More Intelligent Tomorrow: a DataRobot Podcast

Shifting the Landscape of Food Insecurity - Mick Ebeling, Sanjay Srivastava

July 14, 2022 DataRobot Season 2 Episode 23
More Intelligent Tomorrow: a DataRobot Podcast
Shifting the Landscape of Food Insecurity - Mick Ebeling, Sanjay Srivastava
Show Notes Transcript

What if the solution to food insecurity is technology? In today’s conversation, host Ari Kaplan sits down with Mick Ebeling, Founder /CEO of Not Impossible Labs and Bento and Sanjay Srivastava, Chief Digital Officer of Genpact, to discuss how technological innovation is helping solve food insecurity amongst at-risk populations.

Not Impossible Labs is a global innovation lab that has spent the last decade tackling issues they call “absurdities” and building solutions aptly named “technology for the sake of humanity.”  They have done this for a myriad of absurdities, from creating low cost ways for a parlayzed to draw again using only his eyes, to launching the world's first 3D printed prosthetic lab in a war torn refugee camp in Sudan.

For years Mick and the Not Impossible Labs team were obsessed with the absurdity around Food Insecurity in the United States.  So he and the Not Impossible team built Bento, software that is improving health one text message at a time. Bento’s unique approach is to connect historically marginalized and under-resourced people with nutritious, stigma-free meals from nearby restaurants and grocery stores. In the short time Bento has been deployed, it has already garnered such accolades as being named as a Fast Company World Changing Idea, and Fortune Impact 20 company, and being named as a TIME Best Invention of 2021. 

AI has the potential to supercharge Bento’s ability to create impact at scale. Generally, when people think of artificial intelligence they think of self-driving cars or large data processing algorithms however, it does not always have to operate on such a large scale. Bento is carefully architecting the foundation of its data to more efficiently identify and connect participants' needs to available resources that drive valuable health outcomes. The takeaway message from this invigorating conversation is the power of combining data, technology, and people to innovate and solve big problems in society. It is the belief of both guests that being able to orchestrate people, processes, data, and technology in a synchronized fashion is what drives real change in our societies. Tune in to learn more about the superpower of people and technology with true innovators that are making real change.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • The definition of food insecurity and how it manifests in society.
  • Reasons for our guests getting involved with solving food insecurity.
  • What the differences are between invention and innovation.
  • The impact that Bento has and the potential it has to grow in the future.
  • Technology and data challenges that they have or may need to overcome.
  • Outcomes that they have achieved and hope to achieve in the future.



“ME: The reason Bento exist is to create a healthier community, is to address the health concerns of this at-risk community, and to drive outcomes that are produced that actually let people live more healthy, vibrant, longer lives. And food is the means by which we're doing that, but it is not the end. The bullseye for us is how do you create healthier communities? How do you create health equity?”

[00:00:32] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to More Intelligent Tomorrow, a podcast about our emerging AI-driven world. Critical conversations about tomorrow's technology today.

On today's episode, host Ari Kaplan is joined by Mick Ebeling, Founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, and Sanjay Srivastava, Chief Digital Officer of Genpact.


[00:00:58] AK: Sanjay and Mick, welcome.

[00:01:01] ME: Thank you.

[00:01:02] SS: Thanks for having us.

[00:01:04] AK: Yeah, great to have you here. I'm looking forward to hearing more on this podcast on how you use state of the art technology to improve health outcomes for the food insecure.

So, Mick, and Sanjay, just wanted to give a little bit of background and then have you introduce yourself, but very, very impressed with all the things that you've been doing. Nick, just for the audience sake, you're the only person to receive the Time Magazine, Top Invention of the Year, two times. One is for Bento that we'll be talking about, the other, which is incredibly touching the EyeWriter, which is individuals with paralysis to communicate, creating art, using only the movement of the eye. That is super cool. Want to hear more about both of those. But also, Humanitarian of the Year, the World's 50 most creative people, Wired Magazine. I think I saw you do things with Alicia Keys, Grammy nominated, helping with movies like Kite Runner, one of my favorites. So, incredible background. And Sanjay, serial entrepreneur, Aceva, at one point you are the VP, BMC, and now Genpact, which is a huge company doing great things around the world about 100,000 people. So, with that, why don't I have you two give a quick introduction of anything in your career journey or where you are now.

[00:02:26] ME: Sure. Sanjay, you want to start?

