Seeds of Change – Deborah Haust, City Seeds

REDF SE4Jobs Accelerator: New Orleans
Connection, Conversation, Community, Commitment

Over four days, leaders of 18 social enterprises from around the country met in New Orleans as part of an initiative from REDF called the SE4Jobs Accelerator. Convened by REDF as part of its SE4Jobs national network, the Accelerator is designed to expand the field of social enterprise, scale impact, and support the work these organizations do on the front lines of providing employment.

We met with a few social enterprise leaders during the course of the Accelerator to hear more about how these workshops, sessions, and opportunities to connect with peers impact how they run their organization.

Seeds of Change
Deborah Haust, Director, City Seeds, a Humanim Social Enterprise, Baltimore, MD

Those who run a social enterprise know there’s 25 hours of things to do every day. So why take time out from all that responsibility to attend a conference a thousand miles away? Perhaps Deborah Haust, director of City Seeds in Baltimore, said it best: “It’s the difference between working in your business and the opportunity to work on your business.”

Haust participates in REDF’s Accelerator “because of the high level of value these convenings offer. Not just for the organization but also for me as a leader of the organization. I don’t take a lot of time right now to really focus on my presentation skills or my ability to influence and impact others, the pitch. This opportunity with REDF has been really amazing to remind me that those things are important.”

“One of the best workshops so far has been the session on interpreting influence,” Haust says. “It was a great opportunity to dig a little deeper into what’s stopping you from actually delivering a change, or an implementation that’s required for that change. It was beneficial, hard, but we did it with a peer and that conversation helped us work through the entire process.”

For Haust, the ability of the Accelerator program to connect City Seeds with a peer group that does similar work, is nothing short of “amazing,” she says. City Seeds offers an “open hiring policy” for people who have been homeless, struggling with drugs, or recently released from prison. With support services such as financial stability, education, or just an ear to talk to provided by parent organization Humanim, “We do our best to make sure that the individuals we hire can come to the workplace, stay in the workplace, and grow in their employment opportunity. We give them these opportunities by placing them back of the house in our kitchen and having them work in food preparation, delivery, and sous chef roles. We have three cafes in Baltimore, so we can give people front of house opportunities to deal with cash handling, and customer service.”

“We’re all trying to grow our business and have a social impact,” Haust says. The Accelerator provides an opportunity to learn and connect. Especially powerful, Haust explains, is “realizing that my problem is not just my problem. Other people have also experienced it, overcame it, and are growing from it.

The power of connection built at the Accelerator is so strong, that following the first Accelerator gathering, Haust sent her chef and catering manager to Oakland. There they met with Sabrina Mutukisna, who’s running The Town Kitchen, one of the 18 social enterprises participating in the Accelerator. “I would never have been able to do that had it not been for our first meeting in San Francisco and understanding that her operation was very similar to ours,” Haust says. “My management team was able to really learn by going over there. Sabrina was able to open up and share information, because we’re not in the same city and we’re not competing.”

For those currently directing a social enterprise, Haust offers this piece of advice:

“The most important thing when you’re starting a social enterprise is to think about it as a business first.” Budding social entrepreneurs, she believes, must ask themselves, “How is this going to make money? How is this going to sustain? Because if you’re able to grow financially, then you’re going to be able to work harder and better on your mission.”

About Deborah Haust
Deborah Haust is a Canadian native who has worked in all facets of the food industry in North America and Europe, from aquaculture to consumer goods to food service. She is currently launching City Seeds, her third social enterprise, in Baltimore. Deborah earned a MES in urban planning from York University in Toronto, Ontario. Before that, she received her BA in Economics and International Development from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. The combined degrees provide Deborah with the groundwork for leading startups that impact cities in need of positive economic change by uniting the power of politics, workforce, and culture through new business development. Her main mission in any business endeavor is to unite sustainable profit with social mission.

About City Seeds, a Humanim Social Enterprise
City Seeds runs three cafes, a wholesale food service, a catering operation, School of Food (a business training program for food entrepreneurs that primarily reside in disadvantaged communities), and a soon-to-open 8,000 sq. ft. commercial kitchen in East Baltimore. With the support of major anchor institutions, corporations, and food service partners, City Seeds aims to grow the local food economy in Maryland. Growing in both front and back-of-house markets, City Seeds aims to create 70 job opportunities by 2021 for individuals with barriers to employment so they can learn all facets of the hospitality business.