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FeedMyCity: Using Behavioral Science for the Greater Good

One of Virginia Tech Marketing Department’s newest faculty members, Dr. Shilpa Madan, along with Dr. Gita V. Johar at the Columbia Business School, recently partnered with FeedMyCity, a community kitchen initiative based in India. Between March and June this year, FeedMyCity served 4.5 million meals to India’s migrant laborers and their families. Dr. Madan, Dr. Johar , and K. Ganesh at FeedMyCity published a fascinating article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) discussing how the team used behavioral science to encourage collective action for the greater good.

“More than anything else, the story, for me, was a humbling reminder of people’s inherent willingness to help those in need,” remarked Dr. Rajesh Bagchi, head of the Marketing Department. We sat down with Dr. Madan to hear more about FeedMyCity’s inspiring story. Check out the interview below!

Here is a link to the referenced article, “Scaling Big in India: Leveraging Behavioral Science to Help Feed Millions:”” 

  1. What is FeedMyCity and how did it start?

    In late March, India instituted the world’s largest, most stringent lockdown to combat Covid-19. Cities and towns shut down, leaving millions of migrant and daily wage workers stranded without jobs and any source of livelihood. The threat of starvation was all too real. Left with little choice, these workers did what they could — they began backbreaking journeys spanning thousands of miles from the cities that gave them livelihood to their rural hometowns, on foot, with little access to food or water.

    a community kitchen initiative, was started with the aim to feed these migrant laborers — the backbone of the economy in large towns in India. Mobilized within 3 days of the lockdown announcement, FeedMyCity was able to scale from 500 meals in one city on Day 1 to 4.5 million freshly cooked meals in three months across five cities. FeedMyCity is the brainchild of K Ganesh, a successful serial entrepreneur, and two fellow Bangalore based executives, Venkat Narayana and Juggy Marwaha.

  2. What was the key problem you were trying to address and how did you approach it?

    In a time of unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty, FeedMyCity was banking on people’s generosity to help those less privileged than them. Further, in addition to all the operational and logistical issues, including government registration and permissions to move people during the lockdown, creating kitchens across multiple cities, and setting up distribution centres while practicing social distancing, the team had to focus on mobilizing volunteers and donors to join the cause. The success of social mobilization efforts is heavily contingent on face to face contacts, which were not an option.

    However, FeedMyCity managed to overcome these constraints by leveraging behavioral science to guide their outreach, communication, and other operational efforts. From appealing to people’s core identity to reaching out to Bollywood influencers and enabling one touch donations, FeedMyCity’s success shows how certain behavioral science principles can prove invaluable even in the most dire circumstances.

    Working with the FeedMyCity team truly underscored their commitment and motivation to  provide reassurance and a sense of normalcy to a population in crisis.

  3. Where does the FeedMyCity initiative stand now?

    The initiative is currently scaling down as the lockdown restrictions in India were eased starting June.

  4. What can VT students, faculty, and alumni do to help your mission?

    Working with FeedMyCity, and being able to tell their story, was a humbling lesson in how small actions can make a huge difference. A powerful reminder of people’s inherent generosity and willingness to help those less privileged, I hope it will inspire all of us at VT to further uphold the spirit of Ut Prosim. As the world faces its worst crisis in recent times, it is just as simple as asking “how can I help”? And this may range from wearing a mask to donating to local food banks, as every action has the ability to make a difference. I hope the Hokies will continue to serve the broader community and work toward the greater good in these challenging times.