[00:02:28] SS: Sure, Ari. Thanks for the introduction. My name is Sanjay, I'm based in Seattle, I work for Genpact, I'm a Chief Digital Officer. Genpact is a global professional services firm that drives digital transformation for large corporations across the world. My role obviously is working with CIO, CTO, CEOs and boards and helping them think through digital as a strategy and getting that implemented. And as you said, my backgrounds all tech. I've been a CEO or CTO. I build four startups. I've in been both sides of acquisitions, both selling my four companies, as well as acquiring a number of companies for the companies I work for. And then my background before that was as a hardware engineer. I started with Unix and RISC chips and sheet metal. So, goes back a long time, but super happy to be here. We're doing some amazing work and I'd love to talk a little bit about it in the context of Bento.

[00:03:15] ME: Well, thanks, Air. Thanks Sanjay. Mick Ebeling, Founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs. Not Impossible Labs exist to create what we call technology for the sake of humanity. It started about a decade ago. We stumbled upon this situation, where there was a paralyzed graffiti artist who was lying motionless in the bed for over seven years due to ALS, unable to talk and able to communicate. I was a producer at the time. We built a team, this ragtag team of misfits, scientists and geniuses and, just crazy, brilliant people. And we built a low-cost ocular recognition device that allowed him to draw again using only his eyes. 

That was this realization of like, “Wait a second, maybe we can keep doing this.” So, that was the birth of Not Impossible Labs. And since that time, we've gone on to create the world's first 3d printing prosthetic lab. We've explored ways to do low cost distribution of vaccines in the developing world. We've created ways to abate the symptoms of Parkinson's through wearable technology. Create ways for the deaf to experience music through their skin. We've created all these different crazy things that none of us at the onset ever thought that we would be doing. And for sure, none of us have the qualifications to do. But one of the things that we believe in is this thing called ‘beautiful, limitless naïveté.’ And when we see these things that we call absurdities, we just jump on them and tackle and then lo and behold, end up solving them a lot of times.

[00:04:44] AK: It's incredible that we're alive during this period where technology can help individuals and then also help hundreds of thousands or millions or tens of millions of people through food security. So, thank you for all of that. It's helping people so fundamentally. Yes, Sanjay, so in your career, you've moved through a lot of successful companies, and what have you learned from this that you want to bring to Bento?

[00:05:11] SS: That's a great question. By the way, as I reflect back, this will be a little bit surprising, partly because I'm a techie inside and outside. I really think that we've gotten to a point in time that tech is no longer the long pole in the tent. And being able to orchestrate people and processes and data and technology in a synchronized fashion is what drives true change. It gets to true outcomes, it delivers actual results.

Over the years, I've learned to sort of differentiate between a project well done, software application going live, and all of the highs that come with it. I didn't see that to be very different than results delivered, bottom lines achieved, impact recognized and achieved. I think the difference between those two is how you orchestrate technology in the context of people and operating models and chain management, and how you think about operating processes and reimagine that value chain and reengineer the components to be able to deliver a very different experience and a very different end result. And unless you do both of those things in concert without actually thinking about your data fabric and putting the data fabric in place that allows you to be able to make insightful decisions, and insert the right technology to be able to unravel and unlock the value that sits in there, you don't get to do results.

So, my biggest learning over the years, and look, I've been an entrepreneur, I've done a lot of – across my four startups, we've done edge networking, we've done data center automation, and cloud fabrics. We've done predictive algorithms, then most recently, software as a service and solutions based on cloud infrastructure. And across all of that, when I look at it, the technology is here, it's how you actually apply it. So, most of my time now, I focus, working with large corporations, helping them redesign their business value propositions in the back of emerging technology and new technologies that, frankly, weren't there 20 years ago, when IT systems were set in place for those corporations but are there now, and they're competing with people that are already using those. So, this becomes a big disrupter.

Lots of learnings, frankly. The good thing about entrepreneurs is that you learn from mistakes, right? You make lots of mistakes, and I have done my share. But through all of that, I think there's been some great learnings and we're bringing all that to play into the work we're doing with Mick and the Bento team and we'll talk through some of that shortly, I'm sure.

[00:07:19] AK: Great background. One thing I'm really curious about is there are so many huge problems in the world. And then also, you probably have tons of ideas every day, I can just hear your brain thinking as you walk down the street coming up with new ideas. And you also probably have a lot of people due to your positions coming you, propositioning different ideas or different activities to get involved in. How did food insecurity become at the forefront for both of your minds? And then how did you two meet and start collaborating on this?

