Rescuing Food For A Social Cause

By Jean-Claude Counand

It was a winter night in the Hague. Dinner was at 8 pm.

At 7:55 pm, I arrived after peddling furiously to shatter the Caribbean stereotype of lateness. Triumphant, I locked my borrowed bike next to a wooden food cart and hurried inside.

An odd sign, “Rescued Food: 604,302 kg” was the first thing I noticed. Next to it, there was a basket of “imperfect” oranges; free to take. I grabbed one, made my way to the table, greeted my Dutch friends in their favourite Trini accent and settled in for business. The waiter quickly arrived with the menu. Hungry but still politely conversational, I asked about the sign at the entrance.

The waiter smiled as he explained the unique value proposition of the restaurant. Every day, the menu is created based on rescued ingredients. Surplus food, food with flaws or that didn’t meet strict quality requirements were saved from going in the bin and cooked here.

Exciting! Socially conscious! Yes! The food was delicious! A shared consensus by eight of us millennials who dined, and 166 reviews on Trip Advisor. Of the 1,250 restaurants in the Hague, this one, using rejected ingredients was ranked 47th.

In-Stock, a for-profit business, opened its doors in 2016 with a social mission: To address food wastage. Today, there are three branches in the Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht. They also own a mobile food truck and a growing product line which includes a “rescued food” cookbook, beer brewed from leftover bread and four other offerings.

On the ride back, I asked my host Hester about other interesting eating places in the Hague. She recaps an experience of being served by a waiter with an occupational disability. Apparently, she was his first customer. The waiter was shy; his disability had previously excluded him from employment. He kindly took her request and returned to the counter to place it. As he successfully completed his first order his coworkers surrounded him with hugs, high fives and cheers in celebration. Her meal was long consumed, but she’d never forgotten that moment. Neither will I, even as a listener. Happy Tosti creates a happy workspace for persons with occupational disabilities. It has seven branches in Holland.

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I hadn’t planned on visiting any social enterprises that night. I hadn’t even planned to be in Hague. But there I was, encountering the value of social enterprise first hand. It certainly was a privilege. Following seven years of non-governmental organisation (NGO) fundraising trauma, through the fortune of a Chevening scholarship, I left my home with a mission to discover ways to make social impact work sustainable. I was learning a thing or two.

Entrepreneurship is already a long word and adding “social” in front of it makes it sound even more fancy but social entrepreneurship at its core consists of two main ideas. The first is a social mission. It should be clear and measurable. The second is the creation of a self-sustaining way of meeting that social mission. In other words, figure out how to do the work without relying only on donations.

In-stock and Happi Tosti used a for-profit restaurant model, but self-sustaining approaches to social impact programmes can be utilized whether running an NGO or executing an initiative in a government agency or large corporation. For example, a donor reliant NGO, can engage in social entrepreneurship on a specific programme that is self-sustaining. It is adaptable to multiple organizational formats. Some countries have the best Carnival in the world, others have the best ecosystems for social enterprise. In the latter, the US, Canada and UK are leading. In the UK, Scotland has a visionary 10 year (2016 – 2026) National Social Enterprise Strategy. That’s why I’m studying there. In the Caribbean, Jamaica is the capital for Social Entrepreneurship. The University of the West Indies Office of Social Entrepreneurship headed by Dr. K’adamawe K’nife, leads regional research in the field. Jamaica also has the region’s first secondary school social enterprise programme, where teenage students experiment with developing their own social enterprise ideas.

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My research interest was adapting social enterprise to the Caribbean and other small island developing states; however, there are many intriguing questions about social enterprise worth considering. Can every organization have a self-sustaining model? Will social enterprises replace the donation model for NGO’s altogether? Is it a fad or is it representative of a new era in business? What are its implications for traditional for-profit business?

Update: Instock, The Hague, Netherlands is now closed.

Jean-Claude Counand

Jean-Claude Cournand, a Chevening scholar and emerging social entrepreneur from Trinidad & Tobago, founded the USC Debating Society which has since evolved into The 2 Cents Movement. The 2 Cents Movement is a Caribbean-based NGO that uses spoken word poetry to develop socially responsible youth. The organisation's vision is a world where young people are empowered to contribute their ideas and action for change, that is, to pitch in their '2 cents'. It employs eight persons full-time and coordinates outreach in 50 schools and two universities engaging over 40,000 youth in its programmes annually. In 2018, Jean-Claude received the Queens Young Leader Award at Buckingham Place, London, England for his work with 2 Cents Movement. The 2 Cents Movement was also awarded "Most Outstanding Youth Organisation" and "Most Effective Youth Programme" at the Trinidad and Tobago National Youth Awards in 2018. Jean-Claude is also a co-founder/director of Girls Be Heard Trinidad and Tobago and serves as a Youth Outreach Manager for Bocas Lit Fest. Jean-Claude recently completed an MSc in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Edinburgh where he was part of the Global Shapers Edinburgh Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.

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