Ronni Kahn, founding director, OzHarvest
If you save one person you save the world because you don’t know what that one person will achieve ...
Australians throw out more than $8 billion worth of perfectly edible of food each year, which equates to about one in every five bags of groceries we buy. Many of us may feel the pangs of guilt when we bin food, but how many do anything about it? Ronni Kahn did. She created OzHarvest that has since delivered more than 32-million meals to 600 charities and saved more than 10,000-tonnes of food from landfill. The Weekend Edition Gold Coast recently caught up with Ronni for a virtual coffee to chat about milestones, motivation and mottos.
First of all, congratulations on passing your ten-year milestone! How did it feel?
Pretty extraordinary! Hard to believe because on one level I remember day one as if it was yesterday but on the other it feels like 100 years. Was I ever doing anything else?
For readers who aren’t familiar with OzHarvest, can you tell us a little about it?
Absolutely! The purpose of OzHarvest is to nourish our country and there are three streams under this, the first is food rescue, we also educate and we engage. Every single day we rescue surplus food from restaurants, delis, takeaway venues, boardrooms, hotels, farmers, producers and events and deliver it to people who need it the most. In terms of education, we take vulnerable kids, disadvantaged kids and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by providing them with certified education in hospitality with a commitment to giving them a job. We also have a project called Nest, which is about educating and nurturing vulnerable people and teaching them how to live a more healthy and sustainable life. Our third education piece is consumers, you and me. How we can make a difference to minimise the eight to ten billion dollars worth of good food that goes to waste in this country every year.
How did the idea come about?
My business was in hospitality, I was producing special events and every one of my events I made sure there was wonderful surplus of food. It made the clients feel good when they knew they were being generous and so I was creating an enormous amount of waste. When it came time for me to think about what I wanted in my life and how to make a purposeful meaningful difference, I figured that I knew food and I knew there were people in need so I connected the two.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the early days?
The challenge wasn’t really getting people on board as the minute I told people, I became a little bit like the Pied Piper because they loved it! Everybody knew good food shouldn’t go to waste so when I told them we are going to rescue food and deliver it to people in need they said ‘Fantastic! What can we do to help?’ The challenges were really that a couple of the big businesses were worried about their liability so we had the laws amended in New South Wales, ACT, Queensland and South Australia to make it possible for donors to give food away for free without any fear of liability.
What is your blue-sky dream for OzHarvest?
That we would do ourselves out of business in the food rescue area. Because quite honestly it is a fundamental challenge for the world, it is a global issue, 30 to 40 percent of all food is being wasted so I guess my big vision is that we will have educated everybody enough so there will be no more food waste. Then we can focus on educating people and teaching them how to use food properly and making sure they have a life of wellbeing. I think it will take a while.
Can you tell us about the Nourish Program?
OzHarvest is a connector. We take food and we deliver it to people in need but what we saw when we were delivering the food is that there were people who might never have an opportunity to shift or change their lives. The Nourish Program is about finding those youth who have potential, who have dreams, who have a wish to change their lives but have no idea how. Hospitality is quite a low entry area so we figured that if we could provide hospitality training to vulnerable kids we could use our connections to give these kids a job. We have 12 kids in our current program that we will help to find a job once they are qualified. It’s pretty exciting because in my religion, I am Jewish, there is a saying that if you save one person you save the world because you don’t know what that one person will achieve.
You’ve achieved so much in your life and were named Australia’s Local Hero of the year in 2010. What are you most proud of?
I think I am most proud of the fact that there are so many people involved with OzHarvest. We’re like a magnet for magnificent people and I think that’s extraordinary. From one little seed something has grown that is now a national organisation involving thousands of people and impacting hundreds of thousands of people, so yes, that is pretty fulfilling.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt on this journey so far?
That I am only as good as the fabulous people I have around me.
What inspires you?
Action! Doing stuff. Not just thinking about doing stuff but actually getting out and doing stuff. It’s the people who do that inspire me. Nelson Mandela is my all-time hero. Live in the present because really, that’s all we have. I am only as good as I am right now. It’s not what I think I might be tomorrow or it’s not what I was yesterday, it’s being the best I can be right now.
What does success look like?
Success looks like fulfilled, happy people who are able to achieve their potential.
Do you have a motto or any words to live by?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I would never ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do and I only treat people the way I want to be treated.
What keeps you motivated?
Every single day there’s a new story, a new smile on somebody’s face, a new volunteer that comes in. There are one thousand reasons every single day to stay motivated.
OzHarvest recently opened an office at The 4217 on the Gold Coast. Are there any exciting events in the pipeline?
What a wonderful space that is! It’s fantastic. Coming up on July 27 is our Think.Eat.Save event. We are partnered with the United Nations to raise awareness about food waste and teach all of us how to value food instead of wasting it. Think.Eat.Save is a national event and we are currently looking for volunteers.
How can people get involved?
Just make contact with us. Go to our website and click on Gold Coast or call us on 1800 100 806 and let us know. People come to us with their time and skills and we try to match that with what we need. No matter what your skillset is, whether it’s IT, marketing, or hospitality, whatever, we have a role for you.
What’s next for OzHarvest – what do you hope to achieve in the next ten years?
To raise the consciousness of food waste and to bring that eight to ten billion down to as little as possible so that we aren’t wasting anything.