Alex Coari: Driving Capital and Innovation to the Fight Against Food Waste


Alex Coari: Driving Capital and Innovation to the Fight Against Food Waste

September 26, 2023

“ReFED Profiles'' takes a peek behind the curtain to introduce you to the ReFED team members working on critical projects in support of our mission to cut food waste by advancing data-driven solutions. By illuminating the people behind our biggest initiatives, we hope to shine a light on the talented minds, community collaboration, and tremendous passion that goes into our work.

Alex joined ReFED in 2018 after work in emerging markets investment banking at JPMorgan and sustainable food supply chain certification with Fair Trade USA; she also served as partnerships director for a health and nutrition start-up and strategic advisor of impact investing for a Latin American climate start-up accelerator. This professional focus on sustainability and finance was complemented by a personal desire to see and experience as many different cultures and countries as possible – all of which sparked a passion to drive positive change in the world by deploying capital as a force for good.

“Capital can be such a powerful lever for creating change,” says Alex. “Pairing creative capital with a strong knowledge base and a connected and diverse network can really drive action and lead to sustained, positive impact.”

Capital plays an especially important role for an issue like food waste, which is just starting to be understood by investors as an important climate change solution – with its strong connection to methane reduction, food waste reduction can serve as an “emergency brake” for climate change, allowing more time for researchers to develop solutions that can cut down on CO2. And with the release of the new food loss and waste carbon credit methodology by Verra, there is exciting potential for new types of creative financing to be truly disruptive for the sector. When it comes to accelerating food waste solutions, Alex recognizes that it’s a delicate balance between sparking new innovation to solve for gaps, and doubling or tripling down on what we know is working. And she’s excited by the growing awareness that improving the sustainability, inclusiveness, and efficiency of our food system is critical for solving the climate crisis.

As ReFED’s Vice President for Capital, Innovation, & Engagement, Alex oversees a team working to catalyze the billions in public, private, and philanthropic capital needed to scale innovation and accelerate the adoption of food waste solutions by food businesses. She joined ReFED after becoming intrigued with the idea of turning what is perceived as waste into a valuable asset. And as a nonprofit start-up, ReFED offered an opportunity to combine her wide-ranging experience in impact investing, sustainable food supply chain building, and innovation acceleration to help key audiences understand the social, economic, and environmental opportunities that food waste reduction offered.

“When I started at ReFED, no formal programs existed beyond the initial Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste, which was the very first public resource ever produced by the organization,” Alex says with a chuckle. “It really offered an unique opportunity to act entrepreneurially by developing partnerships and programs from the ground up that could turn the insights from the Roadmap into reality and spark necessary action by the multitude of stakeholders we were trying to influence. I love seeing how far the organization and ecosystem has come over the last five-plus years since I joined the movement.”

ReFED’s Capital, Innovation, & Engagement (CIE) vertical helps drive the organization’s output. Throughout ReFED’s existence, the CIE team has produced and managed a range of programs, products, and partnerships, including two grant-making funds and an accelerator program; capacity-building programs for food businesses with the Environmental Defense Fund; impactful public-private partnerships like the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment; stakeholder networks like the Food Waste Funder Circle and the Food Waste Action Network; online web tools like the Food Waste Capital Tracker and Solution Provider Directory; innovation workshops; open calls; strategic advisory for brands like The Kroger Co., The Wonderful Company, and Drawdown Fund; and more. Alex’s team also oversees ReFED’s annual Food Waste Solutions Summit, the premier food waste event of the year which brings together more than 600 food business leaders, capital providers, solution providers, nonprofits, and more for three days of networking, innovation, and education.

And while ReFED has a system-level focus, many of the programs that Alex’s team spearheads also support the individual businesses and organizations on the ground that are driving the space forward. An example of this in action is funding for the Farmlink Project from the ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund in 2020. At the height of the early days of the pandemic, ReFED provided a grant to Farmlink – which at the time was a high-potential idea still in its infancy – in support of their food waste reduction and hunger relief efforts. It was the nascent organization’s first-ever grant and a show of exactly the kind of calculated risk-taking and support ReFED is uniquely positioned to provide. Since then, Farmlink has built a network of more than 600 student fellows and 6,000 volunteers, who have so far provided 83 million meals and transferred more than 130 million pounds of nutritious food to communities facing hunger all across the U.S. And during last month’s Climate Week NYC, Farmlink received a Goalkeepers Global Goal Award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their work. 

“Our intention is to help catalyze and accelerate the sector in the fight against food waste, and cases like this are so rewarding and exhilarating to see,” explains Alex. “It’s all about connecting and convening the multitude of diverse stakeholders working across the food system – investors, philanthropists, food businesses, brands, entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, government agencies, researchers, and more. Partnering with them and working in support of our collective mission to create a more sustainable future is very motivating to me.”

Alex sees her role at ReFED as empowering and rallying the organization’s dedicated team members around an ambitious vision; acting as a strategic thought partner, problem solver, blocker and tackler, and risk mitigator; forming innovative partnerships and fundraising relationships; and promoting cross-collaboration and the sharing of best practices.

“Beyond ReFED’s mission, getting to work alongside the wildly talented team members that make up the organization is so inspiring to me,” says Alex. “I am constantly being challenged to grow and learn more each and every day – no day is the same, and that’s incredibly invigorating.”

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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