Focus on Food: Foodbank Victoria

10 June 2011 By Stefan Grun

Foodbank Victoria
Foodbank Victoria

The ‘Focus on Food’ leadership program is an exciting new initiative that has been developed between Leadership Victoria and Foodbank Victoria. Specifically tailored to the food sector and its stakeholders, ‘Focus on Food’ is based on LV’s successful Igniting Leadership Program and is designed to develop high-potential leaders through a concentrated learning experience. The program will commence in August 2010. Here, we speak to Foodbank Victoria CEO, Ric Benjamin.

Talk of cost of living pressures has become standard political fare of late, but evidence of Victorians under immense financial pressure can be found at Foodbank Victoria.

CEO Ric Benjamin (WCLP ’00) says there is a growing number in our community who experience multiple layers of disadvantage and are unable to make ends meet.

“It would shock many to learn that people on fixed incomes, on welfare payments or on the minimum wage could be spending 60 per cent or more of their income on rent and other housing costs.  For these people (approximately 2 million Australians) it’s not surprising that sometimes they have struggle to have enough for 3 meals a day,” he said.

Ric sees a gap in the food industry, where developing leadership as a whole is often overlooked.  Leadership Victoria’s new collaboration with Foodbank Victoria will provide a dynamic learning experience for food industry leaders, building relationships and fostering ethical leadership for the future. This program is a customised version of the Igniting Leadership Program, specially designed to meet the specific requirements of the food industry.

Foodbank Victoria is an independent charity which collects and distributes food and household supplies to over 500 not-for-profit organisations across the state.  They are on track to distribute 3.8 million kilograms of goods this year, up from 3.2 million in 2010.

Supplies are sourced from a variety of places – many manufacturers see the benefit of giving to Foodbank Victoria their slightly damaged, overrun or mislabeled stock which is still good for consumption.  For some it as more cost effective to donate their left over products than to dispose of it themselves.  Other businesses and primary producers have a higher level of concern for the community and regularly give sellable products to feed hungry people throughout Victoria.

Perhaps most exciting though, is the increasing willingness of sections of the food industry to contribute what they can, be it time, skills, raw materials or the use of equipment, to collaborative projects organised by Foodbank Victoria.

With such large numbers of organisations involved, running Foodbank Victoria sounds like a logistical nightmare, but Ric lists facilitating as one of the most important skills a leader can bring to his or her role.  Actively listening to staff and stakeholders, creating a collaborative environment where everyone is involved and empowered to contribute, and do their job well is also vital.

“Insights and learnings come from everywhere,” Ric says.

He says that while leaders don’t have all the answers, the ability to make decisions is important.

“You don’t need to be a CEO to ensure that there is a clear articulated action that follows from discussions and consensus agreement.  Anyone can be that leader – but sometimes having the title helps!,” he says.