[00:07:52] ME: Let's talk for a second about this concept of food insecurity because it's a term that a lot of people don't understand and they default instantly to, “Oh, must be homelessness.” Right now, there's approximately 50 million people in the country who are food insecure. They're about more or less 650,000 people who are homeless. So, you can see the dramatic difference in terms of those numbers and food insecurity represents people who are what I would classify as hard-working people, people who are typically working multiple jobs, they've got drive, they've got determination, but they just can't get the cards to line up the right way for them, right?

So typically, and there's lots of statistics, talking about a population of people who are $700 away from homelessness. It was just kind of a number that's pretty dramatic, if you think about that. So, food insecure means of the 21 meals per week, seven days a week, three meals a day, maybe they've got 14, 15 of them. You've got enough to stay alive, but not enough to thrive. You have all of these residual outcomes and things that happened because of that, from health issues to just constant stress. If you're always worried about your next meal, or where that meal is going to come from, then you can't really think beyond the next four or five hours. 

Upon learning that we said, “That's absurd. That's just not right. The world shouldn't work that way.” And that's something that is part of our design thinking at Not Impossible. We call it the revolution against the absurd. You see something and you say, “God, it's not right, we got to do something about it.”

So, we started to tinker in our workshop. We have a workshop that is both an actual workshop and a virtual workshop. We started to contemplate how we might be able to solve this, and one of the conclusion points that we came to is that when we started to interview people who are food insecure, including a homeless population, which is kind of represents the far end of the spectrum, the thing that came back that they wanted the most, the thing that they would yearn for the most when we asked them, “If you can have anything, what would you want right now?” It was a cell phone. That was this aha moment of, “Oh, wait a second. You can't eat a cell phone, why would you want a cell phone?” The reason is, is that it was this device that represented a connection back into the world, the community of the world as a whole. And it represented this device of equality, and dignity.

Because when I'm texting or communicating, or watching something, or commenting on something, I'm just like everybody else. It doesn't know where I slept last night, what clothes I'm wearing, what color my skin is, who I sleep with, who I pray to, none of that. It's just this equalizer where everybody has access to the same information and can contribute their voice. We said, “All right, that's a really interesting point.” So, we took that away and said, “What if we use the cell phone as a way to disrupt the current methodology, and the solution that is used in food insecurity, which is, Ari, Sanjay, and Mick are food insecure. So, you have to make a pilgrimage to a soup kitchen, to a food pantry, it has to be during the hours that they're open. And then when you get there, you will be served, whatever they have there.” You will be given a mystery box of food, or be served something that you have no control over what that is.

Now, the people that are working there, these organizations are fantastic, incredible people who have dedicated their lives to doing this. But if you look, if you take a step back and look at this from a business model, you're asking your customer, your person you're trying to serve to make all the concessions. So, we said, what if we were to take that continuum, and disrupt it and make it so that rather than people having to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, we brought Mecca to the people. So, we looked at how food exists within our society, and it exists where you have thousands of points on the heat map, called restaurants and grocery stores, that now if you take it from this centralized distribution model, where you have to make a pilgrimage to a food bank, or a soup kitchen, and now distribute that to any point of distribution of food, now all of a sudden you create greater access, greater choice. And for us, what we learned from initial interviews is greater dignity.

We created a very simple text-based solution that has poll, meaning that the person starts the engagement by typing the word order, once they're enrolled into Bento, that then gives them in with four alphanumeric responses. They type the word order, then they're given a list of restaurants that are grocery stores that are geo proximate to them, that are based on convenience, and also based on the health quality and the nutritional quality of the food. Then they choose the restaurant, they choose the menu option from that the same. We curate a menu option from those restaurants. You could probably order the heart attack cheeseburger at those restaurants. But we don't give that option. We give them more healthier options by scraping that data. Then they choose that and then they get a confirmation that says, “Great, you can go into the Main Street Diner, you could go into Chipotle to prep wherever and pick up your meal.” And when that person walks in to pick up the meal, they pick that meal up and they walk right in and they say, “Hi, my name is Ari. Hi, my name is Sanjay. Hi, my name is Mick.” Not, “Hi, can I get some food please for free? And I don't have to wait in line with other people who are” – I'm working three jobs. Why do I have to stand in line with someone who might be suffering from some mental illness and who hasn't showered for two weeks? And my kids and family are around me, so now I just get to walk in and walk out in the anonymous nature of someone being able to walk in and grab a meal just as Mick or Ari or Sanjay, has been by far the greatest reason of our success so far is because they get to walk in with their dignity and they walk out with their dignity and a nutritious meal in their hand. That's kind of the landscape of food insecurity and what Bento is doing.

