When he was 11, Oscar Ekponimo was so hungry he would stare at the kitchen cupboards in his home in Calabar, Nigeria, wishing they would magically fill with food. His father had stopped working after a partial stroke, and his mother earned so little as a nurse that he and his siblings ate just one substantial meal every two days. “My mom used to remind us that the hunger was not forever,” he said. “That always kept me going.”
Now 30 and a skilled software engineer living in Abuja, Ekponimo is working to ensure others do not suffer as he did. He has developed an app called Chowberry, which connects grocery stores and supermarkets with NGOs and charities to put wasted or leftover food to use. As packaged food items near the end of their shelf life, the app initiates discounts that grow larger the longer the products remain unsold. Local aid groups and other selected nonprofits are alerted about these discounts and also when supermarkets are giving food away for free. Food that would otherwise have gone in the trash is instead distributed to orphanages and needy families.
Last year his team of four completed a three-month pilot involving 20 retailers and fed around 150 orphans and vulnerable children. “Our system helped [orphanages] cut down on their spending by more than 70%,” he says. Although every small retailer Ekponimo has approached in Nigeria has embraced Chowberry, he says, larger companies have been slow to adopt the technology, mainly because of red tape. “That’s been my biggest challenge.”
Despite such problems, Ekponimo can’t imagine a different life for himself. “I had several job offers from big [technology] companies over the past few years,” he says. “But Chowberry is what I am passionate about and find fulfilling. I want to see it grow and continue to benefit people’s lives.”