Blockchain has far-reaching disruptive potential often focused on charitable works.
Explore the humanitarian efforts of SFSU students leveraging this emerging technology for multiple blockchain projects, all related to blockchain for social good; applying blockchain technology to promote volunteer participation, and food safety monitoring for healthier food donations to hunger-relief charities.
In a conversation with Leigh Jin, Professor of Information Systems and Director of Technology in Business Education Initiative at San Francisco State University, we discover their design thinking methodology that went into building these application prototypes.
Lauren Weymouth (00:00):
Hello, I'm Lauren Weymouth and I lead the UBRI program at Ripple. We're into our fourth academic year of this amazing industry- university collaboration that is driving really interesting research and development in the blockchain space. Today we're discussing food waste. it's something that I think about in my own daily life. I forget about perishable food until it's too late. and even though I generally eat everything on my plate, I purchase too much food. I cook big meals and throw some of it away.
And we can all be conscious of this and take steps to lower food waste. Like eating leftovers that you bring home from restaurants or, using leftovers from cooking. Making better shopping lists and planning your family meals, freezing stuff before it expires. But still the American household wastes three and a half to $5 per day.
And UNEP Food Waste Index 2021 estimates that eight to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. So there are great financial and environmental impacts here.
So we're gonna look at research and development of San Francisco State University students. They're interested in a safer way to reduce food waste, promoting volunteering and food donations in a brilliant trifecta of using blockchain technology. And it's also not often that I get to interview a guest in my own backyard. Today, I get the distinct pleasure of introducing Leigh Jin, professor of information systems and director of technology and business education initiative at San Francisco State University. She teaches classes like IT project management. And she's a member or chair of way too many committees, both inside the university and professionally to mention. We're so excited to have you on the show today, welcome Leigh.
Leigh Jin (01:45):
Hi Lauren. thank you for the introduction. I really appreciate the opportunity to showcase, um, my students work here. They worked really hard on the project. We have Jamie Leigh from,our nutrition department. Alec Malakts from, finance department. Calvin Kim from decision science department. We have Shetel Kabuji from, our MBA program. And, Manuel Romeo, she is a wonderful student, of information systems, and she also, published our website and newsletters and She designed our logo for the food chain project. Katain Gihar, from the embedded electrical and computer system, Young Yi Phang Wong. She's doing her master thesis, in blockchain, partly with this project.
Lauren Weymouth (02:41):
that's such a deep team of really talented smart individuals.I checked through their newsletters that you sent me, and looked at all their profiles and I wanted to meet all of them. In fact, I wanted to hire all of them. They just sound like, such amazing individuals. Let's start with you. How long have you been a professor at SFSU?
Leigh Jin (02:59):
I joined SFSU since 20, 2001. I still remember, just a couple weeks I arrived at San Francisco, that was when, 9/11 hit. so I have been in San Francisco State for a long time. this is actually my 20th year here.
Lauren Weymouth (03:16):
Leigh Jin (03:17):
(Laughs) Thank you. Um-
Lauren Weymouth (03:21):
So in 20 years being close to Silicon Valley, you've seen a lot of different technologies come through your programs. What's unique and different about blockchain?
Leigh Jin (03:28):
The blockchain was a pretty amazing, we are part of the SAP, University, the Alliance's program. Actually, we got first introduced, to blockchain through, one of the summer faculty, workshops that are organized by SAP. the professor Nathan Cali, he is a professor at the University of the Southern California. And he actually put a great, blockchain curriculum together taught us how blockchain as a decentralized technology can really change, so many different things, around us. including how companies, especially from SAP perspective enterprises can work together, through, supply chain, network.
And also, things can be done so differently. Our financial system, our political system, our community,and of course, business, right, in general, could be totally changed, by this technology. So, I was amazed, I have to say that, the most inspiring moment when I decided to do something around blockchain, is because of SUGAR engagement.
Lauren Weymouth (04:38):
You mentioned SUGAR Network, can you let the listeners know what SUGAR Network is?
