What pisses you off enough? Well, therein lies your purpose, says social entrepreneur Ronni Kahn.
“Many people would love to find their purpose and I like to stress that purpose hides in many different ways,” says Kahn, speaking at a Young Professionals Gold Coast event at Nobbys Beach.
“A clue to finding your purpose – if something pisses you off enough, and you cannot find a solution, then perhaps by taking on that problem and solving that problem you might find something incredibly meaningful.”
Kahn practices what she preaches, founding OzHarvest in November 2004 after becoming astounded by the amount of food wasted by the hospitality industry.
In its first month of operation, the perishable food rescue organisation delivered the equivalent of 13,000 meals to eight different charitable organisations. Last month, that number stood at 875,000 meals to more than 850 charitable organisations.
In total, OzHarvest has delivered more than 46 million meals, providing assistance to countless vulnerable men, women and children, and saved more than 15 million kilograms of food from going to landfill.
Kahn, who grew up during the apartheid era in South Africa, says she was fortunate rather than lucky for her success. She says her parents were motivators for her life decisions.
“What they (my parents) did was instil in me the values that all men are equal, all of us deserve the same rights, and that nobody should be discriminated against for any reason – not because of their colour, not because of their race or creed, or disadvantage,” says Kahn.
“Leaving South Africa, which I left after I finished school, was a hard decision because I could have stayed in South Africa to fight the system (apartheid), and I probably would have ended up in jail and possibly be of not that much use.
“That was a consideration for me, but I left and actually went to Israel for many years. But when I came to Australia, I actually found the Promised Land.”
Kahn established a successful events business in Australia, and it was during her time in the hospitality industry that she discovered her true purpose.
She says she reached a point where she questioned why she had been put on earth. She says she wanted to know what it felt like to make a huge difference to somebody else.
“The by-product of every one of my events was, first of all, nobody left and had to go to Maccas on the way home because they were hungry, and secondly, there was wonderful food left on tables that got thrown away,” says Kahn.
“When I could, I would take some of that food and deliver it to a charity that I knew on my way home.
“When I started thinking about what it was that I was looking for and what it was that I could do, I knew that there was food and I knew that there were people in need and I thought what if I could connect that in a very powerful and impactful way.
“My initial goal was to rescue food and feed hungry people and do that until I ran out of food. That felt like a great cause. In no way did I have any understanding of the scale of the problem.”
In Australia, $8-10 billion worth of good food goes to waste each year, or about four million tonnes of food that ends up in landfill.
According to the NSW EPA Food waste avoidance benchmark study (2009), Australians throw out one of every five shopping bags, which equates to every Australian household throwing out $1036 worth of groceries each year.
Australia also produces enough food to feed about 60 million people, yet two million people still rely on food relief every year, according to the DAFF National Food Plan 2012.
Meanwhile, the Foodbank End Hunger Report 2012 highlights that food relief agencies are not able to meet demand. Nearly 90 per cent of agencies reported not having enough food to meet total demand. It found six in 10 agencies required at least 25 per cent more food while almost three in 10 agencies required double the food.
“Our purpose when I started was to rescue food, our purpose now is to nourish our country,” says Kahn.
Kahn was instrumental in changing the existing legislation across four states that had prevented food donors from supplying excess food.
Now, companies and registered businesses around Australia are protected from liability when donating quality excess food to OzHarvest under the Civil Liabilities Amendment Act and Health Acts.
OzHarvest is also dedicated to educating Australians about food consumption, and says people need to shift and change shopping behaviours.
“When we go into a supermarket or a grocery store and buy two-for-one deals, because we think it is cheaper, we need to evaluate if it is,” says Kahn.
“If you pick up two lettuces for one and you throw out one of the lettuces at the end of the week, it is costing you much more than the $2 you saved – it is costing you, it is costing our economy.
“It is about rethinking how we purchase, how we shop and how we live our daily lives.”
OzHarvest also provides the Nourish Program, a pathway to employment aimed at vulnerable youth between the ages of 16 and 25.
Offering advice to young professionals, Kahn says it is important for people to understand how important it is to live now, live for today and be the best possible person you can be.
“As you can appreciate in the event business, I did events that cost $500,000 or $1 million or $300,000, but no money that has ever gone through my hands, or that I have earnt, has felt as good as money that you know is making a difference to one or many people,” she says.
“Each and every one of us has a responsibility to be a leader without a title. What you have to know is that your role is to be a human being that takes care of others, that is aware of the fertility of our lives and that each and every one of us, I believe, has a moral imperative to make a difference to other people.”
The Young Professionals event on the Gold Coast raised close to $1000 which allowed OzHarvest to deliver more than 1830 meals to charity recipients.
In addition, host Simon Gloftis and his team at Hellenika packaged up and donated the excess food from the lunch equating to a further 20 meals which was donated to Rosies for its Friday night street outreach for the homeless.