From mowing the lawn to waitressing: Society as a business

What is a ‘social business’? And can social concerns and profit really mix?

The Anna Restaurant in Jerusalem’s Beit Ticho employs 10 at-risk youth for a one-year culinary program (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Anna Restaurant in Jerusalem’s Beit Ticho employs 10 at-risk youth for a one-year culinary program
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every year more than 15,000 children drop out of the conventional education system in Israel. Some of these children are referred to alternative educational frameworks. Often however, these so-called dropouts are left without an alternative framework, or the existing frameworks do not suit them.
In the past few years, a new educational model has evolved that highlights the importance of obtaining a profession. This is especially effective for youngsters who “fall through the cracks” of the conventional education system.
One way of creating jobs for these young people while still meeting their personal, educational and social needs is through “social businesses.”
What is a social business? Aren’t these two seemingly opposite words an oxymoron?
A social business is an endeavor whose primary goal is to address a social problem. But unlike a nonprofit organization, it operates as a financially self-sustainable entity.
This concept of social businesses was defined by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus in 2007.
Yunus is a professor, social entrepreneur and economist from Bangladesh who is known for being the founder of the Grameen Bank in 1983 – a “bank for the poor.” The bank makes small loans to underprivileged people without requiring collateral, known as microcredit. Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for founding the bank and the concepts of microfinance and microcredit. He has written several books in which he discusses and defines the concept of social businesses.
Social businesses do not rely on donations in the long run, as they are meant to reinvest any profit made to increase their social impact.
ALLAN (CHANOCH) BARKAT is a pioneer pushing forward the field of social businesses in Israel. He served for more than 10 years as managing partner of Apax Israel, a venture capital private equity fund, before establishing Dualis, a non-profit social investment fund, in 2008.
“After retiring from Apax,” Barkat told The Jerusalem Post Magazine, “I got involved in different social projects and asked myself why some of these social initiatives that have a business orientation cannot be conducted the same way things are conducted in the business world.”
He decided to connect the social and business worlds in a different way, one that does not depend on donations.
Like a venture-capital fund does with start-ups, Dualis builds and invests in social businesses that provide jobs, training and skills for people on the margins of society. These are for-profit businesses, but not for maximum profit. To date, Dualis has invested in some 15 businesses in Israel, all still operating.
Barkat believes that Dualis’s most important impact on society is the ripple effect of social businesses.
“What we do at Dualis – and social businesses in general – is bring together different social groups. Some of the employees are from the margins of society, but other employees are not.”
All of the youngsters employed in the various social businesses are referred by welfare services, by nonprofit organizations that deal with at-risk youth and at times by schools that identify youths on the verge of dropping out and want to find them another solution.
The impact this has on society is even more significant, he says, than the impact on the specific individual whose life has drastically improved through employment.
Barkat added that even though it is hard to measure success in this field, the social significance of such businesses is great.
One of the social businesses, Liliyot Restaurant and Bakery in Tel Aviv is a veteran establishment, training and employing at-risk youth in the culinary field for more than 15 years. With more than 200 graduates, it’s possible to assess the success of the program. A 2008 study by Dr. Aharon York of Bar-Ilan University found that 90% of graduates became independent citizens and contributing members of society. Half of the graduates secured positions in Israel’s leading restaurants and culinary institutions.
Social businesses are receiving a big push from the state, which offers social investment groups such as Dualis a grant up to NIS 20 million through a National Insurance Institute entrepreneurship fund. Barkat stated that they need to match this amount with NIS 30m.
He says investing in social businesses or funds is “a new philanthropic opportunity to make a long-term difference in Israel. If the business is financially independent, there isn’t a need to continue donating to it each year; the business can continue growing and creating a long-term social impact independently.”
He added that Dualis has already been supported by various Jewish federations and foundations, such as the Arison Family and Yad Hanadiv foundations.
Barkat stressed that for the social aspect of the enterprise to work, you must run an excellent business.
“People will come to a social business only once in order to support the social cause, but they will come back if the restaurant or service offered by the business is excellent.
