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. 馃摚 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. 馃棧Naomi Smith started enVie Atelier, together with two co-founders, in 2018. 馃尡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 of聽enVie, a social enterprise that focuses on reducing exclusion by bringing vegetables that are rejected for not meeting market 鈥渘orms鈥 and people who are excluded from the聽labor聽market together to create healthy food. With the 2020 Impact Programme, Naomi, the co-founder and general manager, is now taking聽enVie聽to the next level.聽

Connecting the dots聽

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.聽

鈥淚 became more and more interested in trying to figure out how to connect the dots and solve social issues. That鈥檚 how the idea of聽enVie聽started to form.鈥 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 as聽enVie. 鈥淚 contacted them because I thought they might be expanding to Belgium and I was a bit worried. If something was launched in Belgium with McCain鈥檚 support, there was no chance I could compete.鈥 The conversation took a completely unexpected turn when McCain offered to support the project! McCain and Naomi partnered up to realise a mutual dream.聽

Through their conversations with other big food producers, they convinced聽Colruyt聽to become a partner, as well as Randstad Group &聽Reo聽Veiling. 鈥淧artnerships are essential,鈥 Naomi explains. 鈥淎s 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.鈥澛

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

We鈥檙e in it together聽

The dual mission of聽enVie, and the values and passion shared by Naomi and her team mean that they鈥檝e built strong relationships and share a profound trust. 鈥淵ou bond together because you鈥檙e in it together for the聽highs and the lows, the successes and the failures鈥.

Nevertheless,聽enVie聽has gone through all the ups and downs of a typical聽startup. To grow, Naomi has to make sure that all food safety and quality standards are respected. 鈥淚t鈥檚 finding that balance, being able to say,聽enVie聽is here to support you, but this is a working environment, it鈥檚 not a charity.鈥 Through this empowering approach,聽enVie聽contributes to building the self-esteem and confidence of all team members.聽

鈥淩obin Food鈥澛

When the COVID-19 crisis hit,聽enVie聽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. 鈥淏ecause the corporate canteens聽enVie聽usually supplies were closed, we had greater production capacity. Our team was eager to work and support food banks and families who are struggling.鈥澛

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 鈥揻ood section) bought the first 10,000聽liters聽of soup聽enVie聽produced. The other partners 鈥撀燫iso聽(Samenlevingsopbouw聽RISO聽Vlaams-Brabant),聽Rikolto聽and Depot Margot聽鈥 organized distribution and brought new connections to other social initiatives in addition to聽enVie鈥檚聽network of Brussels-based food banks. To maximize the impact of Robin Food,聽enVie聽has also launched a聽Gingo聽crowdfunding campaign.聽

Taking her next steps as a social entrepreneur聽

Naomi鈥檚 main reason for joining the Impact Programme is to take the next steps in her professional development as a social entrepreneur. She has incrementally built聽EnVie, with the 4 founding partners and the聽enVie聽team, based on a learning by doing approach. 鈥淲e've not built聽enVie聽in an聽鈥極K, I opened the business model canvas and worked the whole way through it.聽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.鈥澛

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

Naomi鈥檚 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. 鈥楾he idea is already out聽there,聽it is how you manage to execute it that makes the difference鈥櫬