Netherlands | Social entrepreneurship

De Koekfabriek does more than just bake cookies

16 May 2022 16:00

Since 2013, De Koekfabriek has offered meaningful and challenging work to people who have trouble finding paid employment. And it does so without government subsidies, purely from the bakery’s own profits. But what about the small group of people who have special difficulty finding jobs? The enterprising baker thinks it’s also found a solution for them, says co-founder Arthur de Nerée.

People are making cookies

“Curiosity; that’s the foundation of De Koekfabriek. A few years ago, I was asked to use my experience in the hospitality industry to come up with a service concept for a care institution. Until then, I’d never thought about issues like ‘employment participation’ or ‘people who have trouble finding paid employment’.”

“I was astonished at how care institutions and the government make it harder for people to participate. I don’t mind paying taxes if it results in quality care for people who have trouble finding work. But when money gets wasted on overpriced care businesses, then it seems to me that something’s not right.”

Impact entrepreneurship

“As an entrepreneur, I saw an opportunity for a company that sets an example for other businesses in that area. Because if every company in the Netherlands would hire someone with some rough edges, then we’d go a long way towards solving the problem. That was the start of De Koekfabriek – we create work for people who would normally have problems finding paid employment. We do earn a profit, but our goal as a social enterprise isn’t to maximize profits. I actually prefer the term ‘impact entrepreneurship’. To me, the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ sounds like it’s more about collecting government subsidies, which is something I’m totally not in favor of.”

Owner of de Koekfabriek

Substantial difference

“De Koekfabriek was founded in 2013 to make an impact in the area of employment participation. A lot of other concepts revolve around social spending. But in our case, De Koekfabriek bears all the costs – and earns all the profit. We do have agreements with care partners to make sure that people who need assistance actually get it. We prefer to work together with small care providers that are also transparent about their cost structure.”

“We opened the first De Koekfabriek store in 2016. Now we have four locations: the bakery and three retail stores. Our ambition is to grow to five or six stores over the next five years. Today we employ between 80 and 100 people at De Koekfabriek, who work according to their own abilities. The great thing is: they’re not just folding origami swans that end up in the trash. Everyone contributes to making a real product. We hope to expand the number of employees in the near future, so that we can make an even bigger difference.”

Helping more people

“To find new staff, we recently started focusing on the small group of people who have special difficulty finding jobs. Most people who have trouble finding paid employment will find a job eventually. But some people get stuck in the complicated participation system. We want to find out if we can offer them a position with us.”

“In addition to the bakery, we’ve set up an independent foundation to act as an intermediary. If possible, we find them a job at the bakery. In principle, we pay for the care and guidance they need from the Koekfabriek’s profits. That keeps us in control of the process. If we can find an organization willing to cover some of the costs, then we consider that a win. But in the meantime, the people have a place to work with us.”

Sustainable financing

“Rabo Foundation offered us a loan with favorable conditions. I think it’s a sustainable form of financing: we pay back the loan, and they can use the money to finance other social entrepreneurs. We could have applied for a standard bank loan, but the conditions would have been a lot less favorable for us. Besides that, Rabo Foundation is really thinking along with us. The first two years of the corona pandemic were really tough. So it really helped us when they temporarily suspended interest and payments.”

Arthur de Nerée’s three tips for social entrepreneurs

1. Set a good example. It’s easy to throw tomatoes from the sidelines, but you’ll achieve more if you show that there’s another way to do things.

2. Set clear goals – not just in the area of social results, but especially in the area of financial results.

3. Maintain your focus. Are you thinking of switching to a fully organic product line, in addition to offering jobs? That’s a great idea for later, but right now it would only be another distraction.

Would you like to help De Koekfabriek make an impact? Then take a moment to visit the webshop. Order a jam pot full of cookies to share, or surprise someone with a cookie gift card. Social enterprises like De Koekfabriek are a source of inspiration for other companies. Read how we help them have an even bigger impact.