Food for Thought: Applying Business Skills to Address Food Access Issues

Eleanor Akers
Eleanor Akers

Eleanor Akers is a second year Global MBA student at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. A Chemical Engineer by training, her professional interests include behavioral economics, the energy industry and process optimization. As an enthusiastic cook, she is passionate about food access for all and feels truly privileged to be able to leverage her business skills to improve health outcomes through food. If you have any questions about her work, please contact her at eakers2@jhu.edu or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/eleanor-akers

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During my first year of Carey’s full-time MBA program, I had an amazing opportunity to build on lessons learned in the classroom and apply them in the city of Baltimore through the Business of Social Innovation (BSI) program. BSI assigns student consultants to social impact start-ups in Baltimore. Start-ups get some business know-how and students have a chance to get their hands dirty applying theories from the classroom to supporting mission-driven business.

I am a keen cook and passionate about food quality and access – one of the things I love most about Baltimore is the farmers’ markets. I felt extremely privileged to be able to work with Bmore Farm to Clinic – a start-up based out of the East Baltimore Medical Center.

Bailey Miles, Kate Rediger and Laura Harding-Fukushima noticed that many of their patients living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, struggled to get hold of fresh produce. The map shows the area around the clinic – areas shaded in red are food deserts, low-income areas without easy access to grocery stores. Residents in these areas do not live within walking distance of a shop selling fresh produce and often rely on fast-food outlets or corner stores.

During summer 2018, the team raised some funds and teamed up with a local farmer to assemble and hand out bags of produce to over 400 patients. Their next step was to apply to Hopkin’s Social Innovation Laboratory (SIL): an incubator for business with a social mission. This is where I came in: from October 2018 through till May 2019 I met with the Bmore Farm to Clinic team regularly and provided consulting services.

I was able to use my accounting and finance skills to help the team structure their budget and use their funding efficiently for this summer’s initiative: regular food parcels paired with cooking classes for a group of 40 patients. In addition, I performed a cost-benefit assessment of providing fresh produce compared to diabetes medication that can be used to persuade insurers to fund future programs.

As well as the chance to apply my business skills to an initiative working to change the way we think about preventative medicine, working with Bmore Farm to Clinic gave me a chance to step out of my bubble and see more of the city. In the course of this project, I spoke to people from all over Baltimore and became aware of the challenges the city faces and the amazing ways in which different people have stepped up to meet these challenges. Through BSI I also met founders of other organizations equally dedicated to Baltimore, such as Fight Blight Bmore, Happy Teacher Revolution, and Mom Cares.

If you believe that everyone deserves healthy food, regardless of where they live and how much they earn, please ask your elected representatives at the state and federal level to support laws requiring Medicaid and Medicare to reimburse nutrition services. If you want to support the fantastic work Bmore Farm to Clinic is doing to improve our community’s health, please reach out to the team at baltimore.ftc@gmail.com.

I cannot recommend the program enough to Carey students!

The BSI program has recently been renamed the Community Consulting Lab. The 2019-2020 program application opens with an information session on September 9 from 11:30-13:00 on the Baltimore campus, but you can also tune in via Zoom. If you are a social entrepreneur looking for an incubator, I encourage you to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab at the Johns Hopkins University. If you are an alumnus interested in finding out ways you can support CCL and other social impact programs like it at Carey, please get in touch with the Office of Experiential Learning at carey.studentventures@jhu.edu.

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