After Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, the entire social infrastructure of the city swiftly collapsed. The education system, for example, had to be rebuilt from ground zero because the storm destroyed 110 out of 126 public schools. Today, as New Orleans struggles to reinvent effective public education, the city has more public charter schools than any public school system in the nation.

What does this mean to Janet Davas, executive director of the New Orleans-based social enterprise Liberty’s Kitchen? The opportunity to contribute to the regeneration of the city. 

This fall, Liberty’s Kitchen will launch a contract meal program preparing fresh, nutritious meals for many of those aforementioned charter schools. And all the while, Liberty’s Kitchen will continue its Youth Development Program, which provides at-risk youth a path to self-sufficiency through food service-based training, leadership and employment programs.

Liberty’s Kitchen’s contract meal program—along with 36 other programs nationwide—is the direct result of guidance and oversight from Kitchens With Mission (KWM), a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides the example, definition, guidance, services and standards required to establish and sustain effective training and social enterprise.

Here’s the story: KWM’s parent company, FareStart, is a model social enterprise—a unique nonprofit whose activities provide both social and economic outcomes. In 2005, the FareStart Board started KWM in order to focus specifically on replication—to define and document FareStart’s successful model in a way that could be shared with and adapted by other similar organizations.

This year, the collective group of agencies that worked with KWM will train over 800 individuals and produce over 2.25 million meals for their communities—doubling FareStart’s individual impact in just three years’ time.

I had the opportunity to attend the session presented by Kitchens With Mission at the Social Enterprise Summit in San Francisco last week. The session, entitled “How to Document and Share a Successful Social Enterprise Model,” outlined KWM’s model-sharing process step-by-step.

Acknowledging the fact that one of the greatest characteristics of a social enterprise is its own uniqueness, KWM’s David Carleton spoke about Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept: finding the one thing that gives a program its unique strength and capitalizing on it. Replicating another model, he explained, doesn’t mean conforming and losing that hedgehog; rather, replicating standardized model inputs and outputs should bolster it.

Slightly rethinking the double bottom line is also important when trying to achieve the greatest impact with a social enterprise, according to KWM’s Daniel Escobar. Instead of thinking about Program and Business as being adjacent, we should visualize the Business as the foundation that holds the Program up. “Kitchens With Mission started in order that FareStart would have more impact,” Escobar said. “Not to be a profitable consulting business.”

Towards the end of the session, Janet Davas of Liberty’s Kitchen spoke about the impact KWM has had on her organization. She described the Liberty’s Kitchen Café and Coffee House, a retail establishment across from the criminal courthouse in New Orleans. “Most of the youth served here have been court-involved,” she explained. Vouching for KWM, she spoke excitedly about the contract meal program that will roll out later this year.

While Kitchens With Mission’s model-sharing approach seems straightforward and its impact clear and easy to measure, I have to wonder about how model-sharing would work among other types of organizations outside of the food service realm. Would it still be as effective and impactful? Glide Memorial Church, for example, is a prominently liberal church in San Francisco that aims to create a radically inclusive and loving community, closing the gap between people of faith and the homosexual community. Judging by many factors—including the fact that there is a waitlist even to volunteer there—I’d say it’s quite successful. But sharing its model of success with, say, a church in the Deep South? No way.

Even if another model isn’t quite right, though, just the idea of model-sharing—teaching and learning lessons from others—can be enlightening. Which is why I agree 100% with FareStart board member Gregg Johnson: “Nothin’ makes you sharper than trying to teach someone else!”

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