Alumna’s Food Waste Reduction Idea Earns Praise

Rebecca Fong ’15 was named a finalist for the National Geographic Chasing Genius contest.

From nearly 3,000 entries, Fong, of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., secured a place in the top 45 with her video submission for the “Feeding 9 Billion” category. The entrants competed for funding to help advance their ideas and spark positive change in the world.

Fong’s idea for the contest was a software application that could connect food suppliers with nonprofit organizations, which would take the extra product and distribute it to those who lack access to food. She says this would increase the likelihood that surplus food would be donated rather than go to landfills, thus reducing food waste.

The Ursinus alumna discovered the competition after spending a year at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where she began to learn about how startups were forming to solve problems in the world. This inspired her to figure out how she could help.

Fong says she read a book called Industries of the Future by Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation to the Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton. The book details six different industries with innovations that are important in the development of our future. Fong began thinking about how these ideas could be applied to some of the problems we face in society.

“The book mentioned how big data is forming industries to tackle issues in agriculture, marketing strategies and even language barriers, so I started to think about other industries that could benefit from the collection and usage of big data,” she says.

“I remembered the complex inefficient chain that is our food system. I majored in environmental studies, and the food system was something I was particularly interested in. To be honest, I love the idea of being able to find creative solutions to problems because it’s like an original form of rebellion—you’re saying, ‘this doesn’t work this way, so I’ll find a way to make it better,’” she says.

She explained that the collection of big data on donated food would increase understanding as to why food was originally destined for the landfill, and perhaps help us to understand how we can increase efficiency within the food chain.

Fong recently returned home from her stay in Beijing and is currently looking for a career opportunity in environmental policy or environmental sustainability so she can have an active hand in sustainable development initiatives. —By Mary Lobo ’15