The Robin Hood Army is a New Delhi, India, based organisation that works to get surplus food from restaurants and distribute it to hungry and less fortunate people of society. The organisation has over 9000 volunteers in 13 countries, in 41 cities, so far. The organisation tries to reach various less fortunate groups such as the homeless, orphanages, night shelters, people/children on the streets, etc.

Robin Hood Army giving food to children

In August 2014, a group of 5 friends, came out to the streets of Delhi to feed the homeless. The idea was basic yet effective, they drove to various restaurants around the city, collected unsold food, re-packaged it and gave it the people who were sleeping by the road.

The organisation has many ties with restaurants and food chains across the 41 around the globe. The organisation’s Facebook page states: “The RHA is a very decentralised organisation and does not accept monetary contributions- we just need your time”

The idea is to spread awareness about wastage of food and how large the problem hunger is and motivating the people to come together to eradicate this problem in every part of the globe.

Recently I got a chance to talk with the Co-founder of Robin Hood Army, Neel Ghose. Neel is currently Vice President (International Operations) of Zomato.

Robin Hood Army is continuously doing great work, and receiving an overwhelming response from all around the world.

Where did you get the idea?
“It was not an original idea – I was living and working in Portugal, where I came across an organisation Refood International (founded by Hunter Halder) which redistributes excess food to the less fortunate through volunteers. I spent some time with the team and founder to understand the process – I was excited by the simplicity of it and thought this makes sense in our country where the need is so much more.”

Robin Hood Army children eating foodWhat are the major problems you faced?
“We have been lucky with a great, motivated team across cities and a solid support system – so I would not say there have been major existential problems. One fundamental challenge is time. Almost every person in the Robin Hood Army including myself, have full-time occupations and do this in our free time. With more time devoted to the cause, our impact would definitely be more.”

How many supporters were there in the beginning?
“In our first night of distribution, we had 5 Robins – these were basically our immediate friends who were motivated by the idea and wanted to create impact.”

How do you choose where to go and who to help? From the level of poverty in the area, wastage of food or availability of restaurants?
“This depends from city to city – we have a basic process called scouting where we identify people who require help. These folks could range from homeless families to HIV homes to orphanages. The idea is to adopt a hyperlocal nature and connect the residents of an area to the underprivileged through the means of food provided by restaurants in the locality.”

Have you ever felt like giving up/quitting?
“Not one single minute. There are almost 200 million people in our country who do not have two square meals a day – we are barely scratching the surface.If anything – the milestones give us perspective that there is so much more to do and we sincerely hope we are just getting started. There is one line which we constantly use in the team – we are just “1% Done”.”

In a country like India, where around 1.5 billion tonnes of food goes to wastage every year, how do you suggest we stop it?
“I believe the first step is awareness. When we were in school – we never learnt how large a problem hunger still is, in fact before we started working in the Robin Hood Army we were still oblivious to this. The truth is hunger is not likely to be a problem you and I will face – hence the media finds more “relatable” issues to raise like politics, terrorism, and pollution. If every citizen across India was aware that there are 7000 deaths from hunger-related diseases every single day, I think there would be a drastic mindset shift in waste.Some countries like France have also made it compulsory for supermarkets and other organisations to donate their excess food – this would be a great first step towards reducing wastage and ending hunger.”

Are you receiving any help from the government?
“Not directly – but we have had our fair share of support from different representatives of the government in cities. I honestly think it’s unfair to expect the government to have a solution to everything – public-minded citizens should roll up their sleeves and start acting on problems they see around them.”

What are your upcoming plans? Do you have any plans of extension in rural areas?
“There are two major focus areas – we are currently in 41 cities across the world and serve roughly 100,000 people a month – by the end of this calendar year, we want to at least double our impact. We have recently started the Robin Hood Academy – which serves as a bridge to teach and enable street children with an aim of enrolling them in local government schools. Currently, we are teaching 1200 children out of which 203 have enrolled in full-time schools, we want to drive up that number significantly. Enabling education a major step in nation building. Rural areas is a challenge at this point honestly. Since we have a stringent no-funds approach, we spread the word and enlist new volunteers and cities through social media. So to a certain extent, we are restricted to areas where social media is widespread. However, we can help rural areas by mobilising support for projects. Last year, there was a severe drought in the Latur district of Maharashtra – several farmers had committed suicide. Our Robins across Pune and Mumbai mobilised water from their companies, residences, colleges etc. and actually transferred 75,000 litres of water through a special train every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to Latur.”

Any message for people out there who want to help but still struggle?
“Honestly, don’t over-think stuff, think less and do more. We are all blessed with the privilege of education and opportunity – use the skills you have developed to people who need it most. There are very few things which are as fulfilling.”