Leigh Jin (04:42):
Yeah. SUGAR Network is a consortium of the universities and, a consortium of, real companies a typical SUGAR project constitute three parts. there has to be a company or organization, and they are going to provide a challenge, for the students. And it has to be two university partners and interesting, requirement is these two universities have to come from two different countries. those companies are multinational companies like, BMW, SAP, and, insurance companies in, Europe.
I was very, attracted to this idea because I really believe in experiential learning. As a technology moves so fast around us, and we're still teaching students through textbooks and students are sitting in the classroom to hear the professor lecturing to them. I feel like, today's era when companies are pushing out, platforms and softwares every, (laughs) every two weeks right? Through agile development. technology constantly changing. I really believe in that students should walk out the classroom and go to talk to real people and, work with the real project and working with the company.
Lauren Weymouth (06:05):
so you got to work within the SUGAR Network foundation and using their criteria, having a lot of support with other universities and also industry.
Leigh Jin (06:08):
Lauren Weymouth (06:10):
What was the problem that you set out to solve? introduce your blockchain related projects.
Leigh Jin (06:20):
initially was inspired by, my friend, Gretchen George, she is a faculty in the nutrition department. she told me about her work with our, food pantry, on the SFSU campus. because San Francisco is such a expensive city to live in, a lot of our students are food insecure." I was like, "What, what, what food insecure mean?" she said, "Well, you know, the students are paying so much for their rent and they don't have money for food." So I did some research and, find out that actually 43% in one of the surveys, 43% of our, CSU students are food insecure. Which means, they don't know where is their next meal is.
Lauren Weymouth (07:09):
That seems extremely high.
Leigh Jin (07:10):
It's, it's extremely high. it just broke my heart when I visited,our food pantry. they distribute, free food for students.I went there, right, I said, "Oh, I don't even know." You know? I, that surprised me. have been to San Francisco State for 20 years. I didn't know about our food pantry until I talked to, Gretchen. so I was there and I, I was shocked. I met two of my own students that standing in the line, receiving food from the food pantry. Actually visiting the food pantry on campus is the moment that, we decided, to use a blockchain to solve this problem.
Lauren Weymouth (07:52):
And you mentioned that one of the great things about this program is that it's not just theoretical students sitting in a classroom, that they get out and they do field research. they're trying to tackle real world problems and address issues by reaching out to their local community. So who did your students reach out to? Where did they go on field trips?
Leigh Jin (08:10):
Yeah, the first trip is actually marine food bank event. Because they have been supporting,the universities, around the, Bay Area. it was their one million pound, food donation celebration event.
So we went there first and our students get very inspired by talking to, the journalists and,the food bank, leadership and, our university leadership. And a lot of students, who benefits from the program And then our students is trying to understand, the whole supply chain of the charity network around food. There's a lot of food donation happening, farmers market- vendors after they finish their selves of the day, they have a leftovers. Then there's, volunteering network called Food Runners. They actually stop by all the, um, farmers market and collect leftovers and donate, to appropriate places. So our students, went to visit farmers market and really understand what their experience of donating food and again, that's a, that's a great lesson for our students. Because all the farmers are telling us, you know, growing food is such a hard work. One of the farmer was telling us that, he's 94 years old dad. He's a still picking strawberries in the field at that age. And, our students was like, oh my God.
Lauren Weymouth (09:44):
That probably keeps him healthy (laughs).
Leigh Jin (09:46):
(laughs) Yes. we go to, supermarket to buy food and we really never, had that a deep connection with food and really understand, how the food is grow. and then we went to the, Redwood Empire Food Bank from Santa Rosa. what is unique about that food bank is they hired a very high profile chef actually cooking, food onsite they prepare 500 meals per day.
Lauren Weymouth 10:15):
Leigh Jin (10:16):
And they distribute the food to the seniors. , who cannot move around easily and they don't have a car. we went there and we talked to the chef we check out their, warehouse, And that was amazing,
Lauren Weymouth 10:30):
Okay. So your students got a chance to interview the farmers, the farmers markets, restaurants, even tech companies who administer food programs.
Leigh Jin (10:40):
Lauren Weymouth (10:41):
As well as then the food bank and churches that are distributing, and the food soup kitchens, and then even interview the recipients of who is benefiting from the food donations.
