Sherman Leung and Katie Hanss
Diversity Innovation Hub’s mission is to initiate, accelerate, and launch innovative solutions to address social determinants of health (SDoH) that perpetuate disparities in health and health care. We believe that minorities and women are central to creating and building the solutions we hope to see and we must work actively to increase their representation in healthcare innovation.
Our platform aims to highlight people and companies aligned with this mission — those harnessing the power of diverse teams to improve social and physical spaces for folks overlooked and underserved by traditional systems. We hope that these Spotlights will help readers learn about ongoing efforts to address SDoH and inspire them to think about innovative solutions themselves.
Today, we focus on food insecurity and the work that Propel is doing to address it.
Stacy Taylor, the Head of Partnerships & Policy at Propel shared her team’s work on Fresh EBT, a food balance application free to download for families on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Their founder, Jimmy Chen, who experienced food insecurity himself had the insight behind Fresh EBT after learning the workarounds that families would go through to check their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) balance when buying food (e.g., a mother buying a banana and checking the receipt printed before going back in line to plan the rest of the grocery run).
Especially in a crisis like COVID-19, Propel and FreshEBT has been working to address the needs of their community in amplifying resources, disseminating information about stimulus checks, and advocating for their users in their work with local and municipal governments.
Here are some of the insights Stacy shared with us.
How have you gone about making Fresh EBT a platform for more than food?
In our app, we have three pillars (Manage, Save, and Earn) and we partner with private companies and nonprofit organizations that want to share relevant information including coupons, discounted services, and employment opportunities. We vet all of our partners to ensure alignment with our community, and have seen an uptick in engagement and usage in these times where our users’ are actively searching for new resources and employment.
How did you get the word out about the app?
Most of our growth has been organic. Over 3 million households across all 50 states and US territories use Fresh EBT on a regular basis. Most of our growth comes from word of mouth — with current users telling friends and family about Fresh EBT.
Feedback from families?
Because SNAP is distributed on a set schedule throughout the month, many families had depleted benefits and were unable to stock up when warnings about the impact of coronavirus began to circulate. And by the time benefits were deposited, grocery store shelves were empty. Fresh EBT’s most popular resources right now is the Covid-19 help center with information about changes to government programs including but not limited to SNAP as well as linked to local resources and services.
How do you get feedback from users? How do you stay connected with users — especially as you grow to different populations in different states?
We’re very much focused on human-centered design and we have an in-house team focused on user interviews. We survey users bi-weekly to track changing needs and use that information to update the help center, the product, and user experience, and to share with advocates and policymakers discussing future COVID-19 response efforts. We share updates regularly on www.joinpropel.com/covid-19.
Before Propel, Stacy worked in strategy and policy roles for a variety of initiatives tackling food insecurity from LIFT, combating poverty and expanding opportunity for low-income individuals and families to the Food Trust, combining nutrition education and greater availability of affordable, healthy food. She was also the acting director for the Study of Poverty and Human Capability, and holds an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and MPA from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs.