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Ronni Kahn AO shares her bravest business decision

A simple mission to stop food going to waste – and feed five million people who are hungry – is Ronni Kahn AO’s bread and butter, even after 17 years.

With more than 240 staff across Australia and more than 2,500 volunteers, OzHarvest has thrived since its Founder and CEO saw the opportunity to create a more wholesome world.

Driven to solve a problem rather than start a charity, the organisation has grown to become a national leader with one ambitious goal – to halve food waste by 2030.

And it all started with a meeting that changed Ronni’s life in South Africa almost two decades ago.

"I met an extraordinary woman in 2003, which galvanised me into action to start OzHarvest," Ronni reflects.

Having grown up in South Africa’s brutal apartheid era and later living in a socialist commune in Israel, the entrepreneur witnessed her share of discrimination and inequality, which prompting her to forge a life dedicated to giving back – A Repurposed Life, as her autobiography is aptly named.

After seeing firsthand the eye-watering amounts of food waste, the founder pivoted away from her events company and into OzHarvest.

Creating a sustainable food culture doesn’t come easily, but it takes a whole lot of courage.

"I think the bravest thing I’ve ever done was to start OzHarvest – given I had no training in charitable work, no skills for building an organisation, just an enormous passion to make it work," Ronni shares.

Often graced in the signature ‘OzHarvest yellow’, the cheerful hue is synonymous with Ronni’s honest, down-to-earth and compassionate leadership style.

Through her branding and alignment, it’s her approach to business that truly demonstrates the heart of OzHarvest.

"Bring your whole self to every single thing you do," Ronni says. "Nelson Mandela once said, ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’"

With those wise words, it’s fitting that the philanthropic leader is sharing her wisdom with some of Australia’s leading executives and startups.

For the third year, Ronni will be one of The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards esteemed judges tasked with crowning – for the first time in 10 years – three CEOs of the Year.

After an incredibly tough 2020, it’s more important than ever for executives to look back at the challenges they faced and successful accomplishments – a feeling the social entrepreneur knows all too well.

"We all had to find resilience and courage to lead our teams through the pandemic," Ronni says.

As supermarkets were stripped bare during the height of the pandemic lockdown, for the first time in 17 years, OzHarvest had to buy its food as donations dwindled. Forcing the charity to completely change its funding model, the repercussions of COVID-19 are still being felt by the organisation, and the demand for food has only increased.

Just as Ronni led her team through its toughest time, the optimist believes in the merit of celebrating business leaders during the height of disruption.

"The Executive of the Year Awards acknowledge what it takes to lead in every aspect of business during tough times and good, and that’s hugely valuable," Ronni says.

Are you Australia’s top CEO? Perhaps you’re the best Not-For-Profit Executive of the Year? Apply for the 2021 Executive of the Year Awards today.


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Feature image: Sue Stubbs

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