Sander da Graca was 20 years old, had completed secondary vocational training and was eager to work, but couldn’t find a job. ‘Whatever I tried, it just never seemed to work out’. When he came across The Colour Kitchen, everything changed.

Anyone who has ordered a sandwich, lunch or dinner at Accenture’s company restaurant over the past five years has met 25-year-old Sander. He has been working for ISS - the facility management company in charge of Accenture’s catering - since he was 20. ‘What I love most about my work is the fact that I get to do so many different things, from preparing sandwiches or plating lunch to rearranging the fridges or working at the till, and everything in between. I am the type of person who can’t sit or stand still, so I prefer to be busy all the time.’

‘Before starting in catering, my goal was to work in a game or music shop - two of my most beloved hobbies. But times have been tough for retailers lately as online shopping rapidly takes over. I did some voluntary work at a pop venue for a bit, but I was terribly frustrated about not finding a “real” job. Then the UWV connected me with The Colour Kitchen.’

Image: Sander de Graca - The Kolour Kitchen - by Accenture

Watch-How-It’s-Done Kind of Guy

‘As said, I am a busy bee, so I have just as much energy and drive as my co-workers. But what hinders me a little compared to them is that it takes me slightly longer to understand things. For instance, when I started working here, it took me a few weeks - if not more - to get a handle on things, whereas others probably understood what needed to be done within just a few days. Learning new things by heart has never been my strong suit; I’m more of a “watch how it’s done and copy it” kind of guy. My coach from The Colour Kitchen once said, “Always write down whatever you’re scared you might forget; even make small mind maps if it helps you”, and I still consider this one of the most valuable tips I have received.’

Director Joske Paumen, director of the socially minded hospitality concept, reminisces: ‘Seeing Sander again recently was a very special moment for me. I hadn’t seen him since he finished his training five years ago. He was one of the first people we outplaced to Accenture, when The Colour Kitchen’s partnership with Accenture was still in its early days. It is fantastic to see how he has grown, both personally and professionally. Over the past ten years, we have trained and coached more than 1,000 people. If only half of them have managed to find their calling the way Sander has, then we’ve done our job well and I’m happy. Knowing that The Colour Kitchen has started so many people off on a path to success, is just fantastic.’

If only half of them have managed to find their calling the way Sander has, then we’ve done our job well

‘The people we assist at The Colour Kitchen are those who are occupationally challenged, which we can broadly define as “anyone who finds him- or herself in a vulnerable position and doesn’t have immediate access to regular schooling or employment”. Although we predominantly focus on people on welfare or with a WAJONG status, we’ll just as readily strive to help a 55-year-old man who’s struggling to find work, a teen mom or a youngster with autism.’

Promoting Integration through Social Eating

What The Colour Kitchen is today differs quite significantly from what it was when it was launched in 2007. The original idea was to open an easy-going restaurant in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Amsterdam where people from all walks of life could come together over the shared love for food. In other words, the goal was to promote integration. ‘While the restaurant was a great success, it didn’t exactly serve the function we envisaged as, unfortunately, customers weren’t as culturally diverse as we had hoped,’ explains Joske.

She continues: ‘In fact, the sort of guests we were hoping for did visit the restaurant, but not to eat - they came to inquire about employment. That made us rethink the concept, and we decided that by training those looking for a job and teaching them key hospitality skills, we could still promote integration. We partnered with the Amsterdam Municipality, the UWV and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and launched our very first training program - a memorable milestone for us. We trained ten young people to become professional chefs, eight of whom graduated and successfully found a job in a restaurant kitchen. Gradually, we started running programs more frequently and teamed up with a growing number of restaurants. The logical next step was to expand into the corporate world and reach out to catering companies at large businesses too.’