[00:13:48] AK: I love that story. And by the way, the website is and that's exactly right. There's like dignity, especially people where this is new to them. They may have had a job their whole lives and been fine. And then the economy or something happens and you say $700, or a lot of people are living month to month, they're not used to being able to ask for something. Even if you’re a few steps beyond that. So, I love that uplift of people adding to their dignity and helping everyone out. And then Sanjay, how did you get involved in this? Did you know Mick beforehand? Or did he approach you or you approach him?

[00:14:31] SS: So, I think before we get to how we engaged with Mick, I think the context and background to this is we're of the firm belief that many of these large complex problems that we face as a community as a civilization from climate change to food insecurity and others. At the root of it, it really just comes down to two things. It's a data problem, and it's a change management problem. Just in the way Mick described his business model, you can quickly correlate that to the fact that the data actually exists in these restaurants with grocery choices, the menus and options that are available, all of that actually exists, except it's dark. In other words, it's dark data that's sitting in PDFs and other unstructured documents. It's distributed. In other words, it's not aggregated in a way that you can actually use it. And it's difficult to get in and out of because they're sitting on different places and different portals and different clients and different customers and different company’s websites.

As a company, we're fascinated by data and big data problems. As a side note, for the rest of our business, we're seeing data to end up being the number one driver of transformative value at this stage of where the industry growth is and where our customers are. So, we see this as a data problem, and then we see it as a change management problem. The key about change management is to rethink the experience and make that an amazing job to put you in the shoes, and walk in into that restaurant or grocery store and pick that up. But that's all of our experience, and how do you rethink that experience in the back of technology and data?

So, that's what we do in normal life, if you will. That's what we're very passionate about. And then, with that backdrop and context, we met Mick, actually, we had him come in and speak at one of our company events. The original discussion was a little bit about let's think outside the box and let's bring thought leaders in the industry that are doing amazing things out there as we get our head around these topics. What became very obvious as he came in to do a very specific topic, and was our agenda would become very obvious as an individual, and then thinking about all of the work he's doing that he just walked out of a meeting like that and he said, “That's the person I want to work with. I don't know when, I don't know where, but we want to work with him.” That's it. That was the end of that discussion. We kind of let it sit for a year or so. And then we kind of came back again. And we said, “This is it. This is the right time. This is the right opportunity.” We were fascinated by the approach at Bento.

I'll go back and talk about one thing that I've learned in my entrepreneurial years that I think was nested in the story that Mick took out, but it's a really hard learning, certainly for me. And that's the difference between invention and innovation. I work with Fortune 500 companies every single day and I'll tell you 90 out of 100 of those companies get it wrong. Invention, does not equal innovation. Invention is I'm going to design something new. I'm going to invent it from scratch. I'm going to build the next mousetrap and I'm going to disrupt the world. Great idea. Lots of kudos, fantastic. Bad capital returns, lots of risks, big waterfall experiments that likely don't end up where they need to, and it's just not an efficient economic model.

Fast forward to the word innovation, very different word. Innovation is what actually exists. What can I take advantage on? Which shoulders can I build the next layer on? And how do I – I want to be thoughtful about this. How do I minimize the layer of value that I need to add over an existing set of technologies, because they're capital efficient, time to market fashion, I get the best return on the buck. And what we found with Mick and really more broadly with the Bento project is this mindset that look, there are no kudos for inventing something. The only thing we're focused on is delivering returns. The best way to get there is to use what's available and then add that thin layer of technology, the data, the change management, the experience thinking, the design approach to be able to get there.

So, in many ways, big idea, we were obviously attracted to our background, data change management, lots of synergy. And then this fundamental design approach that I think a philosophy that we could both relate to, and we were both on the same page on which is we're not going to go invent something, that's not a productive use of time, effort, mindshare, mental bandwidth and economics. We're going to innovate, and we'll use what exists, but we will add layers. So, every time we sit down with Mick, and then his design team and us, when we do a lot of work together, shoulder to shoulder, we're like, “Wait a minute, how do we best do that? What do we use existing in the industry? And then where do we drive value?” So, that's allowed us to be super specific, and frankly, as a result, have gotten great results, because we made more progress with the resources we put in it.

[00:19:09] AK: I love that philosophy. I hadn't really thought about it that way of raw invention and innovation. So, I've been more on the failure end of trying to invent something from scratch. I’m personally, inspired by that, and you put it so simply and well. You talked about the impact that you hope to have. Can you talk more like what do you envision Bento, the impact what can it have for America and possibly even beyond?

