Although the U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, one in six of its citizens go hungry every day. Much of the population is eager to help but doesn’t know how.
Enter FarePath, a Web and mobile platform co-founded by brothers Jason Heo ’15 and Yongjun Heo ’09 that brings the savvy of a tech startup to the fight against hunger.
“The technology and social sectors generally operate in distinct and disconnected silos,” says Jason, who graduated with a degree in economics and political science in May. “But there’s an opportunity for social organizations to make data-driven decisions and for groups such as FarePath to engage young people with the mobile technologies they already use."
Having tested the Farepath model for more than a year in Swarthmore and Chester, the Heos will release the program publicly in the fall through iOS and Android apps. In the meantime, they are collaborating with schools and afterschool programs to test the technology and promote their mission.
What sets Farepath apart is its live tracking of donations which “gamifies” giving, says Jason. That is, the app will show which neighborhoods or families are most consistently generous, sparking civic engagement through friendly competition.
“We’re providing a system that brings accountability to service,” he says, “and engaging youth in a language they already understand.”
So far, so good. The simplicity of Farepath’s system has yielded more than 2,500 pounds of donations from 50 households in its test runs. The program encourages young people to spend as little as an hour a week collecting food items left on the doorsteps of neighborhood donors, appealing to busy students who want to get involved.
Farepath uses GIS-mapping to show where each can of food goes, disrupting the standard model of people giving time or money to large organizations with a vague sense of its direct impact.
That impact is not lost on Jason, who in the process of building Farepath has volunteered at food banks and spoken to mothers who got turned away because there wasn’t enough food.
“That’s incredibly disheartening,” he says.
Born to South Korean immigrants who came to America and benefited from helping hands, Jason has long felt an obligation to serve others. Famine in the Horn of Africa engrossed him during his senior year of high school and he started working on what would become Farepath in his freshman year at Swarthmore.
Jason developed the program as his Lang Scholar project, receiving funding to work at food banks in San Francisco and Swarthmore. He formed a partnership with the Chester Eastside Ministries pantry, storing canned goods in his dorm room in between trips. He credits Amir Parikh ’15 and Daniel Eisler ’15 for their help from the beginning, the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility for its guidance and support, and “like-minded” classmates for the inspiration to keep pushing.
Jason handles the on-the-ground elements of Farepath, while Yongjun, a serial entrepreneur who majored in biology and public policy at Swarthmore and earned a Mitchell Scholarship, oversees the design and development of mobile technology. The project remains strongly Swarthmorean, with Julia Carleton ’15 designing and Jimmy Shah ’18 managing operations on campus.
The team is working to elevate Farepath’s social media presence in the lead up to taking the program national. It got a big boost in May when Jason was named the recipient of an Ozy Genius Award, which spotlights young people implementing big ideas.
Although the ideal answer to the fight against hunger would be a wide-scale policy solution, Jason is optimistic that Farepath can play a significant role in reducing the problem.
“We’re excited to use our skills for change,” he says.