A self-funded social enterprise is baking cookies that ‘spark joy’ for the people who eat them, and changed the lives of the people who bake them.
Employment rates for people living with a disability in New Zealand are low, and jobseekers often face misperception about their abilities from employers, unconscious bias, fear of the unknown, and perceived risk. That didn’t sit well with Graeme Haddon, who has three children with disabilities, and Eric Chuah. Together they founded The Cookie Project to provide fair, meaningful and fun employment for people with disabilities, so they feel accepted, included, and valued.
Strong partnerships were formed with brands including Lewis Road Creamery, Pic’s Peanut Butter and Trade Aid New Zealand who provide ingredients, and weekly baking sessions are done at the premises of Eat My Lunch, with support from a team of volunteers.
Graeme Haddon says these partnerships help ensure the quality of the cookies, which are free of additives, preservatives and colouring.
“We know our cookies will only sell sustainably in the long term if we have a quality product, rather than relying on the sympathy card to generate orders.”
Customers order online and the cookies are couriered out to them. Satisfaction rates are high, with an average 4.9 out of 5.
The founders were keen that no willing bakers would be excluded from the project. As a result they don’t ask for a curriculum vitae or conduct interviews, and the project is pan-disability. All bakers earn at least the minimum hourly wage of $17.70 and there are untimed, unlimited breaks.
All employees, volunteers and suppliers are introduced to the five organisational values that underpin The Cookie Project: inclusion; participation; respect; appreciation; and whanaungatanga.
One of the organisation’s objectives is providing employment pathways beyond The Cookie Project.
“We are now working with a few café partners to provide employment pathways for our bakers after we train them in the basic skills that café partners are looking for, such as operating coffee machines, waitering skills, and back of house responsibilities. We are proud to announce that Eat My Lunch is employing one of our bakers, Michael, as their coffee barista for their new retail store at Britomart,” says Graeme.
Feedback from bakers and their families has been very positive. The mother of one worker wrote that her son’s life had improved significantly. “We have seen a remarkable change in Michael. He has become a confident, responsible young man who is proud of what he has achieved, takes pride in his work and takes responsibility for getting to work and back. He is now socialising outside of work with a few of the young team members ...”