For the EVOLution of Business

40 Years of Social Innovation with Foodlink's Mitch Gruber

Episode Summary

In some ways, Conscious Capitalism blurs the lines between the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Some have even erased the distinction by calling it for-purpose. There are certainly things that the for-profit sector can learn from non-profits about brining more purpose into work. There is also much that the non-profit sector can learn about being more agile and entrepreneurial. Perhaps Rochester's most entrepreneurial non-profit, Foodlink is celebrating "40 Years of Social Innovation." Tune in to this episode with Foodlink's Chief Programs Officer Mitch Gruber to learn about some of their most innovative social enterprises, how they balance purpose and profit, and how balancing their values of agility and stewardship help to create an entrepreneurial culture at Foodlink. Mitch Gruber is the Chief Programs Officer at Foodlink. After graduating from SUNY Binghamton in 2006, Mitch traveled throughout east Africa and the middle east to work on various social justice projects. He returned to Rochester in late 2007 and began working for Action for a Better Community as a Head Start teacher on Hudson Avenue. He met his mentor Tom Ferraro in 2008 and began working for Foodlink, where he now serves as the Chief Programs Officer. He implemented some of the most critical public health programming in Rochester including Curbside Market, Lexington Ave Urban Farm, and several job training programs. For this work Governor Cuomo appointed him to his Council on Hunger and Food Policy. While at Foodlink he earned a PhD in American history at the University of Rochester. His dissertation analyzed the decline in urban food access in Rochester during the twentieth century, and argued that a strong municipal government can foster equity and social justice for all residents. He was even married at the Rochester Public Market and he and his wife own and live in a home in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood, where he is not only an active member of the neighborhood association but was recently elected to Rochester City Council.

Episode Notes

[2:00] The beginning of Foodlink
[3:45] How organizations looking to become zero waste have led to additional partnerships
[5:15] Creating an entrepreneurial culture
[7:45] Mitch's path to Foodlink
[9:30] Mitch's PhD dissertation on how a lack of Conscious Capitalism impacted the food system and public health
[13:30] Foodlink's Curbside Market
[18:00] Balancing purpose and profits in social enterprise
[21:00] "Hunger is not a problem in our community that exists outside of poverty. People only can't eat because they can't afford to eat. There's plenty of food to go around"
[22:00] Foodlink's innovative workforce development program to close the middle skills gap
"It's an expensive program to run, but it's something that we as a community cannot be shy about. If we want to train people well, it's going to cost money. If we're going to do job training programs, they cannot be done with the 'cheapness' being the thing that matters."
[27:45] Measuring success through self-sufficiency and holding jobs for the long-term
[29:30] How urban gardens are turning unused lots into profitable, vibrant engines of job creation
[32:15] Listening to community members needs
[35:00] The future of Foodlink - grocery stores in downtown Rochester?
[37:00] Foodlink's new strategic plan - advocacy and community empowerment
[40:00] How Foodlink's values of agility and stewardship help them to be an entrepreneurial nonprofit
[42:00] "Hunger itself is not a production problem. It's a purely economic problem. It's about people not having enough money to spend on food. They (Mushroom Cloud Consulting) do the math to show that if all of the money that was spent on the charitable food network was actually just redistributed out to people to be able to spend on what they want for themselves, there's actually enough there."
[45:00] Mitch's leadership journey - patience and the difficulty of true empathy