CHAPEL HILL - A meal of rice and beans can go a long way.
At Nourish International, a Carrboro nonprofit, countless plates served at “Hunger Lunches” nationwide have helped college students tackle global poverty by teaching computer literacy in Honduras, funding women’s businesses in Guatemala and building a health clinic and a potable water system in Peru.
Founded in 2005, Nourish is now on 28 campuses and has completed 65 projects worldwide. It had revenue of $294,424 for the 2011-12 academic year, according to its annual report.
Well out of its initial growth phase, Nourish has five employees, up from two in 2010; has moved from the Franklin Business Center in Chapel Hill to a bigger office in Carr Mill Mall; and has raised $130,500 to add seven new chapters.
Kelly Phoenix, the new executive director who came on board in 2012, plans to add 18 chapters in 2013 and wants to grow to 100 chapters within five years.
“I envision Nourish being one of the most impactful student movements on the planet dealing with extreme poverty,” Phoenix said.
The original idea came out of UNC, where a student, Sindhura Citineni, began the Hunger Lunches in 2003 to raise money for the largest slum in Hyderabad, India, where she grew up. She raised $7,500 the first year.
Nourish now advises college students on operating their own lunches and other ventures to raise money during the school year, and then helps them find organizations abroad to tackle poverty issues on a local level. Aside from a percentage of profit that goes to Nourish headquarters, the money raised goes toward the projects abroad. Students pay their own way on travel and living expenses.
Allie Treske, chief operating officer of Nourish, said they focus on finding holistic ways to tackle poverty so they can be sustainable to local communities. Among best practices they’ve learned: Do not displace local labor; embrace creativity; and remember that it’s ultimately about the people, not the project.
“What we think of as nourishment goes beyond food. It’s about nourishing the person,” Treske said. “You can design the best project, but if the people aren’t on the same page, it’s just a plan on a desk, and it’s not going to happen.”
Kelly Peuquet, a senior at UNC double-majoring in global studies and anthropology, is co-chairwoman of Nourish-UNC and volunteered at an orphanage for children with HIV in Ecuador in 2011.
The students used the money they raised to buy livestock for the orphanage, helping them build a sustainable business as well as helping out with housekeeping and caring for the children. One of the lessons Peuquet took away was the significance of personal relationships beyond the project.
“That goes a long way toward what you can teach them about your culture and where you’re coming from,” she said. “And maybe that’s one of the most beneficial things we can do – is that opportunity for cultural exchange.”
During the past decade, Nourish has operated mostly under the radar while gaining the support of social justice-minded entrepreneurs in the Triangle. Board members include Ryan Allis, former chairman of the board and former CEO of iContact, Lee Buck, founder of investment fund Blue Bright Ventures and current chairman, and Richard Harrill, director of UNC’s Campus Y. Separate ways
But while the national office is boosting its resources for further expansion, it is moving forward separately from Nourish-UNC, which remains the most active campus in the network.
UNC separated from the national organization in April, becoming a fiscally autonomous “affiliate” instead of a chapter, which means it would not have to pay 25 percent of its profits to the headquarters. The separation is for just one year, at least for now.
Nourish-UNC had 70 student staffers and volunteers in 2012 and three business ventures that had $17,101 in profits: Hunger Lunch; Sprout, a community supported agriculture program with Hillsborough-based Coon Rock Farm; and Global Music Jam.
This spring, the student group plans to launch a fourth venture, a multi-cultural dance competition held in conjunction with Nourish-Duke University.
The difference leading to the separation had to do with selection of the summer projects, according to Peuquet. In summer 2012, UNC had three projects abroad. The students taught computer literacy in Honduras, supported a youth radio station in Indonesia and supported educational initiatives for displaced children in Jordan.
“We found the national office to have a very strict definition of what it means to address poverty,” Peuquet said. “They tend to focus more on physical implementation or tangible projects that produce some physical output. ….Whereas one of our projects, like for an organization in Indonesia, was about building awareness for certain social-justice issues in Indonesia.”
Peuquet added that under the new affiliate status, Nourish-UNC still recognizes the commonalities with the headquarters and meets about once a month with the staff.
Phoenix said the two organizations’ visions are not so dissimilar and that she supports the new affiliate relationship. Phoenix also noted that under her leadership, at the same board meeting when Nourish-UNC became an affiliate, the board revised down the percentage of fees chapters would have to pay to the headquarters. New chapters now pay 12.5 percent, and mature chapters pay 5 to 25 percent.
“Nourish-UNC is a wonderful student organization that uses the Nourish International name, under our permission, to do work that is so important,” Phoenix said. “They have developed a very stable and sustainable model, and the national office wants to be as supportive of that as possible.”
Nourish headquarters and Nourish-UNC will review their new relationship in May.