Social entrepreneur Rachel Sumekh is the founder and CEO of Swipe Out HungerThis nonprofit organization works to end hunger by activating college students to donate their unused meal points. Since Swipe Out Hunger began in 2009 as a college pet project, the NGO has served 1.3 million meals. Rachel Sumekh was recently awarded Champion of Change by The White House and named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Social Entrepreneurship.

In this episode, Rachel Sumekh talks openly about her inner doubts, challenges as a Persian-American social entrepreneur, how she responded to opposition from campus administrators, and what she did when she was told “you’re just too nice to be a leader.”

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This episode is sponsored by the Tikker, the death watch that counts down your life (and tells the time). Use the promo code SHIN at the checkout to get a 10% discount on your purchase.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “When you have opposition, you grow stronger.”
  • “Every college student is insecure. We believe that food shouldn’t be one of the things they are insecure about.”
  • “I didn’t go on a single date in a year. In L.A..”
  • “How do I progress this conversation or better understand the other person?”
  • “Have people who will keep you accountable for a BIG vision.”

Rachel Sumekh Reading List

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality by Scott Belsky

Rachel Sumekh Show Notes

  • Students were accumulating hundreds of dollars of meal credits by the end of each semester and they were expiring
  • Instead of letting the meal dollars expire, Rachel convinced her classmates to buy food to-go at the end of the semester using the leftover meal credits and gave them out to the hungry in the city
  • Before Swipeout Hunger, students were using the extra dollars to buy a bunch of water bottles they didn’t need
  • “When you have opposition, you grow stronger.”
  • The administration didn’t like the initiative at first, due to liability issues and losing control
  • Instead of giving up, Swipe Out Hunger got the SGA and key faculty members involved
  • Swipe Out Hunger provides food closets for students who are hungry and are at risk of dropping out
  • Many students that Swipe Out Hunger serves are homeless
  • Swipe Out Hunger gives out dining vouchers to students and also supplies food pantries on 400 campuses
  • Swipe Out Hunger is operating chapters in 26 universities
  • Sometimes they work with the universities to get them to buy and donate food to a local homeless shelter or food bank. Universities get bulk prices
  • Swipe Out Hunger relies on the honor code, given the fact that students can abuse the system and take more food than they need
  • “Every college student is insecure. We believe that food shouldn’t be one of the things they are insecure about.”
  • 14% of students in community colleges are homeless. In California, 1 in 10 students are homeless in the state school system.
  • 33% of college students skip meals because of finances
  • These students were likely getting free or subsidized breakfasts/lunches during grade school
  • Many of the beneficiaries are former foster youth, undocumented students, immigrants, students who don’t have access to financial aid
  • When Rachel Sumekh graduated in 2012, she felt like she wanted to change the world
  • She spent a year working in the trenches with the homeless through AmeriCorps
  • At nighttime, she worked on Swipe Out Hunger
  • “What gets you excited? What gives you energy in life?”
  • Because Rachel is Persian-American, everyone in her ethnic community asked her what the heck she was doing as they expected her to become a doctor, lawyer, or get married
  • Minority or immigrant communities usually don’t see social entrepreneurship as a career option
  • “It takes a lot of explaining to do. Especially to grandma.”
  • The opposition gives Rachel Sumekh more motivation
  • The chapters maintain relationships with the dining company, administration, and beneficiaries. Students donate their swipes to the chapter at the Swipe Out Hunger tables
  • A freshman, Shannon, started a chapter at UC-Santa Barbara and became an outstanding leader for the organization, getting 3,000 meals donated per year
  • It’s challenging to work with college students that are so busy. Building personal relationships is key
  • Addressing turnover is key when seniors graduate
  • 4-5 universities reach out to Swipe Out Hunger each month organically
  • Rachel Sumekh is always speaking at conferences to get the word out
  • The effort to start a chapter at a particular campus doesn’t always work out
  • The university bureaucracy is a big challenge
  • At age 21, Rachel Sumekh was told by her colleagues, “You are too nice to be a leader” because she was very appeasing, submissive, passive, and a crowd pleaser
  • She changed her leadership style
  • “I don’t care what title you give me. I’m going to focus on this full time.”
  • Rachel Sumekh moved back in with her parents in California and started her first day as Executive Director at a Starbucks
  • She worked 60-80 hours per week, networking with as many people as possible and even learning to code websites
  • She had believed in the myth that entrepreneurs have to slave away their lives to succeed
  • “You don’t need to work ALL the time.”
  • Rachel Sumekh participated in every pitch contest there was
  • “I didn’t go on a single date in a year. In L.A..”
  • Rachel Sumekh listens to The Tim Ferriss Show 🙂
  • Tim Ferriss sayid that we often mas fear as stress. Being stressed out usually means we’re fearful of something. That resonated with Rachel
  • She works on accomplishing just 2-3 important tasks each day that she writes down
  • Rachel’s biggest fear is disappointing her supporters and Board members
  • Rachel read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People back in high school and listens to the audiobook in the car even today
  • She uses the techniques in the book to prioritize her tasks
  • Reacting vs. Responding. Reacting usually comes from ego or wanting to be defensive
  • “How do I progress this conversation or better understand the other person?”
  • Rachel Sumekh has to juggle herself between her startup community and nonprofit community
  • Rachel met with a friend’s uncle and met up at the local Cheesecake Factory. At the end, he wrote a check out for $10,000 because he believed in Rachel’s vision.
  • “Have people who will keep you accountable for a BIG vision.”
  • Swipe Out Hunger won several online voting competitions early on for funding
  • Grant writing became a big part of the fundraising strategy
  • “Call the foundation and introduce yourself.” The person on the other end will remember you and you will gain insight as to what they are looking for?
  • The state of California will have a bill presented on the floor soon that will allow Swipe Out Hunger to scale their program
  • Rachel Sumekh learned to say no thanks to the book, Essentialism
  • Look for people who will give you critical questions to your ideas instead of empty praise
  • Listening to critical feedback and being coachable are difficult
  • Rachel reminds herself that she is valuable and that her work matters during her moments of doubt.