Turning a personal passion into a viable social business might start with an inspirational story but it certainly won’t end there.
For Paul Allam, founder of Sydney’s Bread and Butter Project and the Bourke Street Bakery, the inspiration came from a visit to the social business Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border and a project led by nuns to train and employ refugee women to bake bread to sell into the local community, which included a significant NGO presence.
Returning to Sydney, Paul ‘stole the nuns’ idea’. The chef, turned baker and business owner founded the Bread and Butter Project with four friends with complementary skill sets, allowing them to share responsibility for a developing social enterprise alongside their own professional roles. Paul’s inspiration was the social business model, rather than the particular needs of any single client group, so the concept for the Bread and Butter Project went through several iterations before Paul settled on working with refugees. What resulted was a new wholesale bakery business, complementary to Paul’s for-profit retail bakery. Adding to the Mae Sot model, Paul incorporated TAFE accredited training and English language lessons into the Bread and Butter Project in order to better equip the refugee staff for employment opportunities in the open market.
It’s taken a range of skills and experience to transition the Bread and Butter Project from its foundation in 2011 to being a sustainable social business that reinvests 100% of profits into training for refugees and asylum seekers. In last month’s blog we considered how social enterprises can lever their partners’ assets and capability for social purpose, but organisations rely on internal capability for operational performance and governance.
Given that training is key to the Bread and Butter model, finding bakers who want to teach and bake has been challenging, but critical to the development and future growth of the business. The staffing structure also includes access to social work skills and knowledge to support employees to deal with practicalities of living in a new city, in a new country, and the trauma associated with leaving their countries of origin. As for governance, the founding group has been supplemented with board members who bring experience in retail, not for profit, finance, law and business consulting, and list major corporates such as Boston Consulting Group, Macquarie, Citibank, Westpac and MinterEllison as current or former employers.
For the group of founders, the formalisation of organisational governance away, means letting go. As Paul says “It’s not my decision any more, it’s a board decision”, but he also acknowledges that stepping back a little was necessary, both for him and the organisation: “I should have stepped back earlier. It needed fresh eyes. To keep pushing is detrimental to yourself and the business”.
Building internal capacity – through staffing and governance – has enabled Bread and Butter Project to graduate from start up to prepare for scale up, and to mature from dependency on a core group of committed founders, to a self-sustaining organisation.