Corporate partner to bring data expertise to UK foodbanks

Global technology firm Cisco has announced it will work with The Trussell Trust, a charity with a network of hundreds of foodbanks, to help it use data more effectively against hunger and poverty. 

Cisco UK and Ireland will help the charity to better understand and use its data in areas such as stock management and information-sharing, and will provide technical guidance on issues including data protection and cybersecurity. The Trussell Trust will also become an official charity partner of Cisco UK and Ireland, with employees – entitled to five days’ volunteering leave per year – encouraged to work with the charity.

News of the partnership comes as the Trussell Trust warns it is expecting its busiest Christmas period ever, and shortly after the UN drew attention to unacceptably high levels of poverty in the UK, calling conditions in the world’s fifth largest economy “a social calamity and an economic disaster”. Some 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty.

The Trussell Trust supports a network of 428 foodbanks, operating out of more than 1,200 centres throughout the UK. Its operations range from managing the logistics of collections and donations, to helping foodbank users get appropriate support so they don’t need to return.

The partnership began when Maria Hernandez, head of country digitisation at Cisco UK & Ireland, got in touch with the charity earlier this year, having read about rising demand. Trussell Trust foodbanks provided over 1.3 million three-day emergency food packages in 2017-2018, up 13% from the previous year. 

Though unsure of what the charity needed, Hernandez felt that technology support could benefit in some way. Many of Cisco’s clients are “data-poor”, she said: “Everyone talks about the power of data but still they don’t use it as much as they could.”

The two organisations agreed areas where the technology company, which develops, manufactures and sells networking hardware and equipment, will offer assistance.

Cisco will help the charity network to create “a single view of all data related to their services, regardless of who generates it or what format it’s in”, said Hernandez. This will include data generated by the Trussell Trust itself as well as by other foodbanks (there are around 2,000 in total in the UK), plus broader poverty-related data, helping create a clearer picture of the underlying causes of poverty. Data will be made accessible to other charities working in the sector, Hernandez confirmed.

The firm will also look into automating links with food retailers whose surplus could boost foodbank stocks, and providing collaboration tools for the charity’s network of 40,000 volunteers so they can more easily share information with each and signpost visitors to other sources of assistance.

Cisco has not yet put a figure on the overall financial value of its support nor set quantitative targets for what it hopes to achieve. The partnership has initially been agreed for 12 months, but Hernandez suggested it would continue beyond this period, saying: “I don’t think we can solve everything in one year.”

Copy-pasting the concept

While the current partnership involves only Cisco’s UK and Ireland office, Hernandez said there is significant interest from her colleagues overseas. Once the partnership has achieved “something tangible”, she said, the goal would be to share results with other Cisco offices so they can “copy and paste” the concept. Worldwide, demand also appears to be rising: foodbanks in the Global FoodBanking Network, which covers 31 countries, served 7.8m people in 2017, a 9% increase since the previous year. 

In a statement Emma Revie, CEO at the Trussell Trust, said: “We expect that no one should be left hungry or destitute – however illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we need to make sure sufficient support is in place when we need it most. 

“We want to see a future where no one needs a foodbank because everyone has enough money coming in and is anchored from being swept into poverty by a crisis. We’re delighted to have the support of Cisco and the expertise, time and commitment of its employees to help us make a difference to people’s lives in the UK.”

Cisco has over 74,000 employees worldwide and reported revenue of US$49.3bn in the last financial year. As part of its social mission the company aims to positively impact one billion people by 2025.

Header photo: a Glasgow food bank, by Zep 19 on Flickr (creative commons; cropped to fit)