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Small companies scale up through a special initiative

With $125,000 in funding, advertising and technology, TELUS #StandWithOwners supports community businesses, such as the Leftovers Foundation, to make an even bigger impact.

Small and medium-sized businesses are the bedrock of Canada’s economy. Nearly two-thirds of workers in Canada — some 10.7 million people — are employed by them. And while other sectors have had to lay off staff, small- and medium-sized companies are busy creating new jobs. In fact, in 2021, they added more than 600,000 jobs, more than half of Canada’s job growth. “Small businesses are the heart of our communities; they bring character to our neighbourhoods and play a pivotal role in driving our economy forward,” says Navin Arora, executive vice president of TELUS and president of TELUS Business.

In 2020, TELUS launched #StandWithOwners, a campaign that recognizes local businesses that are making a difference in their communities, and using technology to innovate and scale growth. This year, five grand prize winners are being selected to win $125,000 in funding, advertising and technology, along with business mentorship and guidance.

Being selected as one of the winning businesses in 2021 helped the Leftovers Foundation, a food rescue charity, expand its offerings to help even more people in need of support. “It connected us to a community that we didn’t really have access to before,” says founder Lourdes Juan and a panel judge for this year’s #StandWithOwners program.

With operations in Calgary and Winnipeg, the charity helps reduce waste and increase access to food by keeping edible food from going in the garbage and redirecting it to those who need it. Over the last three years, the Leftovers Foundation has diverted more than two million pounds of food that was destined for landfill.

Here, Juan shares the “aha moment” that led her to launch the foundation, how she’s using technology to scale the impact of food rescue organizations and what receiving a #StandwithOwners award meant to her.

What was the motivation behind establishing Leftovers Foundation?

I saw 200 pounds of unsold bread that was perfectly good that was going to be thrown out. I was shocked and it was kind of like an aha moment. I started to think about who could use that food, and I went down a rabbit hole about food waste and food access and how we can logistically get good fresh food to people. I founded the foundation in 2012 to redirect good, excess food from places like restaurants, grocery stores and bakeries to service agencies in need. Leftovers’ role has been to increase awareness about food rescue and work with many volunteers to redirect food every day. We are just one part of the food security puzzle.

What are the main gaps in Canada’s food systems?

There’s a huge policy gap. We don’t have a broad policy on food waste. We can redirect all the food in the world, but if there’s no policy to help support either the prevention of food waste or just the redirection to those in need, it’s pretty difficult to get support.

The other gaps are in education and awareness. If food waste was measured as a country, it’d be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Food waste happens at every level of the supply chain. You see it at the farm level and transportation and at the retail level. If every single person knew what we as individuals can do to address climate change — it can be as simple as finishing the food that’s on your plate — it can start to make a difference. There’s a big awareness piece that’s missing.

What role does tech play in helping people access food?

Leftovers Foundation uses technology to redirect food from one place to the next. And that’s really about tracking the amount of food that’s been rescued, how many minutes or hours a volunteer has donated (their time, effort and energy), what types of foods are being donated, and monitoring the temperature of the food. There is a safe food handling component to all food rescue organizations. I’m not part of the organization anymore, but they’re using technology from my new tech company Knead Technologies. It helps the organization scale, partner and connect with other organizations that are doing similar types of work. When we think about technology in food rescue, it really makes things easier for folks to rescue food and track that impact.

What impact did #StandWithOwners have on you and your business?

It connected us to a community that we didn’t really have access to before. Just getting the word out there to a new network, a new set of folks was really impactful. Now I’m on the Calgary Community Board. As an executive director and as a community member, it’s been great to see the work that other folks are doing, not only in food rescue, but in the community in general. I’m definitely plugged more into the community now more than ever.

What can awards and recognition like this do for a small business?

The networking piece is so important. There’s also the monetary value attached, which will help anybody. It really helped us during the pandemic. We created the COVID emergency delivery service and the money enabled us to staff a program where fresh food was delivered directly to homes in need.

You are now on the panel for #StandwithOwners to help select the five grand prize winners –– what are you looking for in a small business?

I’m always looking for impact and collaboration. I’m hoping to see a bit of that when I read through the submissions.

What’s next for you?

Working with food rescue organizations around the world to get them the software they need to scale their impact.

This article was created in partnership with TELUS Business. For more information on this special initiative, visit telus.com/StandWithOwners

Businesses can apply for a chance to win one of five grand prize packages. Applicants will demonstrate how their business is changing the game, solving the problems of today and tomorrow and using technology to grow and differentiate their business.

Photo credit: Leftovers Foundation, Lourdes Juan

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