The Business of Hunger

Most companies are familiar with one or more types of Business Process Modeling. Many are also used to donating time, money or other resources to charity. While each are common practices, what happens when they collide and the gift is actually helping a non-profit diagram how it works? Well, through our Rack Gives Back program, a small group of Rackers and the San Antonio Food Bank are learning just that.

Things didn’t start out this way. At first, it looked like your typical corporate/non-profit interaction with the Food Bank approaching Rackspace for some help – preferably improving some technology they use or developing new tools. As a company, we were already assisting them with hosting, food drives and volunteers from our various teams. For this initiative, Long-time Racker, Cultural Warrior and User Experience Designer, Brett Elmendorf was first brought in to help find a solution. Instead of just offering up coding or some similar service, he realized that the Food Bank needed to take a step back and diagram the processes for their key areas of operation. Once there was a clear picture of how things work today, they could figure out changes and Rackspace could find ways to help with any systems or tools that would facilitate those improvements. So calls were made, and a small team was assembled.

I won’t bore you with the details of the type of process modeling we are using or spend too much time on the details of what specific tasks have been completed to date, but I will say that the San Antonio Food Bank has never quite looked at their business this way before. Also, those of us who are “veterans” to the process modeling methods in place are finding new challenges and questions you wouldn’t see in a for-profit business. Some of them include:

  • Is a donation really just another source of revenue, or is it a different essential business element?
  • Most modeling of operational processes doesn’t build diagrams on managing people, but how do you handle a concept like volunteers? Are they an essential element on their own, or are they just another donor (of time)?
  • Speaking of donors, is there a difference in someone who donates food (the “product” in this exercise) and someone who donates money (or is that revenue?)
  • As for acquiring the product, there is purchased, donated and salvaged food – do the different sources force much change to how one type is handled versus the others?

We have only begun to dig in to this with the Food Bank. I do have to say that Eric and the rest of the Leadership Team there are great! In fact, they were able to accomplish the first steps of the process in a much shorter time frame than a similar group here at Rackspace did during a similar exercise a couple of years ago. We know from conversations that the work we have done has already caused them to think differently about their business – the one of fighting hunger in South Texas. We are already starting to find opportunities, and I’m sure we’ll find many more as we get further along. In the end though, the Rackers and the Food Bankers (can I call them that?) involved have learned so much from each other to date, and we are excited about the road ahead! I’ll keep you posted on how things go…

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  1. Hey Brett, glad to see that Riva is still serving you well, and that you’re putting it to a great cause, and getting faster at it. I’m in Houston in July – hopefully, I’ll get a chance to pop over to San Antonio and check out your Food Bank PAD and RADs. Regards, Neil.

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