Reducing social exclusion and food waste through connecting vegetables and people

Ashoka Belgium Impact Programme 2020 introduces participant Naomi Smith and the project enVie Atelier. šŸ“£ In a conversation with us, Naomi shared her journey as a social entrepreneur, how important it is to collaborate and how the Impact Programme is boosting her impact. šŸ—£Naomi Smith started enVie Atelier, together with two co-founders, in 2018. šŸŒ±The Impact Programme is a multi-sector collaboration between Ashoka, ABN AMRO Private Banking Belgium and Accenture Belgium to foster social entrepreneurship in the fields of #circularity and #climate change.
Naomi Web

Value is difficult to gauge objectively. But everything and everyone can make a valuable contribution to society thanks to their individual qualities. This is the vision ofĀ enVie, a social enterprise that focuses on reducing exclusion by bringing vegetables that are rejected for not meeting market ā€œnormsā€ and people who are excluded from theĀ laborĀ market together to create healthy food. With the 2020 Impact Programme, Naomi, the co-founder and general manager, is now takingĀ enVieĀ to the next level.Ā 

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Connecting the dotsĀ 

Naomi first encountered social entrepreneurship during her studies in Sweden. Having experienced the thrill of setting up her first organization focused on having a social impact in the UK following her studies, she moved to Belgium and was determined to find entrepreneurial solutions to social issues she encountered in her new environment.Ā 

ā€œI became more and more interested in trying to figure out how to connect the dots and solve social issues. Thatā€™s how the idea ofĀ enVieĀ started to form.ā€ Having met the food manufacturer McCain at her previous job, she knew that the company supported a social business in France that works along the same lines asĀ enVie. ā€œI contacted them because I thought they might be expanding to Belgium and I was a bit worried. If something was launched in Belgium with McCainā€™s support, there was no chance I could compete.ā€ The conversation took a completely unexpected turn when McCain offered to support the project! McCain and Naomi partnered up to realise a mutual dream.Ā 

Through their conversations with other big food producers, they convincedĀ ColruytĀ to become a partner, as well as Randstad Group &Ā ReoĀ Veiling. ā€œPartnerships are essential,ā€ Naomi explains. ā€œAs a small social enterprise, we need experienced partners that share our values and support us on every step of the value chain, from sourcing vegetables to distributing soup to customers.ā€Ā 

In 2018, the first 17 pallets of soup left theĀ enVieĀ production site. Since then,Ā enVieĀ has trained eight long-term unemployed people and saved 50 tons of surplus or rejected vegetables.Ā 

Weā€™re in it togetherĀ 

The dual mission ofĀ enVie, and the values and passion shared by Naomi and her team mean that theyā€™ve built strong relationships and share a profound trust. ā€œYou bond together because youā€™re in it together for theĀ highs and the lows, the successes and the failuresā€.

Nevertheless,Ā enVieĀ has gone through all the ups and downs of a typicalĀ startup. To grow, Naomi has to make sure that all food safety and quality standards are respected. ā€œItā€™s finding that balance, being able to say,Ā enVieĀ is here to support you, but this is a working environment, itā€™s not a charity.ā€ Through this empowering approach,Ā enVieĀ contributes to building the self-esteem and confidence of all team members.Ā 

ā€œRobin Foodā€Ā 

When the COVID-19 crisis hit,Ā enVieĀ became involved in a solidarity food initiative called Robin Food. The idea came from a Flemish organization that wanted to provide much-needed support to the most vulnerable members of society, while also addressing surplus produce that Belgian farmers were unable to sell due to restaurant closures. ā€œBecause the corporate canteensĀ enVieĀ usually supplies were closed, we had greater production capacity. Our team was eager to work and support food banks and families who are struggling.ā€Ā 

Within a week and a half, five partners that had never previously met or collaborated before launched the Robin Food soup line. The EIT (European Institute of Technology ā€“food section) bought the first 10,000Ā litersĀ of soupĀ enVieĀ produced. The other partners ā€“Ā RisoĀ (SamenlevingsopbouwĀ RISOĀ Vlaams-Brabant),Ā RikoltoĀ and Depot MargotĀ ā€“ organized distribution and brought new connections to other social initiatives in addition toĀ enVieā€™sĀ network of Brussels-based food banks. To maximize the impact of Robin Food,Ā enVieĀ has also launched aĀ GingoĀ crowdfunding campaign.Ā 

Taking her next steps as a social entrepreneurĀ 

Naomiā€™s main reason for joining the Impact Programme is to take the next steps in her professional development as a social entrepreneur. She has incrementally builtĀ EnVie, with the 4 founding partners and theĀ enVieĀ team, based on a learning by doing approach. ā€œWe've not builtĀ enVieĀ in anĀ ā€˜OK, I opened the business model canvas and worked the whole way through it.Ā But I do think it's important to be trained properly to understand how to use those tools and I saw the Impact Programme as an opportunity to do that.ā€Ā 

In addition, access to the networks of Ashoka and its partners ABN AMRO and Accenture offers new opportunities to form new partnerships. ā€œDespite COVID-19, everyone from Ashoka and the coaches from Accenture and ABN AMRO remain still dedicated to providing us with the best support possible!ā€Ā 

Naomiā€™s advice to other social entrepreneurs is to not hesitate to talk to people about their ideas, even potential competitors, because these connections can generate valuable opportunities. ā€˜The idea is already outĀ there,Ā it is how you manage to execute it that makes the differenceā€™Ā