Monday, July 11, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week one: pulling all the pieces together

Hi everyone. My name is Michelle Klahr and I’m an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’m spending this summer in between the two years of my MBA program working as an intern at New Foundry Ventures. Specifically I’m dedicated to the operations of Get Cooking!, New Foundry’s newest venture. Get Cooking! is a social enterprise dedicated to helping low-income families living in food deserts make healthy eating simple, affordable, and fun in order to lower rates of obesity and diet-related diseases, and improve overall well-being. To do this, Get Cooking! operates cooking clubs where community members meet with a chef to prepare and purchase nutritious, ready-to-cook, low-cost meals for their families in a community kitchen pre-stocked with fresh and healthy foods. New Foundry partnered with two inspirational organizations in West Oakland, LifeLong Medical Care and People’s Grocery to launch an eight-week pilot in West Oakland this past March. After the success of the first pilot, the partner team launched a second pilot, also in West Oakland, on Tuesday June 28th. Besides coordinating many of the behind-the-scenes logistics of this second pilot, I’ll also be spending the summer sharing an on-the-ground perspective with you on my experiences. What does it really take to launch a social venture? And what are some unforeseen challenges that come up along the way? Each week I’ll report back with an update on the pilot’s progress and my reactions. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Getting ready for the first session required a tremendous amount of preparation and a lot of hands-on work. I spent the two weeks leading up to our first session proofreading, printing, and collating curriculum, sorting through crates of cooking equipment, generating shopping lists for our chefs, and creating minute-by-minute schedules to help us squeeze a ton of content into just two hours. Our partners and chefs also worked like crazy: diligently pricing out each meal and snack recipe, doubling down on marketing and recruiting participants, creating binders to house all the materials, and more.

The resulting first session was by and large a success. We managed to get through everything in time: introductions, snacks (this week: a Kale Waldorf Salad), the ground rules, curriculum, cooking, cleanup, and the setting of individual food goals for the coming week (including cutting down on salt and eating vegetables). We had great participants that are really excited about the course including Chantelle who just learned that kale can be eaten raw and Josephine who has never known how to cook anything (self-described as “a woman who doesn’t own any pots and pans”). And the food, both the Kale Salad and the main dish: “Grits & Greens,” turned out great, although we didn’t get to sample the grits because the Get Cooking! model involves the participants taking the meals home to share with their families.

(Photo: Chef Christy shows Destiny how to sauté the greens)

Despite the success of the first class, I continue to be awed by the sheer amount of effort that these classes involve. The dedication of New Foundry, LifeLong, and People’s Grocery to this effort is outstanding. Today, there are four or five of us working hard to bring each class to life. This is not a sustainable approach, so we are continuing to test and refine to figure out a model that can be financially sustainable and replicated in multiple communities. One of the key lessons I’ve learned from taking a class at Stanford’s design school is that you can’t be precious with your prototypes, meaning, if you have an idea, go out and test it, even if it’s not perfect. I appreciate that, as a New Foundry intern, I get to be apart of such informative testing of an intriguing concept.

(Photo: Chantelle H. and Josephine R. package their Grits + Greens meals)

Stay tuned for an update on Week Two, when we’ll cook Chicken Enchiladas and learn about whole versus processed foods…

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