New Trend in Charity: Public-Private Strategic Alliances

The global economic downturn has forced charities to be inventive in their quest to lock in long-term financial viability. Necessity being the mother of invention, non-profit relief agencies are turning to the corporate sector to forge social ventures with mutually beneficial returns.

Last month, American Friends of Meir Panim (AFMP), a U.S. charity established to support Meir Panim Relief Centers, Israel’s largest supplier of food and social services for poverty-stricken children and families, formed a strategic alliance with Schulz Quality Catering, Israel’s largest corporate catering and food service provider. Schultz will will lease and operate the institutional kitchen at Meir Panim’s Nutrition Center located in Kiryat Gat. The joint venture will feed up to 30,000 needy Israeli children and families a day.

The idea for the innovative arrangement emerged as Schulz was searching for a larger facility to accommodate its expanding corporate client base. Meir Panim had just started construction of a commercial kitchen to handle the growing needs of its programs that provide daily assistance to tens of thousands of poor Israelis, including the preparation and distribution of over one million subsidized meals a year through its network of relief centers and free restaurants located throughout Israel.

A clever kitchen designer who was consulting with both parties brought the two together, and everyone immediately recognized the potential benefits. As part of the leasing agreement Schulz will use the facility to supply its existing clients, in addition to managing the production of Meir Panim’s charity food-service operations.

When food production begins during the fourth quarter of 2010, The Israel Nutrition Center will operate 24-hours a day and be Israel’s largest supplier of food assistance. The most notable benefit of this venture is that annual revenues from the lease arrangement make the Israel Nutrition Center entirely self-sustaining. The facility is also expected to create over 200 new jobs for local community residents.

To Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and an early supporter of the project, this partnership represents a trend-setting opportunity.

“In the face of these difficult economic times, it is crucial for every relief agency to be innovative and resourceful to meet the growing demand for its services. This public-private collaboration will establish the largest food relief program in Israel, impacting the lives of tens of thousands of children and their families on a daily basis. It is a shining example of entrepreneurial philanthropy that deserves praise and should be emulated.”

“While this undoubtedly makes sense from a pure business perspective,” says Michael Fromm, Chairman of American Friends of Meir Panim, “it is also a clear act of social responsibility on the part of Schulz Catering.” He describes the alliance as a model for leveraging the use of corporate resources to advance social causes. “Everyone wins in this deal, and it marks a clear turning point in our decade-long fight against hunger in Israel.”

about: Meir Panim was founded in 2000 and serves thousands of free meals a day to Israel’s needy population through its network of relief centers and free restaurants in fourteen Israeli cities; daily packaged meal deliveries to thousands of needy schoolchildren; the homebound, elderly, and disabled; and prepaid food card distribution. Meir Panim operates nine Power of Giving warehouses, which distribute second hand clothing and furniture to poor families, and operates adult vocational training sites and after-school clubs in many Israeli cities for at-risk youth