Robert Egger was a social entrepreneur well before the term was in our vocabulary. He’s a “nightclub guy” that became a “righteous entrepreneur” because nobody else around him would.
I could just copy and paste his bio here, and it would suit quite well as a Philanthropy Friday blog post. (Seriously. Read it.)
Svetlana Kim, whose podcast, To The Stars Through Adversity, I’ve appeared on several times now, connected me with Robert. She knew, after talking with me and knowing how passionate I am about simple giving, that Robert’s message and his work would speak to me. She was absolutely correct.
I spoke with Robert on one early Friday evening by phone. We chatted for about 30 minutes. I asked him a few questions about his work and impact. He inspired me throughout the conversation because he spoke with such conviction.
He is the founder and president of LA Kitchen which recovers fresh fruits and vegetables to fuel a culinary arts job training program for men and women coming out of foster care and older men and women returning from incarceration. He is also the CEO of Strong Food, L.A. Kitchen’s social enterprise business, which employs graduates of the L.A. Kitchen training program, and competes for food service contracts to serve healthy meals to seniors in Los Angeles.
LA Kitchen is a newer project for Robert and comes from a model he pioneered as president of DC Central Kitchen, the country’s first “community kitchen,” where food was donated by hospitality businesses and farms to fuel a nationally recognized culinary arts training program. Since opening in 1989, DC Central Kitchen has helped 1,500 men and women gain full-time employment. It is a $11 million a year, self-sustaining social enterprise and operates its own revenue generating business, Fresh Start Catering.
I was particularly struck by Robert’s thoughts and ideas on nonprofits and how the sector needs to educate candidates and others on the economic role nonprofits play in the community. He noted how even when we do purposeful work, we are a selling a product or idea. You have to be enthusiastic and inspiring. While there is sometimes a sense that the sector needs to help train people, such as those with prison records, for the workforce, Robert asks why we can’t just create the jobs for them. He sees his role as creating a show, much like a nightclub, where there are living, breathing examples of what is possible. He guides people to see the things they don’t always want to see.
Robert wants to disrupt. He wants to challenge the nonprofit sector that can sometimes put up its own barriers. His hope is that when people leave the kitchens that use his model they will see what a nonprofit can do if and when it has access to capital.
As Robert noted to me, and as is displayed on the LA Kitchen website:
CHARITY IS BASED ON THE REDEMPTION OF THE GIVER,
NOT THE LIBERATION OF THE RECEIVER.
Robert knows there is hunger everywhere and knows he can feed people with his franchise or come up with a model and “give it away.” His goal is to innovate and make his innovative models available.
Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer.