Alex Gillis

Earlier this year, University of Toronto students Quinn Underwood and Swarochish (Swish) Goswami were sitting in a dorm room watching celebrity comedian and political commentator John Oliver complain about how North Americans waste one third of their food. Appalled, the two first-year students decided to do something about it.

“We couldn’t believe that food waste was such a widespread problem,” says Underwood, who was starting Munk One, the foundational year program at the Munk School of Global Affairs that motivates students to focus on innovation and real-world problem solving. “Food waste is prevalent not only in Canada, with $31 billion dollars wasted annually, but around the world. Being from a younger generation, where we think that smart phones can fix things, we started looking at a technical solution.”

Using lessons from his experience in Munk One, Underwood followed his entrepreneurial instincts, as did co-founder Goswami. They created an app. “We wanted to make a social contribution, so we created the FoodShare app,” says Goswami, who studies Peace, Conflict and Justice at the Munk School and was one of five youths to receive a UN Outstanding Youth Leadership Award this year.

The app will connect low-income students to schools and individuals who have leftover meals and non-perishable food. He and Underwood recruited a third-year U of T student to write the app’s code, and this fall, they’ll launch it as a pilot project at U of T, Ryerson University and the University of British Columbia.

The app will re-direct extra food on campus to students who are food insecure. Almost every post-secondary institution in Canada has food banks, including U of T, partly because food insecurity among students has worsened in the past few years. “We hope to work in partnership with universities on a larger scale once we prove that the app is something that students want or need,” Underwood says.

The Munk One program was instrumental in the app’s creation. Underwood says that the professors and the focus on experiential learning helped him. “The entire premise of the program was about audaciousness,” Underwood explains. “The professors challenged us to look at our ideas and ask ourselves, ‘Why aren’t we doing these things?’”

Underwood is – and not only with the app. This summer, he conducted research in Myanmar with another student, Jillian Sprenger. She and Underwood won U of T’s International Health Program ‘Discovery Fund,’ a scholarship for non-medical students interested in international health research. The two students looked into what the popularity of smart phones could mean for health-care solutions in Myanmar, a country that has seen tremendous positive changes in the past few years.

“In Myanmar, the price of a sim card has dropped from $500 last year to $1.50 this year,” Underwood says. “This is the first time you have a huge use of smart phones in communities where there’s not much health infrastructure.” He and Sprenger visited about 15 NGOs across the country, and they’re now writing a policy-review report about their findings, especially related to child malnutrition and pre- and post-natal care. One of the NGOs offered them internships in Myanmar next summer.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Underwood, who’s now studying Immunology and Global Health in his second year at U of T. The Myanmar research, along with the app, are audacious for a 19-year-old, but the world needs this sort of boldness, and John Oliver would likely approve.

Underwood and Goswami will launch their FoodShare app and website at the end of September.

September 9, 2016