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How Greyston Bakery is Using Brownies to Fight Poverty

Maren Keeley January 2, 2015

Bernie Glassman, Zen master and social entrepreneur, founded Greyston Bakery in 1982 because he saw employment as the key to eliminating poverty. Bernie initiated the company’s Open Hiring policy, beginning a long tradition of providing jobs to the difficult-to-employ: people with social and economic challenges such as homelessness, former incarceration, drug use, language barriers, or lack of education. His mission has expanded over the last 30 years to include holistically serving low-income communities in Yonkers by providing affordable housing, child care services, community gardens, and workforce development. Today, Greyston, a certified B Corp, continues to flourish and is celebrated as a top business model for creating social change.

Meghan French Dunbar: What do you love about your business?

Mike Brady: Greyston Bakery has a pulse that I have encountered at few other places. Our mission has always been to bake brownies to employ people, and we do just that. Individualized attention to each employee also sets us apart from other corporations and creates a strong community and a supportive environment that I love.

MFD: Which of your business practices are you most proud of?

MB: For 32 years, Greyston has served as a model for balancing business success with social justice innovation. We are proud of our incredible partnerships, our devoted customer base, and our committed employees working together to support our people-centric mission.

Maren Keeley: What are the top 3 benefits of operating your business in a sustainable way?

MB: We constantly strive to be sustainable in three veins: environmentally, socially, and economically.

It is difficult to stand out in a global supply chain, but because of our social justice commitment, we get recognized and valued alongside multinational suppliers much larger in size.

Moreover, the benefits that Open Hiring provides within our organization and the local economy are numerous:

1. We focus the majority of our onboarding resources on employee training, rather than on interviews and background checks, which is a cost effective means of growing the workforce.

2. We train our community’s most economically disadvantaged residents and provide them with skills that can break the cycle of poverty in their families.

3. We generate two million dollars in savings to Westchester County through reduced recidivism.

MFD: What advice do you have on building a highly effective team?

MB: At Greyston, our culture is based on achieving our mission to serve others. The effectiveness of our management team is dependent on working with people who resonate with this mission. Our team members are dedicated to moving our business forward with their traditional job skills while finding new and creative ways to achieve our social justice goals.

MK: What advice do you have regarding quality leadership?

MB: There is no substitute for articulating a clear vision and being transparent when reporting on your successes and failures in pursuit of that vision.

 MFD: What tips do you have for building a strong community at your business?

MB: Give everyone an equal chance to be successful, hold people accountable for their behavior, and encourage open dialogue from anyone that has a suggestion for improving the business.

Editor’s Note: Greyston Bakery was generous enough to send us a few sample brownies and we were blown away! Seriously, they were absolutely delicious.

Open Hiring – A New Model for Social Change

At Greyston, we want to challenge the notion that a certain background is a relevant predictor of a poor employee (e.g., a criminal record, issues with homelessness, etc.) and we do this through our practice of Open Hiring. Open Hiring is a simple concept based on the Buddhist fundamentals of non-judgment and loving action brought to Greyston by our founder Bernie Glassman and the Zen community of New York. Contrary to traditional hiring processes, during Open Hiring potential employees are not asked about their job experience, their education, their skills, or any other topics that are generally covered in a job interview or application process. Instead, they are introduced to what will be expected of them as employees when they start working as bakers. As a result, we have a community of people working together to not only change their lives for the better, but also to prove that there are better models for hiring people into a workplace.

Climate Action / Equity and Inclusion / Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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