[00:19:36] ME: There's a great saying that we live by which is, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” There are many other iterations of that throughout literary community, best laid plans of mice and magnets. We started on this journey, Bento came to be because of, first this revulsion to this concept of food insecurity. Then in March of 2020 when we started to read about schools closing and kids losing their free and reduced meals, we said, “We got to do something.” So, we had been tinkering with the solution. But we like to joke that we rolled the car out of the garage, without the lug nuts completely bolted down, but we started driving it. We started to kind of get it out there and testing it.

Over the course of what's now coming out about over two years, what we learned is that when you look at the continuum of food insecurity, and Sanjay touched upon this, there are stakeholders that have long term vested interest in terms of the infrastructure that they've created. So, when you talk about disrupting anything, you're going to be met with friction, right? And that exists, whether it's a nonprofit or for profit. Anyone that tells you that the nonprofit world is not competitive, has not been in that world. It is an incredibly competitive world. All competing for a finite amount of dollars.

We're a for profit, we're not a nonprofit. And we said, when we started to look at the results that we were producing, not only were people being fed in a dignified nutritionally accountable way, but they were engaging with us at a degree that was absolutely, truly unbelievable. People couldn't believe we had a 95% enrollment rate. And then we had a low 90% engagement rate, which is daily usage. That is unheard of. We were on a call yesterday and we said that to the CFO of a massive healthcare company, and he literally said, he's like, “There's no way. I don't believe you. There’s no way.” I said, “All right, we’ll show you the data.” There's a disbelief that you can actually do that.

Typically, when you're engaging this population, they're working multiple jobs, we just talked about it. They don't have time to respond to emails, or direct mailers, or massive text prompts or things like that. They're on the hustle. So, what we learned is that we were engaging with this population, because we were providing the most fundamental human need that a human being has. We can live naked out in the world for years at a time, if we're fed every single day. We will die within seven days, if we're wearing the fanciest clothes and the nicest house in Beverly Hills, but we don't have food. We're dead in seven days. So, we're providing the most fundamental thing that a human being needs.

And in doing so, that's why our engagement rates were so high. We said, “All right, rather than going to”, and Sanjay talked about this with his entrepreneurial perspective and experience. We said, “What if we shifted our focus”, and I attribute a lot of this to my CEO and Managing director Adam Dole, who was a White House Innovation Fellow in healthcare. He was at the Mayo Clinic, he did some time at NASA. He's really, really smart guy, but really understands the healthcare industry. And after looking at this data, he said, “Hang on, guys, these numbers, we're talking about a population that is typically unhealthy, and typically cost the most amount of money to the healthcare industry. What if we provided this as a way, as an engagement tool for the healthcare industry?”

So, that led to our pivot and we now focused and serve our client. Bento is a B to B to C, enterprise software that deploys on the side of the healthcare organizations, to providers to plans. Typically, our focus is looking at an at-risk population, typically a Medicaid or Medicare population. But they're just thrilled to actually be in a dialogue with those people. And what we did and what we now use is in that Trojan horse strategy of using food as a way to get across the moat of trust, and now have a trusting relationship with that end user, we're now able to leverage that trust that we built to say, “Hey, we're going to unlock some more meals for you, or whatever that incentive is, if you go to get a primary care visit. Go in and see your doctor and get a checkup.” If you go fulfill your prescription that was written for you. If you abide by your chronic condition program, like you have diabetes, you got to stay in. Those three things going to a doctor's office as opposed to go into the emergency room, taking your prescription medication, sticking with your chronic condition program, that saves hundreds of millions of dollars to the healthcare industry, on a statewide level. On a statewide level. We're not talking about a country level, a statewide level.

So, the value proposition now is, what if we use the single thing that all humans need the most as a way to build trust? Oh, by the way, if you look at any organization across history, churches, organizations, cults, whatever you want to call it, everyone uses food as a way to endear a population to them. That’s a classic page in the playbook. Let's use that to actually build that trust. Let's use it as a way to now get them to start to engage in behaviors that are going to make them healthier that is now as the offshoot of this. The residual effect that we always joke that our sinister ulterior motive is that as a business, we're going to be saving healthcare companies hundreds of millions of dollars every year, but our sinister ulterior motive is we're actually going to create true health equity in communities where they have a trusting relationship with the health care industry or with their health care provider, and we're going to be pumping good food into them, which is going to have a long term effect on their overall community's health and wellbeing.

By the way, guess where they're going to get that food? They're going to get that food in the community, in the private sector, that employs those people. So now you've got this wonderful flywheel where you've provided trust, health equity, and you're actually providing food for people in a way that's going to transform their communities.

[00:26:00] AK: That's great. Yeah, health equity, speaking about revolution against the absurd, that's food insecurity and health inequality. It's absurd the state that it's been in.

