Technology

Tap-and-go wristband keeping hunger pangs in schools at bay

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Food for Education uses technology to source from smallholder farmers, cook centrally and distribute lunches to 30,000 school children a day. PHOTO | COURTESY

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Summary

  • Food for Education uses technology to source from smallholder farmers, cook centrally and distribute lunches to 30,000 school children a day.

When many ask what the new M-Pesa will be they may be looking at complex financial applications, forgetting that it started simply as a means of helping one person send money to another person.

Simple beginnings can only describe what a wristband can do for more than 30,000 school children relying on a technology solution to access a meal a day.

It only takes five seconds for a child to tap the wristband and get a meal but the workings behind this technology are as complex as the M-Pesa operations.

Ms Wawira Njiru, the founder of Food for Education, has built an elaborate system that handles, orders, payments and distribution of nutritious food to pupils that has cut cost and managed to deliver the meals at just Sh15.

Launched in 2012, it has supported at least 500,000 children using a central kitchen that distributes food to 25 schools in urban and peri-urban areas in three regions. And Ms Njiru is ambitious. She wants to reach one million schoolchildren a day with nutritious meals and advocacy to ensure that none has to learn while hungry.

“Child hunger is an issue affecting millions. Many are going to school hungry. This scalable, efficient model is creating the first sustainable path to solve the child nutrition crisis for 500 million African children,” says Ms Njiru.

Food for Education uses technology to source from smallholder farmers, cook centrally and distribute lunches to 30,000 school children a day.

Parents use mobile money to pre-pay for each meal through their innovative Tap2Eat technology. Their contributions are topped up to a virtual wallet linked to NFC wrist bands that kids use to Tap2Eat in under five seconds.

For her efforts she has been recognised as a Ford Foundation Global Fellow, the youngest recipient of the University of South Australia’s alumni award 2017, a 2018 Rainer Arnhold Fellow, a recipient of the Builders of Africa Award 2018 and one of 2018’s Top 40 under 40 Women in Kenya.

She is also the first recipient of the Global Citizen Youth Leadership Prize 2018 presented by Cisco.

She joins global champions for the provision of school feeding programmes from governments like Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford. He has called on UK ministers to offer a guaranteed “meal a day” to all school pupils in England in financially struggling families and won worldwide praise for his efforts.

While governments would find such programmes expensive Ms Njiru’s technology solutions could ensure such initiatives are targeted, less costly and worth every shilling invested in them.

A study by World Food Programme showed that every dollar invested in Kenyan school feeding programmes returns between $6.35 and $8.79, as each child has improved health, nutrition and education during his childhood, is more productive when he or she becomes a working adult, and lives longer and healthier.

Free meals are also an incentive for parents to enrol children in school, and improve their attendance throughout the year.

Better meals increase learners’ focus and concentration, which improves their chances to achieve higher education.