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19.12.17

Karina Campos, MPP 2013, uses technical and policy background to end food waste

She and her team created a platform to rescue food from waste, winning a Google award in 2017.

Nearly 40 percent of food produced worldwide is wasted, yet millions of people go hungry every day. While coordinating a World Bank initiative in Argentina in 2015 to fight food waste, Karina Campos was inspired to do more, using her engineering background and expertise in policy and governance. “I became passionate about the topic and was sure that I wanted to be part of the solution…and I knew that the use of technologies was crucial to solve the problem” says Karina. That’s how Nilus was born.

The NGO’s first pilot product is an app that uses crowd-sourcing, geolocation technology and algorithms to connect community kitchens and enterprises with a surplus of food. The model applies circular economy principles and hires drivers to pick up and deliver the donations, therefore generating new jobs. Community kitchens pay an amount per kilo of food that is significantly lower than on the market, yet high enough to pay the drivers and cover maintenance of the system, making the business sustainable.

Right now, it’s being piloted within the food bank of one Argentinian city (Rosario). But Karina hopes to scale up the project over the next four years to benefit 10,000 community kitchens in four countries, providing food for 1.5 million people. Nilus is working in partnership with the Argentinian Food Bank Network, because food banks are one of the main beneficiaries of the technology.

But Nilus wants to be much more than just an app. “My policy background quickly led me to realise that if we want to be part of the solution to the food waste scandal, we need to influence policy,” she says. “In Argentina, for example, we do not have laws that encourage food donations or improvements in production to reduce food waste. We are also working in that field to develop technology tools and policy frameworks, and we are confident this will impact the volume of food waste.”

For Karina, who graduated with a Master of Public Policy in 2013, this professional challenge perfectly melds her background in engineering and the policy tools she gained at the Hertie School. To really make a difference, “You need the technology, but also the institutions, the policies and the right legislation,” she says. “Only in this way can a system and rules ensure good governance – one that encourages that food ends up feeding people instead of garbage bins.”

Now Karina is moving ahead with Nilus. In 2017, Google awarded Karina her Argentina-based team a prize of $350,000 to invest in the project. This will help them to accelerate and continue improving the technology. Read more details here.

But she is taking it one step at a time. “In technology development, iteration is key and learning from failure is crucial,” she says. “In this case, we have very different actors -   drivers, donors, food banks, community kitchens). Listening to all of them and understanding their needs is one of the main challenges.”