“Our challenge today,” he concluded, “is to expand the models we have implemented on a small scale, to a much larger national scale. Our challenge is to continue raising money and to bring the Israeli government and the municipal authorities on board, because there is an opportunity here to make a real difference in Israeli society.”
THE ANNA Restaurant in Beit Ticho in Jerusalem’s city center has been open for only seven months, yet is already regarded as one of the best in the country. In addition to being an excellent restaurant, Anna employs 10 at-risk youth in its kitchen for a yearlong culinary training program.
On the business side, the restaurant is also owned by the Dualis fund. A key social partner is the Hut HaMeshulash organization, which refers the teenagers to the restaurant. The organization provides a safe space and support for atrisk youth who are alienated from their families, have dropped out of school and in some cases are hopeless and homeless.
The restaurant has a full-time social worker who coordinates the social program and meets with the participants on a regular basis. As the framework has a dual purpose, it enables the existence of the social program while allowing the restaurant to remain profitable.
Restaurant manager Nimrod Rogel told the Magazine that the participants understand their responsibility as employees, but the responsibility is given to them gradually, as they prove themselves.
“During the first three weeks, the teens work as extra staff, in addition to the kitchen team. During this time, they understand they need to prove they want to take part in the program. After those first weeks they receive an apron and a chef’s shirt and begin working as part of the kitchen team.” Another milestone is when the teens progress from working in the prep kitchen to working in the service kitchen.
Rogel emphasized that they strive to give the participants extra value to their work and to spark a passion for the profession of cooking.
“We take the teens on culinary tours. For instance, we took them to a dairy farm to learn about the process of cheese making. We try to give them both theoretical and practical knowledge in the culinary world. We also had a photography workshop so they could learn how to take beautiful photos of food.”
Rogel explained they want to provide them with the most professional training so that they have an advantage when graduating from the program and the experience necessary to cook at excellent restaurants.
“These are people who have never been to a nice restaurant,” he says, “and it is an entire new world for them. Those who are drawn to it will continue and finish the program and possibly find a profession for life.”
Down South
Since Ben-Gurion University’s establishment in 1969, Beersheba has become a “college town,” with nearly 20,000 students studying and living there. The many students help revive and renew Beersheba. Due to this change, many successful restaurants and bars now operate in the city.
Still, Beersheba has a way to go when it comes to socioeconomic status. It is regarded a city of opportunity, yet a 2016 study conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics ranked Beersheba 119th out of 255 cities, largely due to its older neglected neighborhoods, home to many underprivileged people, alongside new and developed neighborhoods that are home to middle- and upper-class residents.
Cafe Ringelblum in Beersheba creates a holistic system that employs at-risk teens and serves as a meaningful educational framework. (Efrat Or)Cafe Ringelblum in Beersheba creates a holistic system that employs at-risk teens and serves as a meaningful educational framework. (Efrat Or)
ONE OF THE city’s most loved institutions is Café Ringelblum, located near the underprivileged Dalet neighborhood. The café was opened in 2009 by Tor Hamidbar Foundation with the support of the Beersheba Municipality. Last June the Kampai group bought 80% of the café.
The café employs 10 at-risk teens each year as cooks and waiters. The program operating at this café, as well as other social businesses, creates a holistic system that surrounds the teens during all hours of the day and serves as a meaningful educational framework, while also enabling them to earn a living and acquire a profession.
The café manager, Dror Amar, said the social project is the heart of the business, but added that is important to create a balance between the needs of the business and the social aspect.
Nofar Swissa, the on-site social worker, is in charge of managing that balance. Her position is paid for mostly by the municipality and partly by Tor Hamidbar.
When a teen does not show up for work or is late, it impacts the business. Swissa said. “We make a big deal out of such behavior, we want them to understand the importance of showing up on time. I explain to them that they hurt their co-workers and clients who were waiting for them. At times they suffer consequences like being taken off the work schedule for a few days.”
Swissa added that the financial element is a great tool for her work with the teens.
“The money is their No. 1 motivation to be here, so if they don’t show up or come in late, I show them how that affects their salary. We go over the pay slip and they realize how much more money they could have earned.”
