It’s OK to make more profit in order to help more people

Executives of the Part-time Master Bedrijfskunde at RSM were tasked with working with a Rotterdam-based social enterprise to create and help solve a business problem. The team comprising Nick Kiran, Philip Groeneveld, Pim Rensen, and Dezhin Kocher collaborated with a café business with a difference, the Heilige Boontjes (‘holy beans’) foundation. It was created to help young people with a difficult or criminal background into employment. The team of RSM students offered business advice that succeeded in helping Heilige Boontjes realise and increase its impact.

What is it about your effort that makes a positive change?
Nick Kiran is one of the students who was part of the team that put extra beans into the Heilige Boontjes cafe. He works as Marketing Lead for TWTG, a company specialising in the Industrial Internet of Things. “The founders of Heilige Boontjes were Police Inspector Marco den Dunnen and youth worker-turned-entrepreneur Rodney van den Hengel. They both wanted to help young people more directly with employment opportunities and reintegration into society.

“It can take months for young people to find a workplace or employer through the official government programme. The founders of Heilige Boontjes wanted to speed up this process with the government’s Jongerenloket.

“We initially didn’t want to work with a company that was a charity foundation; we thought there wouldn’t be enough focus or need for a business case. But we soon realised there was a lot to gain from its main issue; we identified it needed an all-encompassing business model that allowed it to increase its revenue so it could achieve its intention.”

Nick and the RSM team found it wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Staff members at Heilige Boontjes were sceptical to begin with; that might have been because of the different experiences, opinions and approaches of the RSM business students, the people who work for the foundation, and the clients that are helped by it. “It took some convincing, but we eventually helped them realise that it’s okay – and necessary – to increase revenue in order to achieve what they wanted. What’s more, we helped them realise that it was actually possible to achieve their goal of taking at least 50 people through the reintegration process and providing help, by selling more coffee beans to small-to-medium companies.”

What did it do for you/what did you get out of this experience?
Nick explained: “It was a total mind change for me as I come from a commercial background. It’s incredible that Heilige Boontjes was thought up by two people from a completely different sector to business and that they just wanted to do good for those who come from a disadvantaged background.”

Fellow team member Philip Groeneveld, who works as a business unit controller for composite manufacturer Airborne adds: “Usually talking to entrepreneurs means you’re talking business, but Heilige Boontjes’ goals were different, and at first we thought these goals were vague. But we convinced the foundation of the value of a professional business model by advising it to separate and clearly differentiate between its business goal and its social goal. We helped them realise that the more profit you can generate, the more people you can help.”

Philip continued: “It’s interesting because it was a business case project. Most people and most companies don’t even think about where coffee comes from. They just go for convenience. Especially for organisations in the Rotterdam area, there’s a regional interest in investing in coffee with a cause (so accessing the market is relatively easy). Organisations have even indicated to us that they’d be willing to pay more if they were aware of the café’s mission; they were willing to pay 58 per cent more for their coffee.”

“Ten years ago, you may have been the outsider if you thought societal impact was an essential part of core business strategy. Nowadays, you’re an outsider if you think it’s not. That’s a good thing,” said Philip.

Nick: “I think you get a motivation to do something to contribute to society when you realize you’re spoiled and you live in a paradise, and you realise there are people who don’t live as well as you do. That’s where the responsibility to do something comes from.”

The RSM team drew on their experiences of working in senior management with colleagues who had a very realistic outlook of achieving whatever is possible, as well as taking into account the wishes of others to contribute to a more sustainable world.

What advice do you have for people who are going to do a similar project?
Team member Pim Rensen, who is manager of the service department at Giesbers InstallatieGroep (an installation company) added: “One piece of advice we got from the director of the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, Dr. Ferdinand Jaspers, is to try to focus on smaller problems. Bigger problems sound overly theoretical and unobtainable, especially at the start of the collaboration with the social enterprise.

“Our advice is not to take the problem at face value. What we did – and would strongly recommend – is to do an analysis of the actual business problem and get to the root question by asking ‘how can we really help this entrepreneur?’

“We also found it extremely beneficial to be a diverse group ourselves. All four of us come from a different sector and have different work experiences, which proved to really work in our favour.”