Leigh Jin (10:48):
Lauren Weymouth (10:50):
What were the challenges that they found?
Leigh Jin (10:52):
we discovered they're really low tech. everything is written on piece of paper and,
it's going to be very difficult for them to implement technology itself for a couple reasons.
They don't have the platform and they need a staff that is, trained by technology. they're volunteer based, they don't really have the money or foundation to really, put the technology to- together. So that inspires us - we visited, SAP and Adobe, and we find that, they actually have a lot of food to donate,
Lauren Weymouth (11:32):
You're saying that you found that they didn't have the technology or the money to provide technology, but what, what for?
Leigh Jin (11:34):
Lauren Weymouth (11:36):
What is the problem that, the Food Runners or the volunteers or the food banks, soup kitchens are having that they need technology for? So what are the challenges with food?
Leigh Jin (11:46):
the challenges is, I think two folds. The number one is, volunteering, right? when we visited, GLIDE Memorial Church, this is one iconic, uh, church in San Francisco. they were telling us that during November and December, they said, people have really big heart and they have volunteers, lined up, circling around the block because every company is in San Francisco. Like as, high profile companies, Facebook, Salesforce, you name it, right? They all send their employees who volunteer at the church and, food bank and all these areas, because that is, the time to do it. But in January, all the volunteers disappear and sometimes they get like six people to prepare, thousand meals for the day to distribute. And they really need the volunteers during that time. When they need the volunteers, they really had a hard time to communicate that. that is definitely, unreliable, source of volunteers that when they really need volunteers, they couldn't find them. And then they have this period that they couldn't manage all the volunteers because there are too many of them.
Lauren Weymouth (132:56):
Okay. So, lack of volunteers or inconsistent volunteers is one of the major challenges.
Leigh Jin (13:00):
Lauren Weymouth (13:01):
What ideas that your students come up with to solve this?
Leigh Jin (13:03):
our students started, brainstorming, there's a definitely a lot needs for people to volunteer. And this is a very good experience for, you name it, high school students, college students, or people that on the job market. Right? That inspires our students to say, "Hey, why don't we use the blockchain, uh, to solve this." Because, right now, when you volunteer, there's no proof that you really volunteered there. Right? And you really volunteered for this many hours. they were thinking about, implementing a very simple, application for, places like GLIDE Memorial Church that for the volunteer to check in and check out when they volunteer. that information get a blockchain. then when they put it on the resume, said, hey, I, I volunteered for this many hours at this particular, charity locations. they got a proof of that.
Lauren Weymouth (14:03):
So it's a volunteer app that will log real time hours.
Leigh Jin (14:07):
Yeah. Real-time hours. when we went back to SAP to talk to them, the designer said, "Oh, yeah, that's a, that's a great idea." So we did a lot of design thinking, exercises, after a lot of brainstorming, our students, decided to create, a mobile app that actually allows them to basically track, the location, the timeline of their volunteering activities and, blockchain them, so that they can be, showcase. And they can link those hours to their, LinkedIn profile, put on their resume, even, high school students can put on their college, um, applications.
And then we went to GLIDE Memorial Church, we actually have the opportunity to talk to, a volunteer, but he's also homeless, we were asked, as a homeless, what, what do you need, from those charity organizations besides the food? he wants to have, a Muni ticket or, Caltrack ticket so that he can move around a little bit.
And he wants, Tylenol or a bandage from CVS or Walgreens, so that when he gets sick or, he cut himself somewhere, you have some kind of health care. And also in the winter, it's pretty cold in San Francisco, so he needs some additional jac- jackets and stuff like that. so that is a, a very inspiring discovery. So we went back, and we say, "Oh, okay. How can we improve our app to make this a little bit better?" the students come up with this, uh, "Hey, how about if we can, uh, turn this volunteer hours into some kind of token, so that they can use this token to exchange." Of course, we're going to have, you know, McDonald or these, uh, vendors onboard, but then they can use this token to exchange for things that they need.
