalities many Kiwi children face, but it also provides them with a better chance of learning and life since a kid with a full belly, is a kid ready to learn.
The contentious ‘Buy One, Give One’ business model implemented by Eat My Lunch is a smart way to run a business that achieves a social purpose while making sure it has enough capital to remain sustainable and scalable. It has paved a pathway for a new kind of social enterprise in New Zealand that hadn’t been seen before as over the past four years, Eat My Lunch have not only continued to raise awareness around the issue of child poverty, but through helping people, it has helped them make a profit.
Since Eat My Lunch was established in 2015, they have used an innovative debt crowdfunding campaign three times while going to private investors once, in order to both scale up the initiative and supply more schools kids throughout the country with lunches. Every time they have been successful in reaching their goal which clearly indicates the massive support Eat My Lunch owners and volunteers get for the support they provide to the community. Furthermore, Eat My Lunch has just over 55 paid employees and has created thousands of relationships with corporations and volunteers to offer the commercially viable and scalable business model it applies today. They work with 2,000 different corporations from around New Zealand which offer their time to help in many different manners which include; making the Give lunch, ordering from Eat My Lunch for events or catering, or sponsoring a school for Give lunches. Without all of these people, Eat My Lunch wouldn’t have been able to expand and scale-up at the rate it has.
Through having a strong brand reputation for the amazing work they do for communities throughout Wellington and Auckland, the Eat My Lunch team has managed to gain over 25,000 volunteers who have chosen to give up their time and make the Give lunches. "Without so many of these volunteers, there wouldn't be anywhere near as many kids getting fed as there are today" Lisa states. Furthermore, the Eat My Lunch team have made an effort to ensure all of their staff and volunteers know that it is a place where everyone feels comfortable, and has the right to freedom of self-expression. For example, staff have flexible working hours, there is minimal dress code and there are no hierarchies as everyone is encouraged to work together with a family-like culture. This doesn’t just improve employee well-being but also helps to increase employee and volunteer retention.
Eat My Lunch is a social enterprise that is centered around community and well-being as its mission is to ensure that no child goes to school hungry, so they can learn and participate in school. By partnering with 2,000 corporations, managing and employing over 25,000 Kiwi’s, promoting healthy food, and most importantly, providing vulnerable and hungry school children with a meal they otherwise would have gone without, Eat My Lunch is building a community of consciously aware consumers while improving their health as they attempt to reduce the many inequalities faced by thousands of Kiwi kids. Through this initiative, it not only creates a better start to life and education experience for the child at the time, but it also helps to reduce societal pressures and stigmas around food security for many lower socio-economic communities and whanau. As Lisa thinks back on the work that has been put in to get here, she confesses how she "couldn't be more proud of the impact they've all made". It is clear to see that this isn't just a business for her, but a family with a passion to help.
Eat My Lunch has built the foundations of a model which is sustainable and scalable so it can provide this service into the future; therefore meaning the long-term impact they can have is immeasurable. Furthermore, as Lisa adds, "it has allowed the company to band together with a community of empathetic and passionate people who aspire to make real change within society" and local communities around New Zealand. The accolades that the Eat My Lunch team holds such as the Deloitte fast-rising stars award, communicating sustainability award at the NZI Sustainable Business Network, and the Westpac Business Awards all represent the amazing work and impact they’ve had in and out of their community. Lastly, while doing all of this for the betterment of society, Lisa and the Eat My Lunch team have been able to contribute to five sustainable development goals (1, 2, 3, 4 & 10).
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Lisa King, Founder
In 2015, Eat My Lunch was established to ensure that no child at school goes hungry, starting with kids right here in our own backyard. Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Eat My Lunch focuses on bringing healthy lunches to kids in low decile schools and has done so to over 1,500,000 school kids so far. Similar to the Toms shoes One-for-One model, every lunch someone buys off Eat My Lunch, means it is another lunch a Kiwi kid would have otherwise gone without. This not only helps to reduce hunger and inequality, but also promotes and increases good health, wellbeing, and quality education.