17 May “Leadership is less being visionary and more understanding how to inspire people.”
Today’s leadership voice comes to us from Leah Lizarondo, the founder and ED of 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh. Leah grew up in the Philippines and came to the U.S. after college, stopping first in New York to work with Palmolive and then settling in Pittsburgh to go to Carnegie Mellon. After observing the food deserts around Pittsburgh and the excess food wasted currently, she felt challenged to combine business principles with impact and 412 was born.
The Good Doctors both sat down with Leah in 412’s office in Pittsburgh earlier this year and we were honored she carved time in her busy schedule to share her wisdom with us (and therefore, all of you!)
Leah: 412 Food Rescue is really a direct response to this extraordinary opportunity that has been around for so long that no one has acted on, and that’s the fact that we’re wasting half our food supply. This has been a quiet inefficiency for a long time, until about 2012 when the National Resources Defense Council released a report called “Wasted”. Then the book by Jonathan Bloom, also titled Wasted came out and that’s really when people started to see that ‘Oh my god, we are throwing away half our food supply’. On the other side of that, we all know that 1 in 7 in the United States are hungry.
Really, when you truly look at it, there is no getting around the fact that we are feeding landfills better than we are feeding people, and that for us is a moral imperative to change. So that’s how 412 Food Rescue was founded. We looked at where in this food waste issue can we really change things, and my background is in technology and operations and I really focused on retail and retail food rescue, which is very difficult to execute and that’s what we executed on.
We looked at the main reason why retail food is not being recovered right now, since that’s pretty much half of that 40% happens in retail. The food is approaching its end of life, but it’s still useful, when I say end of life, it’s about to be ripe or a sell-by date or expiration date, which are non-regulated things. Those dates are fast approaching and so people throw out that food. Even our current pantry system can’t accept that food and so we designed a system that would be able to work on that. It’s mirrored on the transport of food directly from retailers direct to non-profits that can distribute them. So we don’t warehouse! We took out the middle of that equation and just direct transferred and that lowers the cost, and the cost is even lowered by the fact that we work purely on volunteers.
We are kind of an Uber/Lyft model, with an app that mobilizes our volunteer drivers. We have about 4,000 in Pittsburgh and they get alerts on where there’s available food and then they take it to the non-profit that it’s matched to, and it takes about half an hour. We’ve moved about 3 million pounds of food in about 3 years.
Kristen: So clearly you guys as an organization are a leader in the food rescue space, but you, Leah, when I say the world leadership, what does that mean to you?
Leah: I think and this has evolved with the 3 years, I’ve been a manager of people and corporations, and I’ve led 1 non-profit, but really I haven’t led anything like 412 Food Rescue because it’s and there’s many different layers to it. It started out with a vision but there’s no model to look to, so we’re building the ship as we’re sailing and that requires extraordinary performance from everyone who works on our team.
For me, leadership is less being visionary and more understanding how to inspire people and inspiring them so they find meaning in their work. When they find meaning in their work, that’s when they contribute their fullest, and bring their full self to work and that’s a constant process.
However, one thing I’ve learned in the last three years is that no matter how great your team member and how committed, they will not be as committed as you. It’s not their business, they didn’t
found it, they have a life beyond it and leaders should too. You can never expect that same level of commitment, that’s disappointing but also realistic. I never had the same commitment before I started something. It’s really understanding that inspiring and meaning in their lives, which is easier said than done.
Kristen: As you’ve transitioned from managing to leadership, have there been voices that you’ve been listening to, like books that you’ve read, or podcasts that you trust, that have helped you guide this process?
Leah: I really have a cohort of other entrepreneurs, especially women entrepreneurs, and we don’t get together often enough but in the times that we do get together it’s really important, and we talk about things that we don’t typically talk about, like fears. I thought that as a leader you think you shouldn’t show fear, right? It’s that old Chieftain mentality and then but I’ve read so much about vulnerability and authenticity and it was so hard for me to internalize that, and I’m not saying I’ve internalized it completely, it’s a process of internalization, and continuous balance. So my cohort of women entrepreneurs, Brene Brown, I would not have read Brene Brown 5 years ago, I would have said, ‘Oh, please.’ I didn’t like that whole success doctrine, as they call it, and it’s just but you know what? I loved ‘Daring Greatly.’ It’s really about the courage to not be perfect. I’d always thought that you should be perfect as a leader, and it’s really not and that was a big revelation to me.
Erin: The courage of acceptance is massive.
Leah: Yes, and understanding that it is not weakness, because that’s how I saw it before. But really, it’s showing that you do have the vision but also and you do have the courage, especially as they see the battles that you’re fighting externally and that you have your team’s back. I think it’s also a constant process and it’s only been recently that I’ve felt like I need some external help, which again is not a weakness.
Kristen: In fact, understanding your weakness is strength.
Leah: Right, but in the old school, there’s this whole thing about true leaders, or leaders are born, and for me it’s reached a point where I know that I need support too and emotional support. This whole concept of self-care that a lot of people are so proud of not doing, it’s like the whole thing like ‘I am too busy to do this, and too busy to do that.’ And this whole kind of putting busy on a pedestal.
Kristen: Yeah, absolutely, I call it the tyranny of businesses.
Leah: Yes, and it’s like, well, I did that for a couple of years, it’s really made my health go down, and I got insomnia, and my decision making just went. This self-care thing, you have to understand that it’s what you need, you need to do it if you care about your organization.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Leadership Voices and learned a lot about food waste and food rescue. If you’re in an area where you have the opportunity to help with food waste, the Good Doctors highly recommend helping out. Dr. Hinson has the 412 Food Rescue app and they make it so easy to make a real difference!