How many times does a child ask the question - what’s for dinner? More than likely, you and I have always had a positive response, a roll call of options and preferences, a choice about what and when to eat. Yet, in Northern Ireland, the stark reality is that for one-in-four young people, that isn’t the case - over 100,000 children in communities across NI currently live below the poverty line. It’s a rising statistic and a growing problem, in what we consider to be a first world country, in our cities, perhaps only around the corner from where we are living. More and more often, families are having to choose between food or fuel, effectively whether to heat their homes or feed their children.
I believe that safeguarding its citizens from hunger and deprivation is one of the most fundamental duties of government, yet food poverty is an issue that continues to grow as the rate of inflation rises higher and faster than the measures put in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society. The bleak reality is that food poverty and malnutrition affects every aspect of young people’s lives, their physical and mental health, their educational attainment and their long-term life expectancy as they move from child to adulthood. It impacts on self-confidence and engenders feelings of isolation and highlights a real inequality and genuine injustice within our society.
The issue of child food poverty was first brought home to me when we looked at the issue of child food poverty as I worked on a campaign as a member of the Belfast City Council Youth Forum. As the forums investigation came to a conclusion, my own inclination was to stick with it, to delve deeper, to ask more questions, to explore short-term solutions while considering longer-term resolutions.
Thoughts soon turned into action and I founded the social justice campaign, education project and ‘giving’ foundation #whatsfordinner. It aims to address child food poverty at grassroots level through partnerships between foodbank charities and schools, supported by educational workshops in participating schools and colleges, and a series of ‘Giving Weeks’, all underpinned by a social media campaign. I successfully piloted the campaign in my former school, Victoria College, and in the very first ‘Giving Week’ in April 2017, students, teachers and parents donated over 1000 essential food items which were distributed to those families most in need, by the Storehouse foodbank charity.
I am now exploring opportunities to develop #whatsfordinner from its original start-up in my community in Northern Ireland into a social entrepreneurship foundation, an umbrella organization from which young global ‘ambassadors’ can form their own #whatsfordinner charter groups aided by local businesses and educational establishments. Further to my selection as a 2017 Young Global Changemaker and with the support of the GCM network. I am currently working to establish the first wave of #whatsfordinner movements and global ambassadors from where I am currently located in Washington DC and in countries such as Wales, Mexico and Malawi. I believe that each of us has a moral obligation to reach out to others when we observe a societal injustice.
It’s important to note that sometimes when we are faced with these pertinent societal issues, it’s hard to know what we can do. How can we play our part in tackling these challenges at grassroots level, in our own communities? We can’t just leave it to governments, to Bob Geldof or Bill Gates. It’s about you and me responding to social injustices such as child food poverty in ways that are sustainable, developmental and utilising the power of young people.
There is no doubt that traditional, community based volunteering programs give people an opportunity to give their time and labour to worthy projects. However, in my view, real change comes by transforming these programs into “impact volunteering” efforts—vehicles for deliberation, collaboration, and connection where young leaders can lay a foundation for civic renewal through a network of social entrepreneurship and innovation.
Crucially, these ideas do not have to change the world in an instant, some of our greatest ideas are born in the most mundane of places. The seed of an idea for #whatsfordinner started at a kitchen table, while Thomas and Jack developed Challenges NI at school. Social entrepreneurship all starts with a simple question, what am I doing to improve my community, my city and the world around me? It’s simply being the kindest, most creative and most impassioned version of yourself. So find an issue that makes you angry and get annoyed. Find others for whom the same issue makes them angry too. Form a network, exchange ideas, build your own solution and then put it into action. There are 1.8 billion young people in the world (the largest youth population in recorded history) and it’s true that the world needs you(th)! We must take up the mantle and the responsibility for generating social progress and creating a fairer, more equal, more sustainable world. If we do not act now, who will?
Francesca is 19 from Belfast and currently studying at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC. She is planning to major in International Politics while minoring in French and Diplomacy Studies.