[00:26:11] ME: Yeah, it really is.

[00:26:17] AK: I love all of these insights. So, the problem is there, the solution sounds very elegant. And Sanjay, you were talking about, we know the opportunity, but some of the challenges of data problem, change management problem, dark and distributed. A lot of those challenges you have to overcome, how to put it all together, how to work with healthcare, how to work with these restaurants, who may not even know you exist. What are some of the challenges that you have overcome or need to overcome technology or data wise?

[00:26:52] SS: That's a great question, Ari. Let me kind of walk you through two or three of the top challenges we're working through. The first one is scale. At the end of the day, we're really just building a platform. It's a platform that is local today in a few regions, but there's no reason why they shouldn't be built. Actually, it is being built to scale and it's going to scale beyond where we start to many other areas of the world. So, when you design this, you have to think about the architecture, we have to think about longevity and sustainability in a world that's always changing.

So, we spend a lot of time thinking through what our menu is going to look like in the future? What our distribution point is going to look like in the future? What are the communities we're going to be in? And then how do we build something that is going to sustain the changes over time. Super critical to get this right, because we're only going to build it once and we're not going to come back and redo it three years from now. That just doesn't make sense. So scale, and architecture correlate to scale is a big piece of I think this Lego block.

The second thing we're thinking a lot about is how do you build the right data fabric? Because today, it's information on our “customers” or consumers of this information. It's actually all of the ecosystem partners that are contributing in different ways. But actually, where we're headed with this, and Mick talked about this is the underlying idea here isn't just to feed people, but to drive better health outcomes in the communities that were present. And to be able to do that, you need to mine the data. You need to get access to the data that's often sitting in different places in different formats across different corporations, whether it's robotic process engineering, whether it's data mining, whether it's different techniques, just simply the extraction if it's allowed to be able to pull everything out, and then put it into one data fabric, so you can actually do something with it over time.

In many cases, we don't know what we're going to do with it today. But we know that we're going to need for the future. And so how do you build the right data fabric and a lake that allows you to be able to do that. That's a big part of I think, how we're thinking about it, because basically, in the end, what we need to do is we're going to get a dynamic prompt from one of our consumers saying, “I'm ready for a meal and here's my choice of restaurant.” I can't serve up every single thing that's available. I have to dynamically look up the disease trend, the medical information about that one consumer, and then be able to extract enough features from the menu options from the restaurants that we pulled in to be able to correlate and say, “Okay, for Sanjay, here are the three choices I'm going to provide. For Mick, here are the three other choices I'm going to provide.” It's not the same, right? That's all dynamic. That's all real time. That all has to be done.

So, you essentially use extraction capabilities of AI, you use modeling techniques to be able to do feature extraction, and be able to understand how to correlate an individual with a meal set of options, and then you use a lot of technology to be able to push it seamlessly up so that you've kind of provided those choices in a meaningful fashion. But the job doesn't stop there. Because when you think about the technology, underpinnings the foundation for this, it isn't then just to say, “Okay, we’ll serve this, we got to get a great job done. Let's move on.” It's actually about then being able to measure over a period of time and then to establish that it correlates to results. And now, we need to track, we need to be able to visualize, we need to be able to analyze, we need to be able to report that here are the meals that Sanjay was served and then correlate that with the outcomes that Sanjay generated.

So, in many ways, look, I mean, from a technology perspective, it's no different than what we will do in any of our client engagements. You got to think about architecture and design it for scale, number one. You have to think about the data, most of it is dark. And so, you have to light up the data, and be able to extract it, engineer it, and get it right for the purpose you want to get through. You want to be able to design it for real time dynamic recommendation engine on the back of those choices we need to make from medically nutritional meal, right? And then you have to be able to track and manage that and report to it so that you can actually come back and say, “Yup, we made a change. We made this happen.”

That's the technology infrastructure. So, every single day, when we come at it, we're thinking about these large, long-term drivers of success. And then of course, day by day, we're dealing with data. How do we wrangle this data? And how do we correlate this to what needs to be? How do we design the best experience in the choices we provide? How do we track what people are picking, et cetera? It's not to say that the day to day doesn't deviate. There are a lot of different things that come in every single day. But I think the long-term trajectory is really focused on those three or four things.

[00:31:17] AK: Where do you see artificial intelligence fitting in with this?

[00:31:22] SS: Yeah, we do a lot of work in artificial intelligence. The challenge with AI is when you hear the word AI, all of us automatically think about these big AI things, autonomous driving, I mean, it's just like this massive project, and we're going to get it right one day, and then we're going to have driverless cars all over the earth and that's goodness in life. But the reality is, yes, all of that will eventually happen. What's happening today, in the mainstream, in corporations I serve, in clients I engage with, and the work we do across our own operations, is what I would call small AI.

