Calgary, AB: On Wednesday, July 15, eight teams of Calgarians pitched their ideas on how to break the cycle of childhood poverty by disrupting the food system in Calgary and area. The presentations were part of The Social Impact Lab’s Disrupt-ATHON, a multi-day virtual event to encourage idea development and creative thought to re-imagine ways of solving social issues impacting our community.

The issues around our food system illustrate the need for change:

  • 66,400 children in Calgary access the food bank every year.
  • 1 in 6 grow up in poverty.
  • Obesity rates among children in Canada have tripled.
  • Customers have different needs regarding how they acquire and consume food.
  • COVID-19 revealed the need for a more resilient and responsive local food system.

“Our food system presents a complex social issue that is ripe for innovation and solutions,” said James Gamage, Director, Innovation and The Social Impact Lab, United Way of Calgary and Area. “By creating an opportunity for citizens from all walks of life to collaborate and apply creative thought to the problem, we knew some remarkable ideas would emerge, and we weren’t disappointed. We are incredibly excited by the response of Calgarians to our Disrupt-ATHON.”

After a week of learning about the food system, collaborating and receiving coaching from The Social Impact Lab to develop their concepts, eight teams presented their concepts to a panel of experts and the public on July 15. The public is invited to vote on the concepts through the Open City platform between the 16th and 20th of July. The crowd favourite will be announced July 22nd.

Teams pitched concepts that included:

  • Using summer camps to educate children about how to grow healthy, sustainable foods
  • Addressing food insecurity through the farm and the farmhouse
  • A community space-making project for racialized youth
  • A small meat processing cooperative aimed at the specialty and small-market sectors of the meat industry
  • Reducing retail food waste
  • Bringing more efficient resource allocation to food emergency services
  • Food production and waste management in a corporate context
  • Food distribution in a time of Covid

“At Rooted Community Farm, we want to use urban agriculture as a tool to address inequity, and we want to do it by engaging racialized youth in for-profit urban farming,” said Josh Carter, Disrupt-ATHON participant and member of team Rooted. “By combining mentorship, connections to social/cultural capital and direct experience, youth will be empowered to work on food systems and build the know-how to start their own businesses, all the while experiencing the mental and physical health benefits of getting their hands in the dirt!”

“We look forward to working with the winning team in The Social Impact Lab to test and build their solution and hopefully bring it to life in the Calgary ecosystem,” said Gamage. “Longer term, we are wondering whether this might form a template for how we engage ordinary Calgarians in helping to solve the social issues in our city.”


About The Social Impact Lab

The Social Impact Lab (the Lab) is a collaboration between United Way of Calgary and Area and J5 Design and Innovation.

The Lab is United Way’s response to both the increased demand within the social sector and the shifting perspectives of philanthropists, corporations, and business leaders who want to generate and participate in meaningful social change. Located in the heart of downtown Calgary on Stephen Avenue, the Lab allows United Way to directly support agencies to deliver critical services while also working to build creativity and an innovative mindset across the social sector, and help solve the social issues impacting Calgary and area. Agency partners, government representatives, donors, businesses, community members, and corporate volunteers collaborate by using human-centred design thinking to tackle the most pressing issues impacting our city.

About United Way

United Way of Calgary and Area brings together donors, corporations, agencies, and government to solve complex issues and improve the lives of more than 150,000 people every year. Since 1940, United Way has supported agencies that assist vulnerable Calgarians. Today, United Way invests in programs and collaborations with common outcomes, brings people together to coordinate systems change, and designs solutions that address root causes to create lasting social change. Collectively, this work deepens community impact.

For more information:

Lisa Rushka
(403) 816-1038
[email protected]