Image: Joske Paumen - Jorn van Wijnen - Sander da Graca - The Kolour Kitchen - by Accenture

Appropriate Education and the Right Training

What started out as a restaurant business has transformed into an admirable social enterprise that helps people find a place in the labor market and society. Through the right training and sensitive coaching, The Colour Kitchen aims to nurture new chefs, hosts and hospitality assistants who are well equipped to succeed.

As Joske explains: ‘Every year we train 200 people, 75 percent of whom finish the program and obtain that much-needed diploma. Following this, nearly 70 percent of these students find their way into the working world and secure “normal” jobs and a regular income. Currently, we have graduates working in 24 different locations around the country, and 20 of these are in-house facilities at various companies. While all these figures aren’t bad, they’re not quite where we’d like to be just yet. For some of the students who complete the training, the gap between having the necessary skills and actually finding a job still remains too big. Finding a way to shrink this rift is one of our biggest challenges and we are constantly looking for solutions.’

Start the Day with a Handshake

The partnership between Accenture and The Colour Kitchen was cemented in 2012. It started with Accenture offering funding to The Colour Kitchen and inviting their students to their office and occasionally to cater for events. Three years ago, the collaboration evolved significantly when Accenture started supporting The Colour Kitchen’s team on a pro bono basis. Business Strategy Consultant Jorn van Wijnen was one of the professionals that spent four months building a strategy to fuel The Colour Kitchens growth ambition.’

‘My time at The Colour Kitchen was completely different to my experience working in the corporate world,’ says Jorn. ‘While Accenture obviously really values its employees, The Colour Kitchen’s emphasis on human connections struck me right away. For instance, everyone greets each other with a handshake every morning. Although I admit I found this new ritual a bit awkward in the beginning, it soon became something I did naturally. The attention to people, the product and the purpose of the company stand out at The Colour Kitchen. And it was great that we could add value to an organization like this. It’s the ideal marriage of expertise - an organization that has a social agenda working with consultants who approach things from a technical, analytical point of view.’

The attention to people, the product and the purpose of the company stand out at The Colour Kitchen

Making a Difference

Recently, The Colour Kitchen beat out nine other competitors to win Accenture’s Making a Difference battle. At the end of a day’s worth of collaborative workshops with ten volunteering Accenture consultants, the social enterprise’s carefully considered franchising strategy and formula took the prize. With the strategy in place, the goal now is to launch at least five new restaurants through franchising by 2020. Combined with a significant growth in in-house catering facilities, this should enable The Colour Kitchen to increase its number of annual trainees from the current 200 to 800.

‘Winning the prize was a great boost for The Colour Kitchen, not only because of the prize money, but also because it gives our organization more visibility,’ a proud Joske says. ‘In fact, teaming up with Accenture has benefited us in many ways. Aside from this one example, it’s given us access to a huge network of interesting, experienced people. And like Jorn said, the added value of working with consultants with strategic insights, technological know-how and numerous other skills over the past three years has been absolutely priceless.’

Image: Be Yourself, Make a Difference - by Accenture

Skills to Succeed

Speaking on behalf of Accenture, Jorn says: ‘Working with The Colour Kitchen has been a pleasure for us too. We wholeheartedly support the concept of social enterprises - they enable a sustainable way forward. One of our key ambitions at Accenture is to empower people, especially those who are occupationally challenged. Plus, for me personally, it was very interesting and rewarding to get out of my corporate bubble, be part of such a great initiative and witness the amazing things we can achieve together.’  

It […] has really empowered me to make something of myself

Restaurant assistant Sander is a prime example of what can be achieved. Today, he feels completely at home in the restaurant. ‘Sometimes, I even guide and instruct other people at work, which makes me feel good - like I’m in charge. But what I enjoy most about working in hospitality is dealing with guests and offering them something that makes them happy. I definitely have The Colour Kitchen to thank for this opportunity. Over and above offering me training and helping me gain the required diploma, it was their continued support, belief in me and willingness to lend a helping hand whenever I needed it that has really empowered me to make something of myself.’

Image: Sander de Graca - The Kolour Kitchen - by Accenture