Small AI is things like natural language processing. How do you extract data from a PDF document and put it into a structured format? It's voice engagement. How do I actually get human like engagement in voice, so you can actually deliver an experience that makes sense? It's computer vision, which is when you see something, how do you extract the features on it, so you can correlate it and you can make decisions the back of that. These are I would call small AI, and not to minimize what they are. They’re routines. They are capabilities that exist today that are used in the mainstream. This is not experimental inventions. This is innovation on the back of progress that has already been made.

We're using AI every single day. We think about taking those menus and converting it into structured data formats. Think about the nutritional value of each of those and the medical information, at the back of that, and extracting features from there and actually putting into a structure so you can actually do dynamic modeling. Think about your consumer base, and think about their medical structures and being able to put that in a format so you can on the fly do dynamic recommendations engine, using all that capability. All of those require small AI. These routines that are mainstream, that are available, that are here now, that we can quickly deploy and take use of.

So, at the end of the day, Mick and I have a very similar objective, but perhaps a very different lens. My lens on this is data, is technology, and it's AI, and that's what's really making it happen. What Mick is doing is it's taking those components and driving a much larger outcome, and that's why I think the partnership is such a great one.

[00:33:27] AK: Speaking of outcomes, Mick, why don't you elaborate, what are some of the outcomes that you've already seen, or that you hope to see sure in the coming years?

[00:33:36] ME: Sure. Let me come in for a second on some of that. I think one of the things that we are at an unprecedented time, and that always sounds grandiose and dramatic. But if you think about what Bento is, and you think about what we have been able to do, by having the ability from our team to create a way to scrape data, to have things like these incredible interfaces that connect every single restaurant. Being able to scrape the data from those restaurants and have it be mandated by the government that you have the nutritional values of menu options be provided, that you have just some of the basic things that you take for granted right now in terms of map data that you can utilize in terms of creating geofences around people so that you can offer them geo proximate solutions. All of these things that are kind of inherent to the core architecture of Bento. There are so many things that 10 years ago, five years ago, even, probably wouldn't have been able to do and have access to and then you match that with the demand that has been created from the pandemic, that really brought to ahead, it brought to kind of the very top of how important this of an issue that is.

So, I think that one of the things, having been a serial entrepreneur my whole life and started multiple companies, some companies have failed some companies that succeeded. I started a company that focused and travel right before 9/11. How do you think that went? Talking about great idea at the wrong time, not really appropriate and not really timed very well. But now you have this continuum, and this combination of all of this, things that are just very accessible, and you put that together, and now being able to curate that and focus it, so the individual experience because everything is related back to, and sometimes when we're talking to health care plans and providers, and Medicaid organizations, they will say, “Well, what about abuse? What if someone could use this, you know, who's not registered for it?”

The beautiful thing is, and you can't see this in podcast land, but I'm holding my phone up. This is our digital signature. Mick Ebeling, Ari Kaplan, Sanjay, we all have a signature connected to a phone number that we have. The way that Bento works is that is registered to that number. So, if that number is texting, then it's an appropriate registered number that's registered to that end user. That ability to create access that's individualized, and that's specific to one particular person. Again, we live in incredible times and I don't think that Bento – I know for a fact, Bento wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago and now we're able to do that and that correlation and the aggregation of all of that data and being able to synthesize it, and then process it in a way, now that we can get them a solution that's curated around them. If you are kosher vegan, we don't think twice about that. We're like, “Great, no problem.” We put that as a criteria, and guess what gets pushed to you? Kosher vegan opportunities or options. 

So, I just wanted to talk about that for a second, because I think that when you take all of that opportunity, and you start to mine it appropriately through the engine that we've created, that's, I think, what makes it really special.

At first, when we launched Bento, we would have told you that our goal was to feed millions and millions of people every single day. And through this frictionless, dignified, healthy transactional platform called your cell phone and called text messaging. We would say now that the meal count is the residual effect. The goal of the company, the reason Bento exists, is to create a healthier community, is to address the health concerns of this at rest community, and to drive outcomes that are produced that actually let people live more healthy, vibrant, longer lives. And food is the means by which we're doing that, but it is not the end. That's not the tip of the arrow. The tip of the arrow or the opportunity or the bullseye for us, is how do you create healthier communities? How do you create health equity? How do you lead populations who are notoriously unhealthy? If you look at the populations we serve, they represent two thirds of the hypertensive community. It comes from black males over I think, 45. Guess how we're able to address that? By just making sure that they take their prescription medication. And along the way, making sure that they're starting to – that addresses the – that stops the bleeding, so to speak. That's the triage solution.

