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The Latin American Youth Center/Ben & Jerry's Partnershop

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Creamy, Delicious and Oh So Good For Youth

You can find lots of cool things in a scoop of ice cream - mint chips, pistachios, Oreo bits, a future. Yes, a future. That's the theory behind two Ben & Jerry's ice cream shops operated by the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in the Washington, DC area, two of 11 such stores throughout the United States, plus one in Northern Ireland.

For three years LAYC has operated a Ben & Jerry's in the Eastern Market section of Washington, DC. About a year ago, they opened a second shop in Chevy Chase, just inside the boundary between the nation's capital and Maryland. The Hitachi Foundation provided part of the support needed to open the LAYC Chevy Chase shop.

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The two LAYC shops, along with other nonprofit-owned Ben & Jerry's scoop shops, are called "PartnerShops." They aren't required to pay the franchisee fee. Ben & Jerry's also waives the annual royalty fee — 3 percent of gross sales — for PartnerShops. But they do have to come up with start-up costs — thus the grant from the Foundation.

"The LAYC and Ben & Jerry's partnership is a perfect example of how two distinct bottom lines — that of a nonprofit, community-based organization and that of a major corporation — can intersect for mutual benefit," says Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation. "It provides us a great opportunity to learn how the core business practices of a large company can serve both a social and a business purpose."

The mission of LAYC's Ben & Jerry PartnerShop is to provide youth with job skills and employment experience.

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"It's a job training and employment program for youth," reports Laurie Mittenthal, Director of Social Enterprise at LAYC, " which is tightly aligned with our mission of preparing youth to succeed in the workplace. We hire between 50 and 60 young people each year and provide in-store training as well as training in work and life skills, such as communication, personal responsibility, and punctuality."

LAYC specifically looks to hire youth who do not have prior work experience or who may have a checkered employment history.

"Youth who face barriers to employment elsewhere have the opportunity to find a job through our Ben & Jerry's PartnerShop," Mittenthal continues.

Liana Castro is 15 and has been working at the Chevy Chase Ben & Jerry's PartnerShop for about a year now. The challenge she faced was her age. At 14, nobody was hiring her and she needed to save money for college.

"The best thing about being part of a PartnerShop is that it's a family," she says. "You can depend on the people you are working with. And, of course, the most valuable thing is the work experience I can get."

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Mittenthal, however, notes that LAYC goes beyond providing work experience. "We have a youth development manager who works with the young men and women, who generally range in age from 15 to 20, throughout the year on work and life skills," she says. "If there are life situations that are getting in the way of successful job performance — such as problems relating to housing, family, or drugs and alcohol — our youth development manager helps the youth resolve these issues.

"Our goal is to have the young people who work at our Ben & Jerry's leave us within the course of a year and move on to whatever their next step might be, whether that be education or further employment."

And what is the goal of Ben & Jerry's, the corporate entity? Why support an ice cream shop that might bring in considerably less revenue to the corporation than a typical franchisee? Jennifer Shewmake, the PartnerShop program manager at Ben & Jerry's, points out that, in essence, it's the essence of the brand.

"It is a way for Ben & Jerry's to advance its social mission," she says. "It's the purest form of our social mission which is simply defined as giving back to the community where we are doing business.

"There are three pillars upon which the company stands: product quality, economics, and social mission. Each is equal. All are important. All are integrated. And all impact each other."

Indeed pursuing a social as well as an economic bottom line, is as entwined in the Ben & Jerry's business model as are cherries in their signature Cherry Garcia ice cream, so much so that when global corporate giant Unilever purchased the company in 2000, divorcing Ben & Jerry's from its social mission made little if any business sense.

"Unilever is committed to allowing Ben & Jerry's remain as independent as possible and recognizes that Ben & Jerry's is such a valuable brand because of what the company stands for," adds Shewmake.

"Our social mission is related to economics in that the social mission is such a critical part of Ben & Jerry's. The company has remained committed to operating as a socially conscious business in part because that is associated with the brand. Our customers want to be loyal to that. It builds loyalty among our customers which leads to positive economic returns."

Ben & Jerry's commitment to the PartnerShop program goes beyond choosing a site and providing the ice cream. The company brings all of the PartnerShop programs together twice a year — every September there is a two-day PartnerShop "community meeting" and in January, during the franchisee's annual "community gathering," a day is set aside for PartnerShops to meet on their own.

"Throughout the year we facilitate communication among our PartnerShops through regular conference calls," reports Shewmake. "And we routinely share information from the fields of social enterprise and employment training with all of our PartnerShops."

Ben & Jerry's is committed to expanding the PartnerShop program but recognizes that finding the right nonprofit partner limits how fast they can grow. "Ideally, we would like to have a PartnerShop in every major market," Shewmake says.

Concludes Dyer: "It really is a classic example of a mutual bottom line. LAYC is preparing youth to succeed in the workplace and Ben & Jerry's is pursuing its social mission, which the company defines as a core competency, while continuing to strengthen the brand image.

"It should also be a reminder that social venturing is a complex endeavor. In this case both parties were successful in aligning the interests of the corporation and the nonprofit partners. This is not an easy task, however. Indeed, that is why Ben & Jerry's is not expanding the PartnerShop concept as quickly as the company might like. A mismatch between core competencies and expectations can result in failure. Even where there is a good match, as with the LAYC/Ben & Jerry's partnership, the tension between the best choices in support of youth and the best choices in support of profits is inevitable. Success in social ventures like these requires that the partners have a keen ability to recognize and address this tension for the ultimate good of both. It takes a long-term view."

 

 
 

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