The Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy at the Bush School of Government hosted its final event of the academic year on Monday, April 24, 2017. The 2017 Bank of America Program on Volunteerism featured Lauren Bush Lauren, Founder and CEO of FEED, who spoke about “Food for Thought: Building a Social Business to Change the World.” The event began with a welcome from Bush School Dean Mark Welsh followed by Dr. Lori Taylor, Director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy who introduced Ms. Bush Lauren. Dr. Taylor noted that FEED is a for-profit company with a social mission to combat world hunger that has provided over 95 million school meals since its start in 2007.
Ms. Bush Lauren started her presentation unconventionally by asking the room to close their eyes and imagine the last time they were hungry. She asked the crowd to try and remember how they felt. Were they tired? Were they disgruntled? Did they feel fear? She then asked the crowd to open their eyes to a powerful image of a fragile child hovering over a plate of rice. That image was coupled with a comment that one in ten children are born into a culture of chronic hunger with more people dying of hunger than HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis combined.
Ms. Bush Lauren then showed more pictures and talked about how she became interested in world hunger through her time as a student spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Visiting listless children who lacked access to adequate nutrition because of where they were born charged her to find a way to give back. Not wanting to go the traditional route of earning money and giving as many advised her to do, Ms. Bush Lauren combined her interest in fashion and her desire to help and came up with the design of her first FEED 1 bag, modeled after the burlap provision bags used by the UN’s WFP missions. FEED now sells a variety of products but continues to dedicate a portion of each sale to assist anti-hunger programs.
At the conclusion of her speech, Ms. Bush Lauren was joined on stage by Dr. Will Brown, Director of the Nonprofit Management Program at the Bush School, for a continued discussion. Dr. Brown asked Ms. Bush Lauren about current trends in social businesses and how consumers fit into the picture. Ms. Bush Lauren noted the impact of social businesses similar to FEED in putting pressure on bigger brand names to become more open and conscientious. She pointed out that with social media and increased transparency in global events, consumers are becoming more aware of how their purchases can impact communities. By creating a marketable good for “conscious consumers,” Ms. Bush Lauren states that companies can tap into consumer desire to give back while also participating in the market.
Mentioning the quick success of her company, Dr. Brown asked at what point she had a revelation that this model could work, that her company could really impact world hunger. Ms. Bush Lauren recalled two moments when she started to see her vision coming into action. The first was when she made her first contract with Amazon.com which was enough to fund a full year of food for the WFP in Rwanda. She knew, even if that was the only contribution she made, it was good. The second came when she saw a stranger carrying a FEED bag on a New York City street. Going from abstract to seeing one in-person made all the difference and encouraged her to continue.
After the conversation concluded, Dr. Taylor joined Dr. Brown on stage to present Ms. Bush Lauren with a plaque to show the Bush School’s appreciation for the work she and her company are doing to help end world hunger and to thank her for a wonderful and inspiring evening.