Mensch change-maker of the month: Anna Shevel
An edited version of the article appears in the print edition this month.
We were made for this.
By Anna Shevel
We were made for this. We were made to care for each other. We were made for community. We were made for purpose. When the system is stripped down, we have a chance to become human again.
As the foreign concept of LOCKDOWN accelerated into an immanent South African reality, I painfully realised what this would mean for South Africa. How it would impact the 11 to 14 million South Africans already experiencing extreme hunger, the ‘gogo’ breadwinners looking after children and grandchildren on grants, the orphaned children looking after brothers and sisters, refugees with no support systems, single unemployed mothers, the elderly, the homeless, the sick, and a battered economy struggling to keep the country afloat on broken and failed infrastructure.
I was immediately gripped by an urgent call to do something to mitigate what was coming. We needed absolutely everyone that could, to spring into a national civil response and HELP.
Adapting to these extraordinary circumstances, necessitates that we all upskill, organise and become extremely resourceful. Learning new technologies and innovating to respond in real time to the emergency at hand. Fortunately, I am finding that my life and work before COVID-19 and the experiences during this period, have set me up to leverage my skills, passion and networks, amplifying them to meet this new challenge head on.
I am, at heart, a food activist. I am passionate about reinventing the food system and using food as a superpower to change the world. For the last few years, I’ve been focused on creating The Good Food Network. A mapped online national resource for connecting the entire local, organic and ethical food system. From farms to health stores to restaurants to training courses – helping consumers geo locate themselves to their nearest outlet. Empowering them to make good food purchasing choices that invest in local economies, their health, and natural production methods that are in harmony with nature.
I was due to launch the new version of The Good Food Network in March this year. I’d been working on it for two years. This was to be an online marketplace giving small businesses and producers in the network their own affordable, easy to set up, easy to manage online micro stores. By doing so broadening their market reach, connecting them to local consumers, and giving consumers one platform to find and buy their favorite foods directly from their favorite stores or suppliers. This has been my big dream. As COVID-19 approached I was devastated that all the work and investment on the new platform would now be meaningless.
I soon realised, however, that there would be an opportunity to reinvent my work if I looked for the opportunity. Incredibly, the experience and technology platform I’d built to map the food system via Good Food Network led to the synchronous creation of now mapping CARE to NEEDS for the #OneloveSA Campaign.
The power of innovation and social media in the time of Corona
On the 17th of March, I put a call out on Facebook explaining my idea for an online platform to map and match those providing CARE with those in NEED. I invited anyone interested to join an online video call. To my surprise seven people rocked up all eager to help with their impressive skills, drive, and resources – including the Director of the of Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies. The teams that subsequently formed consisted of a database team for mapping and a tech team of developers and designers.
By the end of week one, the platform www.onelovesa.com was launched. We were connecting people and initiatives across the country to activate nationwide civil support for ALL vulnerable people in South Africa.
While mapping and matching volunteers and care organisations was important, I soon realised that as the lockdown became a reality and supply chains shut down, distribution would become restricted and wages would disappear. FOOD AID was now paramount. To have meaningful impact we now also needed to get behind food distribution, and fast.
Through the power of social media #onelovesa got the attention of Operation Hunger who approached me to share their #FeedAFamily concept. During lockdown, their goal is to provide essential items and food aid to an additional 10 000 families in 43 locations around South Africa. Mostly in deep rural areas or sprawling township locations, cut off from income and resources and where other efforts do not reach. It made perfect sense to partner with them and help promote the campaign.
One day later we launched our #OneLoveSA #FeedAFamily campaign calling on donations from R200, enough to feed 1 family for a week. Thanks to the incredible effort of our team, our networks, our family, and friends – we raised R100 000 within a week. Enough to feed 500 families.
Throughout this period the talented and passionate motley crew of One Love SA volunteers has formed a tight knit family operating in a constant state of creation, innovation, and empowered acts of service. This has filled our lockdown with a sense of community, purpose, alignment. For everyone on the team, being involved in One Love SA has been the most overwhelming gift.
I am so grateful for this platform to write as a proudly Jewish social change-maker, sharing my work. I have always been wired for social and environmental impact, yet it was only as a result the of life-changing trip to Israel with Reality Global 2015 that I was able to understand that my personal Jewish identity is rooted in Tikkun Olam. For me this is what it means to be Jewish above all else. To shine a light, to be a light, and to be light.
This has been further extended through my membership with The Mensch Network. Mensch has played a significant role in opening up professional networking opportunities for me in both South Africa and Israel, connecting me to the global Jewish world of social change. Connecting me to like-minded passionate people and expanding my partnerships, collaborations, and professional development.
Building for sustainability – Post Corona
My next project, already underway, is to repurpose the new platform www.good-food-network.com to provide food sellers or small producer groups (now cut off from their markets) to create online stores. To be able to sell their produce to their local areas during this time, provided they have the correct permits. This has given me the opportunity to launch my initial dream of The Good Food Network. I can now test and refine the platform to become investment ready so I can scale and employ a team, all while serving small businesses and producers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Siphiwe Sithole founder and CEO of African Marmalade, an organic farming business has become my first vendor, with other stores and producer groups will be joining in the next weeks.
Due to my years working in the food system, I have also been closely involved with the Gauteng Food Security Group. From early in the crisis they have been working tirelessly to devise a plan to not only get food aid to Gauteng’s vast disadvantaged communities, but also to ensure that the provincial food system does not collapse. To do this we need to include a food security plan to keep the supply chain of producers, distributors, and informal traders going. We have been working, Jew, Muslim, black, white, farmer, trader, community leader together on a cohesive plan for systemic impact.
As a result of what I’ve learned from One Love SA’s fundraising campaign, I was again able to innovate super-fast adding fundraising to The Good Food Network’s portfolio with its first fundraising for the food system campaign. The C19 Community Response launched on the 15th of April. This campaign has been absorbed by The People’s Coalition and is the first of many food project fundraisers to be housed on The Good Food Network helping to fulfill even more of my big dream to accelerate the growth of a new food system
So that sums up the first chapter of my personal COVID-19 story. I intend to use all resources at my disposal to pursue my goal of changing the food system in South Africa by the end of the year.
At the time of writing this we are only three weeks into lockdown and living in this new reality. I am so fascinated to see what comes next. As the tagline for One Love SA initiative goes: Together We’ve Got This!
Anna Shevel is a member of Mensch, a network of Jewish social change-makers, co-creating positive change in South Africa for all. Visit www.mensch.org.za for more details.
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