When ReFED launched its Insights Engine in February 2021, its financial analysis demonstrated that $14 billion in annual funding is needed to accelerate and scale solutions to food waste if we are to have a chance at reaching national and international goals to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Of that total amount, $3 billion is needed in catalytic funding – capital that is patient, risk-tolerant, and flexible in order to unlock impact. Leveraging its knowledge, network, and expertise, ReFED saw an opportunity for it to play a critical role in filling this funding gap and announced its own Catalytic Grant Fund, a 5-year initiative designed to provide up to $20 million in funding from philanthropic sources that will de-risk and scale high-impact solutions to food waste. And because food waste is a problem that is built into our system at all levels, the Grant Fund would operate as one component of a larger Circular Food Solutions Funding Platform launched in partnership with Closed Loop Partners.
As the ReFED team started to strategize and craft the operations and processes that would be used to execute the Grant Fund, we recognized the opportunity to challenge how grantmaking has been done historically by evolving our standard operating processes to address the ways in which past philanthropic activities have contributed to systemic inequalities.
As a nonprofit ourselves, with the responsibility of fundraising to support our own programs and operations, we know well what it means to be a grant seeker. There can be myriad challenges in the grantmaker-grantee relationship, and we've learned from our experiences. We realize that, as we expand our role as a grantmaker, we have a responsibility to evolve and improve the dynamics between a funder and a grantee and are committed to the feedback process that will make that possible. This awareness led us to design a strategy that promotes equity, with the aim of guiding how we manage the Fund and work with its ultimate grantees, as well as with the broader base of food waste solution providers with funding needs.
Eager to ensure we were developing an impactful and trust-based strategy, we conducted in-depth research and held discussions with like-minded funders. While we learned a lot through this initial process, we knew that the missing key ingredient was input from the actual prospective grantees themselves.
With more than 1,500 solution providers in ReFED’s Solution Provider Directory, we knew we had an opportunity to hear from so many voices – the ones that work day and night on the frontlines to fight food waste – so we organized and hosted a virtual listening tour. The participants in the first webinar of the listening tour webinar were ReFED’s past grantees from the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund and the Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator. Not only did they share their fundraising experiences, but also direct feedback for ReFED on how we could build upon these past programs and make the Catalytic Grant Fund better. The second webinar was open to all other food waste solution providers and was designed to give everyone a chance to express their perspectives on a range of topics including the funder-grantee relationship, grant application processes, impact reporting systems, and how ReFED can better support solution providers across the space beyond just financially. We are grateful for and humbled by the active discussion and thoughtful input that was shared during the listening tour.
Outlined below is an overview of the findings we gathered from the listening tour – insights that would have taken years of mistakes, iterations, and challenges to identify on our own. Our ambition is to seriously contemplate and incorporate many if not all of these learnings into the ongoing development of the ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund. Beyond continuing to evolve our own role as a funder, we felt a responsibility and opportunity to share these insights and learnings with other funders who were open to reflecting on their own practices, challenging their assumptions and biases, and starting to transform their relationships with grantees.