By Omotunde Alawode
Leaving a good job in the corporate world in the United Kingdom, he set up his own tech company and created the Provide A Meal app. In this interview with Daily Sun, Samson Ibitoye, the co-founder and CEO of Provide A Meal UK and co-founder, Provide A Meal Nigeria. A graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, before proceeding to the UK to bag an MSc in Geographic Information Systems, who found his passion for creating tech-based solutions that solve everyday problems, elucidates how experiencing hunger led him to find a solution for others and his vow to end hunger in Nigeria, and how those most in need can benefit from his approach.
What exactly do you mean when you say food poverty is rife here?
Food poverty is the inability to acquire or consume the adequate amount of food that the body requires to perform everyday activities. Food protects us from diseases, provides us with the energy to work, and helps us recover fast from illnesses. The uncertainty surrounding the daily ability to consume the right amount of food or consume the right amount of nutrients the body demands in a socially acceptable way can be termed as food poverty. Food poverty creeps up on people but the moment an individual or family starts to skip meals without the intention to do so, they can be categorised as people at risk of food poverty and this describes many families in Nigeria today. If they skip meals consistently, then they are victims of food poverty. There are multiple causes of food poverty and they vary for individuals, families and communities. For the majority, individuals and families, the lack of income to afford everyday living is the common cause of food poverty. For some communities, it is the lack of access to the food supply or high food prices as we are seeing these days. As soon as anyone is unable to guarantee the next meal for themselves or their family, they are at risk of falling victim of food poverty.
What led you to decide that this was something you needed to tackle?
Food poverty is rife across the world at large and requires multiple interventions to tackle it. About four years ago, I decided to be a social entrepreneur by creating a solution to address a social issue and a conversation with my partners, Kunle Gbagba, Yemi Adeshina, and Yetunde Ajibade, led to PAM Nigeria. With my background in technology and a personal experience of how anyone can easily slip below the poverty line, I was motivated to create a technology-based solution that would address food poverty. Then I got the inspiration to create this sustainable and inclusive solution after speaking to God in prayers. The solution gives an opportunity for both individuals, government and cooperate organisations to work independently but jointly on the platform to achieve zero hunger. Creating zero hunger as one of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations is a great driver for encouraging solutions like this. There are also other programmes put in place by governments and international aid agencies to tackle food poverty; these initiatives are all created to reduce food poverty in our communities. However, statistics in Africa, particularly over the last seven years, have not given hope that food poverty is going away and this calls for creating innovative ways to solving the hunger problem.
How then are you looking to tackle food poverty in Nigeria?
At PAM, our research shows that there are several ways to address hunger and we found out that many are doing a lot to address it. However, most of the existing interventions are usually short-lived. Our approach is a little more holistic and aggregates all these stakeholders who are working to address the issue of food poverty. This solution is scalable and gives an opportunity for charities to work independently but together on the same platform towards the same goal. It also gives all arms of government a way to report and track the impact of their effort towards ending hunger. Corporate organisations can do their part confidently, knowing they are contributing towards creating a stable economic environment to help them to carry on operating. Another advantage of being a sponsor on the platform is the fact that, jointly, we are creating job opportunities within local communities simply by providing them on the platform. Our approach ultimately ensures that no man, woman or child goes to bed hungry.
So, how does it work and how easy is it for those in need to access it?
It is a Web and mobile platform that anyone can access at provideameal.ng. To register as a meal sponsor, click on the register button and within 10 seconds you are able to provide meals for anyone. After you are registered, you can fund your account with any amount, this will allow you to create meal-codes (vouchers) in multiples of N1,000. These unique digits that represent the amount can be given to vulnerable people who will use it to claim meals at the nearest restaurant or food partner to them. The charities on our platform can distribute the meal-codes to people that need them the most on your behalf as well. We sign up new food partners every day to ensure anyone with the code can walk into the nearest food place to get a meal. People don’t need a phone to claim the meals. They only need to present the meal-code digits for them to be verified by the food partners to get their meals. For those who might be willing to donate but are not digitally inclined to complete the process by themselves, they can still give meals by donating directly to our foundation’s account and use their email address as a reference.
We will set them up on the platform as sponsors to feed those in need. One of the unique attributes of this platform is the ability to give feedback and appreciate all donors instantly when they feed someone with their generous donation.
So far, what are the key lessons you have learned from your experience?
The big lesson for me is to never give up hope. When you are convinced that what you are doing is right, it pays to carry on doing it. You will always meet obstacles on your way to fulfilling your goals but if you are persistent enough, you will overcome all the obstacles.
If you could advice the present government on ending food poverty in Nigeria, what would you tell them?
As I said before, food poverty is not peculiar to Nigeria; it is a problem faced by nations all over the world. The difference is that governments in other countries around the world understand the long-term effect of food poverty, so therefore they work with foundations and local authorities to put programmes and policies in place to reduce poverty, which in turn helps to reduce food poverty. Nigeria can learn from such programmes and adapt sections to fit the local situation in different communities. Such programmes will be championed by local governments but administered by the federal government to help reduce food poverty nationwide.
What roles can corporate organisations play in helping to solve this problem?
I strongly believe corporate organizations have a big role to play. Corporate organisations should be aware of the impact of unrest or civil action associated with hunger. With this in mind, it should be a priority to get involved in creating a socially stable environment by investing in solutions that prevent or reduces the effect of hunger. This will ultimately help corporate organisations thrive better.
Why do you think partnership with other NGOs is the way forward?
As I said earlier, we know that hunger is a huge and widespread problem across the country and a problem of this magnitude requires a scalable, nationwide approach. Our approach is to work with established charities because they have better grassroots reach. Therefore, coming together to address the hunger problem would reduce it faster and more honestly. Our platform serves as the aggregator for all other NGOs which means we can work with more NGOs and get a wide spread effect as opposed to doing this individually. We can and should all work together to put an end to hunger in Nigeria.
How do you determine the area or neighbourhood to focus on at a time?
The app would work nationwide but we are starting our operations from Lagos and growing out to other parts of the country gradually. Within Lagos, the local charities we work with give us insight into what is happening locally and we prioritise based on our urgency criteria to decide where to focus our operations. With time, we want our technology to recommend where the intervention should go next.
What new initiatives should we expect from you in the near future?
We are currently disrupting the charity space by replacing the manual ways of handling donations with this approach. This is the beginning of a series of updates on the application that will see our application do a lot more for both partners and donors. We have a technology roadmap that is exciting to us and as we work towards actualising them, our partners and donors should expect innovative ways of solving current problems within the charity sector.