May 11, 2010


"TABLE FOR TWO" Promoting Healthier Meals Locally and School Lunch Donations Internationally

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.92 (April 2010)
"Unique NGOs in Japan" (No. 12)

Have you heard of "TABLE FOR TWO"? It's a unique social contribution program that originated in Japan. In this issue of the JFS Newsletter, we introduce the non-profit organization TABLE FOR TWO International (TFT) and its unique charitable program.

According to TFT, a billion people in developing countries face hunger and malnutrition; another billion in developed countries suffer from lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity caused by unhealthy eating habits. TFT was established in the fall of 2007 with the aim of addressing these imbalances.

TABLE FOR TWO Aims to Simultaneously Address Hunger and Obesity

Under the TFT program, participating companies and organizations offer meals in their cafeterias that have lower calories and more balanced nutritional value than the usual menu items, and they advertise them as TFT meals. Employees who choose one of these items are charged an additional 20 yen as a donation (20 U.S. cents) to support TFT's school lunch programs for children in Africa. The 20-yen donation is equal to the price of one school meal for a child in a developing country; so one meal is donated to a child for every TFT meal eaten in a developed country.

TFT point-of-purchase (POP) displays in participating cafeterias help increase awareness about the global problem of starvation, and let people know that their 20-yen donation will go towards paying for school meals in developing countries when they purchase a TFT meal.

The name "TABLE FOR TWO" was inspired by the idea of people in developed countries and children in developing countries sharing a meal at a table -- a concept that extends beyond space and time. TFT believes that participating in its program evokes in people a sense of unity as global citizens and deeper empathy for others, and that such a notion is inevitably essential for all people living in this global society.

Social Contribution Activities Originating in Japan

TFT was organized under the premise that "Japan should take the initiative in promoting social action that results in world-changing impacts." Michiko Ando, a TFT staff member, explains the reason why it wished to launch a program that originated in Japan, saying, "The majority of social contribution initiatives in the past began in the U.S. and Europe, and then branch offices were established in Japan. We wanted to reverse this trend by launching a unique project in Japan that would spread out to the world."

At the end of 2007, when TFT was established, only 11 companies and organizations participated in the program. The following year, in April 2008, a new medical care system was introduced in Japan requiring companies to institute specific health check-ups for employees between the ages of 40 and 74 years old, and to provide health counseling to those identified as having a metabolic syndrome, indicating a high risk of developing a lifestyle-related disease such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Because of the new health-check requirement, TFT began to receive many more inquiries from persons in charge of employee benefits looking for easy-to-accomplish health measures. As a result, the number of participating companies and organizations rapidly increased to 98 by the end of 2008, and to 212 by the end of 2009. As of March 2010, 241 groups were participating in the TFT program.

The program has a lot of advantages, including the following: it is easy for anyone to participate; it simultaneously promotes social contribution and better health to prevent metabolic syndrome; it has a low initial cost of just 10,000 yen (about $108) for posters and POP displays; it attracts people's attention as a program of Japanese origin; and it is easy to understand that making a 20-yen contribution pays for one school meal. Participants often say, "It's great that we can easily contribute to society in our daily lives. All we need to do is go to the cafeteria and choose a meal from the TFT menu."

TFT Promotes School Meal Service in Africa

TFT is currently working on providing meals in cooperation with other organizations at schools in Uganda, Rwanda, and Malawi in East Africa.

In Uganda, for example, TFT provides meals jointly with the United Nations' project Millennium Villages. To support the school meals program in the project's target villages, the money donated to TFT, minus operating expenses, has been sent to the Millennium Promise, a U.S. non-profit organization working as a representative of Millennium Villages, and the other cooperating organizations, every quarter since April 2008. As of February 2010, TFT has been involved in providing more than 2.45 million meals to schoolchildren.

Millennium Villages
Millennium Promise

In Ruhiira, one of the TFT target villages in Uganda, the number of students increased dramatically after the meal support program started, while the incidence of infectious diseases decreased thanks to people following better practices of washing hands and dishes. In Mwandama, Malawi, the number of students increased from 450 at the launch of the meal service to 700 in January 2009, achieving an attendance rate of 70 percent. Of the 50 graduates from the school, 42 students passed the admission test for higher education.

TFT also provides money and training on how to operate the meal service, with the aim of encouraging local residents to continue the service by themselves after it starts working smoothly. For this reason, TFT uses the money from donations not only for buying raw ingredients but also for covering the expense of operating the meal service, such as the payroll for managers who provide training for parents to run the service by themselves, purchases of kitchen tools, and transportation costs.

The meals being provided by donations help fill the stomachs of hungry children. At the same time, the meal service is expected to help improve school attendance rates and academic performance, strengthen children's primary health and protection against disease, and build community by involving schools and parents, thus playing an important role in resolving the problem of poverty.

TFT Spreading Farther

TFT started by offering its meal program in cafeterias at participating companies and organizations, and is now expanding its activities to get more people involved. In February 2009, for example, a group of university students established the TFT-University Association in order to spread TFT's program to Japanese university cafeterias nationwide.

In order to make supporting TFT easier for those who do not work for any companies or belong to any organizations participating in the program, it is making efforts to make TFT-licensed meals available at restaurant chains and hotels by forming alliances, and it started to sell products with its logo on them through convenience stores and online shopping websites.

According to Ando, products that offer added value in the form of a donation and contribution to society are increasingly attracting the attention of consumers, and data shows that sales of such products are seeing more growth compared to other brands in a similar price range that don't offer such values. TFT often receives testimonials from people in participating companies such as, "I felt really proud about talking to my children about my work for the first time ever since I joined this company," and "I received a message from a customer saying that we are doing a great job." To provide more opportunities for consumers to join, TFT plans further collaborations with various industries such as restaurants, home-meal manufacturers, retailers including supermarkets and convenience stores, and food and beverage manufacturers.

TFT's launched-in-Japan initiative is expanding to the world. Its first branch office was established in New York in 2008, and started operation in 2009. A cafeteria at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona in the U.S. is the first place to start participating in TFT's program, and the number of inquiries from businesses and other universities is increasing. It is expected that its initiative will spread wider in the near future. At the same time, it is considering opening another branch in Italy. Ando expressed their ambitions, saying, "We want to expand our activity to Italy, where the slow food movement was first started."

TFT's program has the strength of creating a win-win situation between the supporters and the supported, by encouraging better health for children in developing countries and people in developed countries at the same time.

Moreover, it leads to an improved social reputation as well as increased sales for participating companies. Individuals who buy TFT-licensed meals say they are filled with a warm feeling when they think of the happy smiles of children in Africa no longer hungry because of the donated meals. School lunches served in African schools gives students a stronger will to study, a chance for higher education, and finally, the ability to rise out of poverty.

TFT's program brings not only better health to participants, but also helps create a sense of happiness and wellbeing. We hope to see this program from Japan continue to bring such benefits and spread worldwide.

Written by Yuriko Yoneda