For example, they can exchange for a McDonald meal, or they can go to the dollar stores to get some of the stuff, that they need and they cannot afford. so it went beyond the, blockchain volunteering hours, but really, turn those hours into some kind of token so that they can exchange for, uh, services or, uh, products they need.
Lauren Weymouth (16:31):
That sounds like a perfect solution to that problem. I know that there are other challenges that they came across, like food that was being transported with the Food Runners. Sometimes it was in the car or the van above temperature would go bad on route, what did they come up with to solve that?
Leigh Jin (16:47):
Yes. this problem is actually, inspired by our visit to Adobe. And we find that, the high tech companies, they have a lot of food to donate, but they are very hesitating to donate it because they, they worried about the damage, it's really the high-tech companies reputations on the line, for example, Adobe, Google, SAP, or Apple, right? For that matter.
they are also in the position to provide the technology. they probably have money and resources to support, the device like this. we done the research, our students, suggested why don't we have, temperature blockchain, the temperature, and, the conditions that are surrounding the food so that we can guarantee that when the food arrived to the food bank, all the temperatures and all the requirement for food safety is actually met. then the high-tech companies can prove that we donated very safe food.
Lauren Weymouth (17:49):
so the blockchain tracks the temperature variation across the distribution chain?
and it does this with IOT sensors on the food.
Leigh Jin (17:55):
Yes. It has to be, uh, IOT sensor it's actually, uh, plenty of the sensors that can do that. We just need to pack the sensor. We were talking about, a container, so that, the sensor was build in. And the sensor were, uh, send all the, environmental information, including, the temperature and, all the related information to blockchain. but when the temperature go higher than what expected, it were, blockchain that variation.
You don't have to waste the energy to always blockchain everything, talked to the, engineer students and they said, that's totally possible. We can blockchain basically to prove that transportation, period or process, the food is a perfectly safe. So the high tech companies can, be assured that, they donate, the nutritious food at the totally safe environment.
Lauren Weymouth (18:53):
So within a year about a dozen or so students that are mixed between undergraduate and graduate students created Food Chain, which is a food safety monitoring app and a volunteering app that are using blockchain to help with volunteering and reducing food waste so that people that need food can get it. And what are the next steps?
Leigh Jin (19:15):
I'm teaching iOS app development. one of the next steps, right now the blockchain is a primarily a backend, um, technology. a lot of people, I think don't understand or have a hard time to utilize the blockchain. I was hoping to be able to connect to a platform and encourage the students to build an app around, blockchain. And to make it, easier for people to use, on their phones so they can carry the blockchain around, all the time. That is interesting, one of the things I am thinking about.
Lauren Weymouth (19:51):
They prototype the food safety monitoring app and the volunteer app, and they presented it at different conferences and it, and it works and it's well received.
Leigh Jin (19:53):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Lauren Weymouth (19:58):
Is this something that you could see an NGO further developing because it would create, uh, it would streamline the system?
Leigh Jin (20:05):
Yeah. Yeah, I think so. we should connect to, non-profit organizations
These solutions are, really valuable. I'm very confident it could be developed into a very practical solutions that can solve real problems. Yeah, we can-
Lauren Weymouth (20:22):
And, and in your perfect world, who in the food charity network would you wanna hear this podcast? Such that they reach out to you and say, "Let's go."
Leigh Jin (20:30):
I hope that some blockchain developers can be inspired by this, podcast and,connect to us and of course we definitely need some, additional funding from, non-profit organizations, that help us to, continue, the development side of this project as well.
Lauren Weymouth (20:50):
Well, we wish you the best of luck.
Leigh Jin (20:52):
it's a exciting project and our students work really hard of it, I'm so proud of them.
Lauren Weymouth (53:33):
They definitely sound like graduates that any of us in the tech sector would wanna hire with their creativity and fortitude. I mean, considerable amounts of food are produced but not eaten by humans. and this has substantial negative impacts environmentally, socially, and economically. Leigh, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for bringing these students through this entire project and having them really think out some viable solutions to tackle the challenges. Thank you listeners for being with us today on All About Blockchain. If you have any ideas for future episodes, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time.