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The Robin Hood Army: Hunger warriors

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-10-2017 Sohini Sen

The Robin Hood Army (RHA), which works against food wastage, has had the volunteers or “Robins” distribute food to 1.2 million people in 48 cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai and Patna, since starting in August 2014. RHA’s model is to collect excess food from restaurants, instead of asking families to contribute.

“I was living in Lisbon, Portugal, when I came across an organization called Refood doing the same thing. I was enamoured by how simple and doable the idea was. I arranged for a few meetings with the founders and decided to replicate it in India. Once I returned, a few friends and I served 150 people in south Delhi on our first night of distribution,” remembers Neel Ghose, co-founder of RHA.

Ghose and Anand Sinha set up RHA in August 2014, put up a Facebook page and invited everyone they knew. They soon got requests from people to pitch in. Currently they feed more than 200,000 people every month. The group has tied up with over 25 restaurants in Delhi and the National Capital Region to give them food regularly. And about 30 more who supply on an ad hoc basis, depending on the need. The volunteers in local chapters also collect food from homes where a party may have been organized, but they usually make sure it is enough to feed at least 10 people from the “less fortunate” sections of the society.

Ghose is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. “I am on constant calls with my leadership team where we are working through medium-term goals with respect to impact, volunteer management, partnerships and special projects. There are extremely high levels of ownership and evangelism in each part of the team,” he adds.

RHA only uses social media to reach out to its 12,300-odd volunteers. While Instagram and Twitter have helped them engage more with volunteers and followers, all social network sites have been used during their pitches to restaurants. The team usually shares the posts or comments of their pages and photographs to show that they are actually working and distributing the food.

“Last year, when there was a flood in Latur we posted on Facebook asking people to help us distribute clean drinking water to the affected areas. Through the power of social media and our Robins, we were able to send 75,000 litres of water to Latur,” adds Aarushi Batra, social media head at RHA.

In August this year, RHA posted about the Mission 1 Million for days, and invited people to be a part of it. During the mission, which was on during the Independence Day weekend, they posted about five-six times on Instagram Stories, Facebook and Twitter. #Mission1Million became popular and celebrities gave verbal support, some even turning up for the food distribution drive.

Lessons to make giving more engaging

“Execution is greater than strategy—we can keep brainstorming on how to approach a problem, but unless we hit the ground running, we will never really know what is feasible,” says Ghose.

Make people who work with you stakeholders and help them to own the concept. “What we are most proud of in RHA is the ownership amongst every person in the team. Each Robin has a sense of pride and ownership. That is when a team gets passionate about what they do and take on seemingly impossible challenges,” he adds.

Finally, don’t get limited. “We set extremely ambitious quarterly plans for ourselves, most of which we have managed to meet. Constantly setting new benchmarks helps us to raise the bar and not rest on laurels,” says Ghose.

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