The restaurant group Drueklasen AS had for some time been looking for a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project that was related to their own activities and in which they could involve their staff. PfC put them in touch with Yangon Bakehouse – an exciting social entrepreneurship in Myanmar. The partnership proved productive and became a source of great pleasure to both parties.
Drueklasen AS, which is based in Oslo, includes the Olivia and Spuntino restaurants in its portfolio. The company was set up by three young women 30 years ago; in 2015 they were seeking an appropriate CSR project and got in touch with PfC.
“Drueklasen has always given an annual amount to charitable organisations, but we did not communicate this information internally. For some time, we have wanted to find a project that would also involve our staff. We thought that by gathering and involving management and staff in a joint project, and a project that was associated with our own sector, we might enhance motivation, increase the sense of belonging and help foster a good working environment. This, in turn, would have the potential to make us a better and more attractive workplace,” says Gry Holm, owner of Drueklasen.
Social entrepreneurs in Yangon
PfC suggested several CSR projects to Drueklasen and the company opted to get involved with Yangon Bakehouse (YBH). YBH are social entrepreneurs who run a coffeehouse and catering business while also offering vocational training to marginalised women.
“After we had decided to set up an exchange programme with YBH we presented the project internally. We invited applications which we evaluated thoroughly before selecting two of our staff, Mira and Julie, to travel to Myanmar. There was a lot of interest, many of our staff applied, and our employees were very positive,” says Holm.
Mira Foss is one of the two employees who spent three months in Yangon working at Yangon Bakehouse as part of our skills-sharing project.
“I am unbelievably proud to have an employer that wishes to share what they have built up through a CSR project. The fact that Drueklasen has involved the staff and that we were given an opportunity to contribute in the way we did in the Myanmar project helps motivate us to work hard and be proactive. In addition, it makes you feel very proud about where you work. This sort of thing promotes well-being at work. Knowing that you have many opportunities as an employee adds a lot of value,” says Foss.
During their stay in Yangon, Mira and Julie shared their own skills and experience from working in the restaurant business in Norway.
“The Drueklasen employees brought a high level of professionalism into our team. They became role models and helped encourage a change in perceptions, so that this industry is seen as a good career choice for young women. In Myanmar, there is a certain amount of stigma associated with women entering this industry. Women in the industry are considered second-class women,” explains Kelly Macdonald – one of the entrepreneurs behind Yangon Bakehouse.
Mira Foss is very clear that she learnt a lot from her stay.
“I don’t think I have fully grasped yet how much my stay in Myanmar has meant to me. Every time I face new challenges and opportunities, I can rely on the experiences and lessons I learnt there. I am truly grateful for this opportunity. I would say that the most meaningful thing for me were the relationships and humanity I experienced. Thanks to my experiences in Myanmar, I have grown in a way I don’t think I could have achieved in Norway,” says Foss.
While she and Julie were in Yangon, they regularly published updates on the intranet for their employer. After they came home they presented the projects at several staff meetings. “At this stage, we have not yet made any attempt to measure the project’s impact, but we were very surprised at the level of interest shown by our colleagues in hearing about it and applying for an exchange. Our business is very seasonal and many of our young employees work part-time and only in season. We are therefore well aware that we need to keep this project ‘hot’ if we want to keep up interest and maintain its positive impact,” says Holm.
PfC as a facilitator
PfC’s cooperation with YBH includes delivery of English instruction to their training programme. In addition, the Løge Foundation provided PfC with funds to offer YBH a loan which made it possible for YBH to open a coffeehouse in Telenor’s headquarters in Yangon. Together with Drueklasen and YBH, PfC acted as a facilitator and local point of contact.
“This support was essential for our decision to go for this project. We lacked the resources and competencies to find a place to live, make agreements and follow up things locally – and not least to safeguard security during the stay. The PfC’s local representative helped the women feel safe,” says Holm.