Inspired by an Encounter With a Homeless Veteran, This Woman Is Tackling Food Waste and Hunger
Komal Ahmad was studying at the University of California, Berkeley, and had plans to pursue medicine when a chance encounter changed her life and the course of her career.
“I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and encountered a homeless man begging for food,” Ahmad told media outlet PSFK in July during an interview. “Something about him compelled me stop and invite him to join me for lunch.”
Ahmad learned that the man was a veteran who had just returned from his second tour in Iraq and was waiting for his benefits to kick in. But until then, he was homeless and hadn’t eaten in three days.
“That hit home for me. How could someone who had selflessly sacrificed so much for our country come home only to face another battle, that of hunger?” Ahmad said.
The fact that her school’s dining hall was just across the street, regularly throwing away “thousands of pounds of perfectly edible food,” struck Ahmad as a major problem.
“I thought: there needs to be a solution for this where people who have food could say ‘we got food’ and people in need could say, ‘Hey, we need food,’ and we could match these two people and clear the marketplace,” she said.
So in 2016, Ahmad decided she would create a solution. She founded Copia, an app company that connects businesses with excess food to nonprofits and hungry people.
Ahmad and the Copia team believe that hunger is not a problem of food scarcity, but rather a logistics problem. In light of this, they call hunger the “world’s dumbest problem” and are leveraging technology to address it. So far the company has recovered 1 million pounds of food.
“We have the technology to solve some of the world’s hairiest, intractable, previously unsolvable problems — problems like food waste and hunger. The same technology we use to order a burrito from our couch or swipe right on a dating app to find a significant other can be used to ensure life-saving resources are matched with people who need them,” Ahmad said.
Copia’s inspiring work and Ahmad’s vision has not only resulted in the delivery of 900,000 meals, but has also earned the CEO a place on Verizon’s list of Pioneers of Humanability. The list honors people, organizations, and companies that are using technological innovations to “do more new and good things for the world.”
Ahmad is one of 10 entrepreneurs and innovators on the list, which includes a student-activist working to transform landfills into arable land and the creator of a game-app that incentivizes users to clean up the environment.