Roti Bank Foundation is a non-profit, tech-driven food rescue organization currently operating in 23 cities. One of the founding team members of the organization – Shriya Kumar, has developed the ‘Roti Bank Foundation’ application, which is now helping immensely in identifying hunger pockets and diverting surplus food to where there is none.
Shriya Kumar – an investment banker, is a visionary towards adapting technology for solving India’s hunger problem. Her idea of mapping hunger pockets across the country for large-scale operations led to the app’s innovation.
“I graduated with a degree in computer science, and in college, I was exposed to how technology can be used for varied applications. After college, I joined an investment bank as an algorithmic trader and got an opportunity to go abroad, but my inclination stayed towards working in a sector where finance could be used for social good. Three years later, I had the opportunity to return to India and finance private and public sector development. My current job entails assisting large funds to build their sustainable equity portfolios that ensure people can reap the benefits of supporting good businesses. Working at an intersection of technology, social impact, and finance, I have realized this is an indomitable force for good.” Shriya quoted.
Roti Bank Foundation started in December 2017 for redirecting excess food to where there is none. When asked about her involvement in the initiation of the organization, Shriya said, “Unpleasant visuals of people scavenging dustbins for food bothered me. I was deeply perturbed to see so much food go waste and see many people sleep empty stomachs. I tried finding solutions to this problem but could not reach anywhere as most food organizations feared the legal implications of parting with their leftovers and finding beneficiaries who would accept this food was tough. While searching for solutions, I approached my past TEDx speaker (I had organized a TEDx event back in college), Mr. Sivanandhan, who was trying to solve a similar problem. We joined forces and collaboratively started Roti Bank. Mr. Sivanandhan’s years of experience in the police force has taught me more than I could have ever learned.”
The organization not only redirects surplus food but also adds items to make the meals nutritionally complete. They partnered with some engineering students to develop a device called ‘Test before Taste.’ The device helped in ensuring appropriate food quality. Later on, they decided to create the ‘Roti Bank Foundation’ application. Innovation helped Roti Bank move forward and scale its mission on a pan-India level and reach the remotest parts of the country.
The application started in 2019. Here Shriya’s computer science degree came into help for developing the app. The app uses artificial intelligence to find out the hunger pockets. The app assesses the map of a city, and based on the publically available demographic data such as population density, proximity to luxurious services, and the propensity of a particular area to spend, it gauges the level of income and creates a virtual hunger map. The app gives features to its users for locating nearby hunger pockets, becoming a volunteer, sharing posts regarding food camps, etc. With these, the users can serve the needy themselves or have Roti Bank do the needful on their behalf. “I am thankful for the constructive feedback received from volunteers and my mentors throughout my journey with Roti Bank. As they rightly pointed out, many people are looking for avenues to help but are unable to channel their efforts in the right direction. With this application, my focus was to eliminate this barrier.” Shriya quoted.
When asked about the state of the application and the team during the pandemic, Shriya said, “The pandemic taught us a lot about how we can improve our offerings and the app. With our national resources pressed to the edge, having a pre-determined hunger map helped us swiftly connect to various city hospitals and divert food and aid where it was needed the most. But it also made us realize the need to expand our reach beyond our operating circles and cast a wider net.”
Be it any sphere of society, technology today is indispensable. Given how digitized India is becoming, technology will only enable social work missions to reach out to the deepest parts of the country. “Working for a social cause should not just be about the betterment of society but should focus on creating a balance so we can collectively prosper. Like it’s said, doing good need not be isolated from doing well. A well-fed community is more likely to pay forward in the future.” Shriya quoted.
Roti Bank wants to expand its operations across more parts of the country. The organization aims at ensuring greater acceptability of the app and getting more volunteers on board. Roti Bank looks forward to creating well-fed communities throughout the various nook and corners of India.