‘Bread & Butter’ for the disadvantaged
7 August 2013 at 11:20 am
In this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise, journalist Nadia Boyce explores how an entrepreneurial Sydney business team transitioned into the social sector by founding an artisan bakery employing refugees.
A duo of Sydney baking entrepreneurs has added a new ingredient to their recipe for business success – social impact.
The Bread & Butter Project sees an artisan bakery in Marrickville providing employment opportunities to refugees by wholesaling high-end loaves to Sydney’s restaurant elite.
The program is the brainchild of David McGuinness and Paul Allam, founders of Sydney’s Bourke Street Bakery, eatery Wilbur’s Place in Kings Cross and the Bourke Street Bakery – After Hours in Potts Point.
Looking to expand their burgeoning business portfolio, the pair had toyed with the idea of a wholesaling arm, but a trip by Allam to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border changed the scope of their plans.
A Thai orphanage invited Allam to teach a group of refugee women how to bake bread, equipping them with skills they could use to support themselves and the community.
A social business plan, however primitive, had been set in place. It was a turning point.
“We were pretty inspired. It was completely and utterly new for me,” Allam says. “I didn’t think I had a trade that was convertible for the third sector and I didn’t understand what social enterprise was – I thought I had created a model!”
McGuiness and Allam decided to follow through with their plans of establishing a wholesale arm – with social impact a key addition. Bourke Street Bakery provided them with business acumen, recipes and skilled staff to draw on. The final ingredient would be a community in need.
To Allam, refugees were a group that seemed to be relatively underrepresented.
“It just seemed like an obvious choice" he says.
Like the social business he helped establish for Burmese refugees who had fled to Thailand, the Bread & Butter project would help refugees who had fled to Australia.
Sized and skilled for success
The Bread & Butter Project now recruits up to 12 trainees per year for 12-month paid traineeships at the bakery. Applicants are often referred by agencies such as the Migrant Resource Centre or similar refugee support services, with the goal of being offered a place on the 12-month paid TAFE accredited traineeship program.
All profits from the bakery are also reinvested in projects providing further training and employment for the disadvantaged.
The team is intimately small and highly skilled, a factor to which Allam attributes the overall health of the project.
Currently a small team of volunteers helps teach trainees English and improve their job prospects, but Allam says there is no plan for the project to become more reliant on volunteers.
“For some things volunteers are great but we didn’t want to create a big volunteer program that was cumbersome to run.”
Allam says a broad volunteer program is also not compatible with teaching his bakers about Australian workplace standards and culture.
“The program is really about transitioning trainees into employment,” he says.
A partnership with the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) is helping Allam’s team evaluate how well the program meets this social objective.
CSI is conducting an ongoing Social Return on Investment (SROI) assessment, and has begun interviewing stakeholders and tracking trainees over a 12 month period.
Yet Allam says potential social benefits have not been integral in staying competitive as a business.
“We’re not leading or marketing with our social impact,” he says.
“A lot of social enterprises come from the social sector. We don’t come from the social side of it so much. We’re turning out a premium product and people are buying it because it is a great product. There is no reason not to buy it.”
“A startup is always incredibly difficult, and business is pretty hard at the best of times,” he says. “But we know how to bake bread.”
A lack of product focus could be a stumbling block for startup social enterprises, Allam says.
“I think sometimes that can be a disaster. When I see people who don’t know how to produce or market a product, I get a bit nervous!”
Business mind, social heart
The Bread & Butter Project proved to be an anomaly in the social enterprise world when it had a rapid influx of funding in its early stages.
“It has been a case of the best the community can offer in terms of philanthropy,” Allam says. “We had corporates, we had the government, we had individual donors, we had community groups.”
“The fundraising part came very quickly.”
Allam believes their record in business was the reason they attracted funds so easily.
“When people see people who have run a successful bakery, it’s pretty enticing. Our business plan was very thorough. We had the figures,” he says.
In order to learn about social enterprise, Allam and some of his team members visited some Melbourne successes like Mission Australia’s social enterprise restaurant, Charcoal Lane.
He says the next step in getting business to similarly engage with a social enterprise model is to increase awareness.
“I think it really comes down to spreading the word, and showing that it can be done, and that it can be done well.”
“Without Thailand, we wouldn’t have had a clue,” Allam says.
He is reluctant to make too many predictions about how the project will fair in the coming months.
“The experience has definitely made me appreciate everything a lot more. At the moment we’re not looking too far ahead.”
“If the Bread & Butter project was to succeed as well as Bourke Street Bakery has, it would be far more fulfilling. It is a different kind of fulfillment,” he says.
“Money does not make you happy – this is about fulfilling one’s life, in a sense.”