By Kathy Carlson
Nashville software engineer Michael Cohn Moreau was one of three grand prize winners in the American Jewish World Service’s recent design competition, which involved rethinking tzedakah boxes for the 21st century. He won in the Web/Interactive category with the concept of “Discover Needs” tags for grocery store products. The tags would be placed on a supermarket shelf near a specific product and would include a QR code and short caption linking a social issue with the product.
For example, someone buying insect repellant could scan the QR code to learn about malaria in the developing world, AJWS said in a news release. Then, the shopper would be directed immediately to learning about nonprofit organizations that are working to fight malaria, and could choose to donate right then and there, or to save the information and learn more later. Other possible combinations would be sunscreen and cancer research, baby food and malnutrition. “The charities are the tzedakah boxes themselves,” Cohn Moreau said.
Cohn Moreau and Nashville nurse Elizabeth Traugott recently married, and he told AJWS that she indirectly inspired him to enter the competition. “She recently converted to Judaism and in order to be supportive, I went along with her to her conversion classes,” he said. “One of the classes focused on the role of tzedakah and tikkun olam and it really struck a chord with me. I made a pledge to donate to one charity a month and look for opportunities to volunteer. When I stumbled on this contest I thought it was a great way to explore these topics further.”
Much charitable giving is done online these days, through specific web sites and through Facebook. Discover Needs tags would dovetail into this trend. Other categories in the contest were tzedakah boxes themselves and a broad category called “Out of the Box” for projects that didn’t fit the two more specific categories. There were grand prize winners in all three categories.
“We’re really excited and everyone I tell is really excited that he won,” his wife, Elizabeth, said.
Part of the grand prize brought Michael and Elizabeth to New York this month to receive the award, see other entries and meet other award winners and AJWS staff. Michael also won $2,500 and an opportunity to travel with AJWS to visit some of its partners in the developing world. Additionally, the grand prize winners’ designs and those of the six finalists will be featured in a national mobile tour hosted in galleries, synagogues and various communal spaces.
“I wanted something practical and inexpensive in addition to driving donations,” Cohn Moreau said. Implementing Discover Needs tags wouldn’t cost grocery stores anything, he said. Expenses would be incurred from printing tags, distributing them to stores and setting up a website with information about the nonprofits. “I learned a lot just coming up with the design.”
Note: AJWS is an international development and human rights organization, based in New York. Inspired by Judaism’s commitment to justice, it works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. •