The ASRC Food Justice Truck: A Novel Response to a Novel Funding Challenge

The mobile Food Justice Truck is now a familiar sight in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. A partnership between crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood and the charity Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), the truck is a mobile market that sells food to asylum seekers at heavy discounts, and to the general public at regular prices.

An unusual social enterprise project needs an unusual approach to raise funds. The idea sparked when StartSomeGood CEO Tom Dawkins first saw ASRC founder Kon Karapanagiotidis speak at a social enterprise conference called Global Shifts.

“I thought he was one of the most inspiring people I’d come across,” says Tom. “So I introduced myself and asked if they’d ever tried crowdfunding! At that time Kon and (Aid Pillar Director) Patrick Lawrence were trying to work out how to support all the asylum seekers who couldn’t come into the ASRC centre in Footscray.”

Kon and Patrick had already taken the mobile truck idea to their Board. The Board loved it, but asked them to fund it in a new way: they couldn’t ask their existing funders, existing foundations, or any government groups, and had to find a way to bring in new donors and supporters.

With the support of StartSomeGood’s online campaign, the Food Justice Truck project exceeded its goal of $150k from 970 backers, and well exceeded the tipping point of $100k needed to get underway.

Tom calls StartSomeGood’s funding model “a services business masquerading as a technology business. Our unique offering is the work that we do at the back end of the website, to work closely with the project organisers to reach their goals. The ASRC worked directly with a member of our team to help design and prepare the campaign before go-live.”

The platform enables project managers to stipulate the amount of time, project goals, and ‘tipping point’ at which their project can proceed, with the funds pledged conditional upon the project reaching that tipping point. “Our model is unique, which we think is advantageous to social enterprises in general,” says Tom.

Established in Melbourne in March 2015, the Food Justice Truck seems ideally located in the heartland of food trucks and sustainable produce. It’s early days for the project, and the zero omissions truck now visits a number of locations around northern Melbourne every week, delivering mostly locally grown, organic food using a minimum number of carbon miles.

“None of the people who pledged to the campaign have any actual equity or ownership stakes, so there’s no return on investment other than the social returns,” says Tom. “The excitement around this model is that it’s a one-off project that could potentially support 2,000 asylum seekers a week, indefinitely.”

With the success of the current Food Justice Truck, Tom is optimistic about the model delivering time and again. “If the ASRC needed another truck in Brisbane, for example, we could run a similar campaign. This truck should be self-sustainable from now, that’s how it’s been designed– but ASRC may come back to raise money again to expand in some form.

“When Kon and Patrick got that funding challenge from their Board they knew, this is the thing, this is the opportunity to use crowd funding! It’s been a huge success and they’re very happy.”

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