Nicola Dixon: ReFED’s Outgoing Board Chair on What Was Accomplished and What Lies Ahead

Nicola Dixon: ReFED’s Outgoing Board Chair on What Was Accomplished and What Lies Ahead

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Nicola Dixon: ReFED’s Outgoing Board Chair on What Was Accomplished and What Lies Ahead

Written by: Dana Gunders

August 11, 2022

Nicola Dixon joined the ReFED Board in 2018 as the organization was still taking shape, and in a sign of her commitment to this issue and our work, she stayed on for two additional years, becoming Board Chair in July 2020 at the completion of her original term. Now that her tenure with ReFED has officially ended, we feel lucky to have benefited from Nicola’s leadership and passion for food waste reduction – and we’re happy to have her be a part of ReFED’s extended family!

As a true food waste champion and experienced impact leader, Nicola’s insights and expertise were invaluable to ReFED as we navigated the initial years of being a national nonprofit organization, as well as the fallout from COVID-19’s effects on the food system. During Nicola’s tenure as Board Chair, we launched the Insights Engine and an update to our original Roadmap, and most recently, she served as a guide and gracious host for ReFED’s first in-person issue convening in three years – the Food Waste Solutions Summit in Minneapolis this past May – where we benefited from her leadership and enjoyed her company one last time before her transition off the Board.

Nicola serves as Director of Global Impact at General Mills, where she leads and supports teams focused on advancing the company’s social and environmental goals and impact initiatives. In addition to global impact reporting, Nicola leads General Mills philanthropy team and its work to advance impact across three global focus areas – Increasing Food Security; Regenerating Ecosystems, and Strengthening Hometown Communities. In 2018, she was a recipient of the Champions Award at General Mills, in recognition of her leadership and impact in surplus food recovery, charitable food redistribution and food waste reduction initiatives in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Anyone who knows Nicola knows she is as calm, cool, and collected as they come, with an acute sense of strategy, sly sense of humor, and all around lovely nature. We have been so lucky to have her leadership over the years and cannot say thank you enough to her! We hope you enjoy some of her parting thoughts below.

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You were one of ReFED’s three inaugural Board members. Why were you interested in being part of ReFED’s work and what is your key takeaway from your time leading the organization?

It’s been really exciting and fulfilling to see the organization’s growth and impact over the last six or so years I’ve been involved as a volunteer.

The original thing that drew me to ReFED was its pragmatic approach to tackling such a massive global problem (and opportunity), which is essentially: “Let's break down the issue using a data-driven approach paired with real world context from the stakeholders who experience and interact with the issue every day. Let’s use the insights to identify the most promising solutions, and then make those insights, tools and action opportunities as accessible as possible to all.”   
I was just as impressed with how well ReFED had developed this non-partisan “big tent” that was attracting and effectively engaging organizations and individuals from literally every sector with a strong and shared interest in reducing the amount of food going to waste.

Ultimately, I think it’s the combination of a well-defined mission, plus robust, accessible data and insights, coupled with a growing coalition (willing to think and work differently), that continue to be the keys to the impact. 

You took over the role of Board Chair from Jesse Fink, who is ReFED’s founder and first Board Chair. What goals did you have for your time as Chair? 

Let me first say that ReFED’s founder, Jesse Fink, is truly extraordinary! Beyond the gratitude so many of us have for Jesse’s vision, tenacity, generosity, and leadership that resulted in the creation of ReFED, we are highly fortunate that since day one he has been committed to ensuring that the organization could flourish, and drive impact as an independently led and governed organization that is powered and supported by many. And that’s precisely what ReFED reflects today.

As I stepped into the Board Chair role several things were top of mind. While serving on any board is an important and serious responsibility, becoming the first board chair after a founder steps back brings unique, but healthy challenges. It was important to me that we dug in as a Board with ReFED’s leadership team to take stock of what had driven success to date – which values and principles, aspects of our culture and approach, were most critical to preserve and build upon? And yet the Board also needed to guide development of a blueprint for what ReFED would need for its next stage in order to flourish and sustain well into the future. I am so grateful for this Board that continues to care deeply about what got ReFED to this point of success and impact so far, and is equally committed to maintaining the foundational values going forward.

My top priorities during my Board service have been ensuring and supporting strong organizational leadership and governance – not just strong leadership as defined by level of expertise and credentials, but leadership that is highly centered on actively building and intentionally maintaining a healthy culture where people are valued, included, respected, and supported. To that end, it has been an absolute honor and pleasure to work these last several years alongside Dana Gunders, the Executive Director of ReFED, who has done an incredible job leading and growing the organization and its impact by supporting and developing her highly talented team.

You serve as Director of Global Impact at General Mills, the food company known for iconic brands like Cheerios, Yoplait, Old El Paso, Nature Valley, and many more. How can food businesses continue to advance their efforts in fighting food waste?

It’s really important they examine how the pursuit strategically aligns with and may complement broader organizational goals, particularly those related to environmental and social issues. At General Mills, we have a strong commitment to GHG emissions reduction, including public goals to reduce value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 – and by 2050, net zero GHG emissions. In addition, we have a goal to achieve zero waste to landfill at all the food production facilities we own, and, we work year-round to alleviate hunger and promote equitable food access in communities. So for our company, food waste reduction is highly synergistic with these broader strategic commitment areas related to people and planet, and accordingly, we have defined goals, measures, and public reporting on the progress we are making in these areas including food waste. When employees across the company understand how well aligned food waste reduction is to our company’s priorities, they’re even more excited to play an active role.

What most inspires you and gives you hope about the future of the food waste fight?

What’s inspiring is that this is an issue where you can see significant success and real progress in the form of less food waste when communities, businesses, or governments give it even moderate attention and focus. It’s also an issue where many of the solutions are known and available today, versus being complete mysteries, if we are just willing to evolve our mindsets and modify behaviors related to the role of food in our lives, society, and economy. I also love that the benefits of food waste reduction accrue to so many – when less food gets wasted, more people can be nourished, the climate benefits, our fresh water supply is used more wisely and from an economic standpoint, families and businesses reduce their costs and save money. It’s an all-around win!

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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