Monday, March 21, 2011

lessons from Los Angeles launch of No Kid Hungry campaign

Last week we launched our No Kid Hungry campaign in Los Angeles, first at a fundraising event generously hosted by Ron Burkle and then at a press conference with Mayor Villaraigosa at an L.A. elementary school. These are some of the valuable lessons either learned or reinforced:

First, when pressure tested, our strategy holds up. The logic of leveraging existing federal dollars to increase participation in programs like school breakfast, summer feeding, and child care was well received in Los Angeles as it has been elsewhere. In the course of a week we’ve had the tires kicked by our board colleague Scott Schoen, who as a private equity investor has significant experience in testing the strategies of organizations in which he invests, to Jeff Skoll, E-Bay’s first president who knows a thing or two about taking entrepreneurial ideas to scale.

Second, we must sell our strategy retail and wholesale. As important as is the press in reaching a larger audience, the real opinion makers and influences need to see us in their living rooms and offices, up close and personal. Strip away the trappings of Hollywood and this event was in the genre of road shows we’ve done in many communities, and we need to keep doing them, combining targeted sales with broadcast messaging. Such events are an investment of time and money but relationships are not built or maintained any other way.

Third, we must continue to relentlessly champion innovation and imagination, and help others imagine a future that may not yet exist but is within our grasp to achieve. Visiting Rosecranz Elementary School in Compton on the morning of the launch we witnessed their success in removing the two of the biggest obstacles to breakfast in the classroom. By having one student leader from each classroom come to the school’s kitchen and wheel the breakfast cart to their class, and another wheel the trash barrel, they eliminated additional labor costs and imposing on teachers who did not want to be turned into lunch ladies. It’s a small point but part of a growing collection of best practices we are amassing and able to help spread.

Fourth, great chefs create great community. Even with a crowd as accomplished and as celebrated as this, our chefs made them feel event more special. Given all of the culinary activities in which we engage, it would be easy to take for granted the role of chefs and food. But it is has been at the very core of Share Our Strength for all of these years, because it is core to creating the community we aspire to build. The chefs themselves personify everything we want to convey about our work and brand: innovation, passion, caring, feeding, and community.

Finally, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stole the show at the launch press conference, reducing the messaging to its most basic and most powerful. He asked two young students, Eddie and Debbie, to help him out, and he asked each one what they’d like to be when they grow up. Eddie hoped to be a painter. I didn’t quite hear what Debbie said. But after each spoke Vilsack turned to the audience and said “Each of these students has a dream. But kids can’t achieve their dreams if they are hungry. That’s what No Kid Hungry is all about.

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