Good Lab interview with Kelvin Cheung – the secret to participation

For Kelvin Cheung, volunteering is fun. And it should be fun. He started FoodCycle five years ago, which has since become a very influential organization in UK that works on food waste issues.

The secret to its success? Kelvin said, “we make it fun for people to join and participate in our events, and people love to volunteer for us because they like that experience.”

It was born thanks to a ₤5,000 grant from UnLtd UK. He left UK and went back to Hong Kong in January this year, to kick start UnLtd Hong Kong. We catch him for a quick interview at Good Lab@Prince last week. Here’s the story –

(photo from Kelvin Cheung)

GL: How did you start FoodCycle?

Kelvin: We started FoodCycle because we found that there are people in London who cannot even get their basic meals everyday, while at the same time, there is a huge amount of food being dumped by supermarket everyday. We thought about this hard and decided to do something about it.

GL: Where did you get the foodcycling idea from?

Kelvin: Well, it was not our idea. We got the inspiration from Campus Kitchen, which is an NGO in America that works on similar issues with similar methods. But we didn’t just copy them. Actually, it was more like “adopt and adapt”, because we have different situation in London vs. US. We have to adapt.

(photo from Number 10 on flickr)

GL: So what exactly does FoodCycle do?

Kelvin: We get dumped food from supermarkets, cook it in community kitchen and invite people in the community to the feast.

GL: How did you work with supermarkets? Was it easy to convince them of what you do?

Kelvin: It was hard in the beginning. But we made great efforts to convince them of the value in doing this. Actually it doesn’t cost the supermarkets more to keep the dumped food overnight. Our volunteers will come and pick up the food next morning at nine. It was a win-win.

GL: And then you cook the food with the community?

Kelvin: Yes, we always work with the community. The FoodCycle experience is very much a community building experience. You can hang out with people you know or you don’t know in the cooking or eating process. It builds the connection between people and they love that.

(photo from Real Bread Campaign on flickr)

GL: So you don’t need to motivate people to come?

Kelvin: No, you can’t motivate people. People come because they want to, not because they need to. You buy a pair of Nike shoes not because you need to, but because you want to. We aimed to make FoodCycle a brand just like Nike, an identity that people could be proud of and wear on their chest. That’s how FoodCycle has grown, because it is about creating a movement of individuals aligned to a ‘brand’.

GL: So you keep doing more of this and opening more and more community kitchen?

Kelvin: Yes, until we realized that this was going too fast. We didn’t have any people doing the finance, nor did we have any structure for our organization. But fortunately, we had the support from UnLtd UK, which was indispensable to our success.

GL: What support did UnLtd provide?

Kelvin: Well, it was more about what you need than what UnLtd provides. I would say, UnLtd is like your friend who can be there listening to your story when you are down, or give you support whenever you need. They will be able to connect you with relevant people or resources to help you and your business grow.

GL: And you are now bringing this UnLtd model to Hong Kong?

Kelvin: Yes, and i am really excited about this.

GL: Why UnLtd for Hong Kong and why now?

Kelvin: Because there are too many complaints in Hong Kong and too few people are doing anything to change. The core idea of UnLtd is that we believe everybody can be a changemaker, and we invest in these people, giving them care and support. I believe we need more evolution, not revolutions. Hong Kong is also my hometown and I want to see more change through social innovation here. That’s why I came back.

GL: I heard that UnLtd HK will be launching its first program in March. Can you tell us more?

Kelvin: Sure. We will be co-launching an incubation program with the MaD School Accumulater Scheme and Good Lab by end of March. We are targeting ten entrepreneurs and ten ideas. Anyone who works on any new project that has social impact could apply. Details are coming out soon. Stay tuned at the UnLtd Hong Kong website.

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