But then still need to teach and to provide healthier meal options, where you create longer term effects, that for us, I think it's such a wonderful way for us to have changed and pivoted our view, rather than let's just feed people. It's no, let's actually create the residual effects. Let's create the outcomes that happens when you feed people and when you create trust, and you create a more equitable community for those people to live in.

[00:38:59] AK: Very well said. This podcast is called More Intelligent Tomorrow. So, I wanted to get your thoughts on where do you see whether it's food insecurity or the world in general, in two years, five years, 10 years?

[00:39:14] ME: We envision a world where people are able to live in communities, have access to health care, in a trusting way, in a way that feels fluid within how they live, and that the way that we are going to go about doing that is to be providing the most fundamental human need that they have, which is food. But do that in a way that is socially and culturally appropriate to those communities, and doing it in a way that is both convenient and dignified. So, that is what how we envision this world looking years from now, and we will measure our success when we see not the fact that we've reduced food insecurity, although that absolutely, as I said before, is going to be a byproduct of what we're doing. But then when we see these communities, their overall health and wellbeing has improved dramatically. That's how we will measure success.

[00:40:19] AK: Wonderful. And many years from now, what do you think the future of Bento looks like? And how will AI and machine learning help get you there?

[00:40:27] ME: I think Bento looks like the fundamental tool. It is the entry point for any healthcare organization that services an at-risk population to use, to engage this population, to drive them towards their ability to choose better choices that leads to their health. And AI is baked in natively in terms of how we think. One thing that distinguishes Bento from everything else, is that if you drive a population to have to go pick something up and leave, and there's no measurement in terms of what they're doing, your key strategy is hope. You hope that they get the message, you hope that they're going to pick it up, and you hope that they consume it and you hope that it drives better outcomes. And years from now, you can study and see if your hope works.

Hope is not a strategy. Hope is not a strategy. I can tell you right now, every single person who's on the Bento platform, what they ate, when they ate, this particular person tends to have chicken sandwiches on the odd Wednesdays of every month. That's the level of data and scrutiny that we're able to drive into. Once you have that data set, that data set is so incredibly valuable for city planning, for other solutions. The data that we will have around this population will be able to drive the civic leaders to be able to say, “Wow, we should build a hospital here. We should build a rec center there. We should build a skills center here.” Because of the fact this is where we know that this population is moving and living and breathing, as opposed to grabbing some publicly available census data that you hope is accurate. I can tell you on a minute by minute basis where my population is living and moving and breathing and eating. So, that data set is what provides us probably the biggest point of differentiation. When you look to the future is that we'll be able to be incredibly predictive in terms of the types of solutions that will create a more equitable community is in the areas that we serve.

[00:42:23] SS: I would just add to that from a Genpact perspective, and we're a public corporation. We actually went through a fairly in-depth soul-searching exercise for a good part of a year, before we came to settle as a group, and what about 110,000 employees across many different countries across the globe. We came to settle on a purpose that we basically said, the relentless pursuit of a world that works better for people. Have you been through any of these exercises, you know that the use of every single word becomes super important in that phrase? So, relentless was a very important word for us. Because we think that change management, that iteration, that evolution, that innovation, a lot of these things just require relentless pursuit that you can't just get them done at day one. We're very passionate about that.

We chose the word world very purposefully. Obviously, we're in many different countries and therefore communities across the globe. But the idea is that there's no problem that is too large for data technology AI that we now actually have our hands on. So, we should be thinking about a world as opposed to an area, a region, a community, a country, a state. And I think the third thing that we focused on is what are we really trying to do? I think it is to make the world that works better for people.

Now, part of that is the toolkits and the skill sets we bring in, and how do we make a difference. And for us, it's our ability to orchestrate change. It's our ability to drive synchronization across people and process and data and technology. It's our ability to infuse AI into the mainstream of what we do. So, it was a very thoughtful mechanism through about a years’ worth of soul searching and effort to come to that purpose. That's who we are. That's what we're all about. And we see the world truly being one in five years and years to come. The world truly being one that works better for people.

[00:44:19] AK: Wonderful. Sanjay, Mick, thank you so much. This has been a fascinating talk.

[00:44:24] ME: Thanks, Ari. Really appreciate it.

[00:44:26] SS: We’ve enjoyed it, Ari. Thanks for having us.


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