Leah Lizarondo, female founder food waste
Leah Lizarondo, founder of 412 Food Rescue.
Photo courtesy Richard Kelly Photography.

Leah Lizarondo first launched 412 Food Rescue when she realized the extent of food waste within the U.S. and abroad. Now an on-demand volunteer network with over 8,000 volunteers, 412 Food Rescue aims to extend to 100 cities by 2030.

On March 11, Lizarondo will be honored for her work at the Vital Voices 19th Annual Global Leadership Awards in Washington, DC. We spoke with Lizandoro to find out more about her mission and the future of food waste.

 

AWT: What was your motivation for founding 412 Food Rescue?

Leah Lizarondo:Wasted,” the report that the National Resources Defense Council released in 2012, was the first report that made me aware that we waste almost half our food supply. I think all of us know that we waste food—just not to that extent. On the other side of that, we know that so many are food insecure. Why are we feeding landfills better than we are feeding people? It’s this glaring disconnect that spurred the founding of 412 Food Rescue.

How has your team grown since 2015 when you founded the company and what are some of the most satisfying things to come out of this growth?

Lizarondo: In five years, we have grown to a team of almost 30 people and our technology is not only being used in Pittsburgh but by food rescue organizations in six other cities—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Prince William County in Northern Virginia.

 
“We are all about designing for humans and how we actually live our lives.”
 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since you started the organization, and how have you overcome them?

Lizarondo: The biggest challenge is truly just keeping up with the growth. Once awareness for this solution rose, we’ve been trying to keep up with partners that are looking to work with us—including food donors, agencies that want to receive food and cities that want to adopt the Food Rescue Hero platform to launch and scale their own food recovery efforts.

Your background is also in product management. How are you taking your knowledge into the design of your platform?

Lizarondo: We are all about designing for humans and how we actually live our lives. I think I am just trying to avoid the term du jour “human-centered design.” That concept may seem new but that focus on the target market has been core to consumer goods companies. Our product and process design always put the user at the center. From working with our food donors (how do we make it easy for the staff?), to our volunteers (how can we make the app not only useful but engaging?), to our agencies and the people we want to serve (how can we make it easy to distribute food and how can we reach people where they already are?).

Part of 412 Food Rescue’s mission is to halve per capita food waste by 2030. What are some of the ways people can help you meet this goal?

Lizarondo: The goal to halve per capita food waste is SDG 12.3 and we are contributing to that. We are taking a full systems approach to this problem—engaging businesses, NGOs and citizens to take part in the solution.

Global expansion is a big part of your mission. How do you see that taking shape over the next few years and what do you hope to accomplish as you expand outside of the U.S.?

Lizarondo: Our model can scale to any urban region. We work closely with nonprofit and NGO partners in other cities who take the lead in launching and scaling food recovery efforts to measurably impact hunger in their region. We provide the technology platform, the best practices, and support to help them succeed. Our NGO partners also learn from each other’s experiences. In short, we are creating this global network of NGOs focused on food recovery and are invested in everyone’s collective success. It’s the only way we can begin to imagine progress with SDG 12.3.

Note of transparency: Saskia Ketz, editor-in-chief of AWT, serves on the New York Council of Vital Voices, the non-profit that initiated the 19th Annual Global Leadership Awards.