Swissa says that unlike a boarding school, this environment is not artificial; the fact the teens come to work makes this setting organic. Naturally, they develop meaningful relationships among themselves, and perhaps more importantly relationships with the other staff members.
“On many occasions, when something happens in their personal life, they call the chef or other cooks and not their family or me,” Swissa said. “This is what’s so special in this project,” she added.
The professional cooks are with the teens during most hours of the day, so the cooks know firsthand when something is going on with anyone. They have weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the social worker and are guided as to how to deal with certain situations.
Amar said that right at the beginning the teens understand that taking part in the program means “putting everything on the table. We don’t hide issues under the carpet; we deal with them with sensitivity.”
Work is the driving force behind their method of treatment and educational philosophy.
“The teens come to work, and the workforce is something that is easier for them to relate to than education or treatment.”
About the importance of occupation as an education tool, Swissa said, “It provides many skills, especially for those who dropped out of school. Work is at the focus of their lives. They can find themselves working for someone who takes advantage of them and have a negative experience, or, as we try doing here, they can find themselves working for someone who lifts them up and gives them a positive experience.
“These teens have never been expected to take responsibility or taught how to behave at a workplace,” Swissa explained.
“When a teen comes here, it’s for life. Even after they graduate from the program, we continue mentoring them and they continue coming here,” Amar added.
Café Ringelblum received a donation for scholarships for the graduates from the Arison Family Foundation, so they can advance their professional knowledge in any field they choose.
The graduates act as a community, supporting each other on a personal and professional level. One graduate went on to open a sandwich place called Pinat Ochel (meaning “dining room”) down the street with the previous chef at Café Ringelblum, where he employs some of the other graduates from time to time.
Of the 65 graduates, 90% have gone on to serve in the IDF or civilian service. The other 10% are teens the IDF did not draft because of a background of drugs and crime, despite many efforts to enlist.
Derech Hayadaim creates a platform for Beersheba youth to work professionally in gardening while gaining skills necessary to lead an independent lifeDerech Hayadaim creates a platform for Beersheba youth to work professionally in gardening while gaining skills necessary to lead an independent life
ANOTHER SOCIAL business in Beersheba is Derech Hayadaim (loosely translated as “working with your hands”), a gardening company started by Sela Marom in April 2016 that is also supported by the Dualis Fund.
Before starting the company, Marom practiced therapeutic gardening for many years. He believes that working with our hands and the ground is beneficial for everyone.
He taught gardening in different frameworks for at-risk youth, but realized once a week was not enough to provide them with tools for living an independent, positive and productive life.
Derech Hayadaim aims at creating a positive platform for young people to work professionally as gardeners while teaching them tools needed to lead an independent life.
The company employs people aged 16 to 19 who have dropped out of the school system or are on the verge of doing so.
Marom believes that without a framework it is very easy for the situation to go from bad to worse for young people lacking a strong support system. Many of the teens employed could have otherwise been committing crimes on the street.
The company employs a social worker who interfaces with the youth, developing a growth plan together. He meets with them regularly in both personal and group meetings.
The company is in charge of the gardening in Carasso Science Park, a part of the Soroka University Medical Center, the landscaping of several moshavim in the region and private gardens all over the Beersheba area. It is looking to expand their clientele and grow as a company, and is offering more gardening positions for interested and eligible teens.
Before accepting a teen to the program, it is important to understand his motive to determine whether he is suitable for the program. Marom believes that earning money is a great motive, as it implies that the teenager understands that in order to live in the adult world and be independent he or she needs to earn money through hard work.
The company has not been operating long enough to determine long-term success, but some positive changes are already evident. Over the summer, seven teenagers who were on the verge of dropping out of school took part in the program, and all seven decided to go back to school in September. The experience gave them motivation to continue their studies and improve their lives.
There are currently 12 at-risk youth employed there. For two of them, this is their only educational framework; the other 10 are in some sort of framework and work at the company part-time.
The company shares their vision with the clients so that they too become part of the vision: “It’s a great way to support a good cause without spending additional money,” he said.
Marom’s work has recently received recognition as he was granted an award from the Agriculture Ministry, as one of 40 influential young people in the field of agriculture in the country.