Four years after he started the project at Nueva, Kiran Sridhar's organization Waste No Food is making a meaningful difference in the world. Design Thinking made all the difference.
As a seventh grader volunteering with his classmates in the kitchen at San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church, Kiran Sridhar was struck by the face of hunger in the community. It was 2010, in the midst of the recession, and a line of hungry people stretched around the block—a line that formed three times a day, every day. Kiran's new awareness of the hunger led him to the related topic of food waste; all around the country, a stunning amount of good food is thrown away, even as some 49 million people—16 million of them children—do not have enough to eat.
Compelled to cause change in the twin issues of hunger and food waste, Kiran put them at the center of his eighth grade Recital Project, Waste No Food. He utilized the Design Thinking process to delve deeper into the issues, identify needs, and try to come up with a solution. He spent hours interviewing companies and organizations on both sides of the food rift: grocery stores, restaurants, farms, and other businesses with excess food on one side; food banks, homeless shelters, and other charitable organizations seeking food donations on the other. He found that, even in the same town, the two groups faced obstacles in connecting with each other. At the end of the project, he facilitated food donations by phone and email.
But in Kiran's case, as for many Nueva students, the story only begins there. Through Nueva's Design Thinking course, students are able to explore their interests with depth and integrity, building passions that they often continue to pursue well after their years at the school. After graduating and moving on to high school, Kiran continued working on his project on the side. He recognized that technology could be key in redistributing excess food. With the help of advisors, he launched wastenofood.org, a nonprofit organization with an online marketplace where food donors can post food and vetted charities can claim it, all in real time.
Now in college and five years into his project, Kiran has received numerous awards and prizes for his work, including being featured in an Upworthy video and awarded with the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.
Waste No Food has facilitated the delivery of more than a hundred thousand meals to the hungry. The service has been expanded to include a mobile app—developed in partnership with eBay—that will allow the organization to broaden its reach beyond the Bay Area.
The success of Waste No Food is closely connected to Kiran's training in Design Thinking at Nueva.
"Design Thinking has been really helpful, and it has so many applications, such as when we were designing our mobile app or when we were upgrading our web platform. Having this philosophy of talking with our end users and seeing what's working or how we can improve has helped us to design the most effective platform we can, given the limited resources available," he said. "It's a constructive, team process that embraces every single idea and builds off of it. And the idea of empathy is so important."
Looking beyond his current pursuit, Kiran reflected on the deeper value of his Nueva education. "I think what Nueva taught me is a love of challenging yourself to solve big problems," he said. "One thing I have learned through this process is that, through technology, an individual or small groups of people can really make huge changes."