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Research

The Ontario Christian Gleaners: A Case Study of a Stakeholder-Engaged Organizational Strategy

  • Erna van Duren et
  • Rita Hansen Sterne

Corps de l’article

Introduction

Gleaning is as old as organized agriculture and has been a longstanding charitable practice in many societies. Jean François Millet’s famous 1857 portrait, The Gleaners, portrayed three women picking corn left in the fields after a harvest and framed them with a background contrast of agricultural abundance. Contemporary food systems vary widely in their technological and economic sophistication, and therefore scrounging, dumpster diving, freeganism, and food rescue are also forms of gleaning in developed countries, which are characterized by a system that creates prolific abundance and a great deal of waste. According to the United Nations Environment Program, “every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)(UNEP 2013). [1] This case study focuses on the role of relationships in the strategy, operations, and management of an organization that gleans produce in a modern food value chain.

The Ontario Christian Gleaners (OCG) is a registered charity that gathers, dries, and distributes produce destined to be waste and creates value in dried soup mixes and fruit snacks. The OCG was conceptualized in 2004 with a mission based on the biblical concept of gleaning. Leviticus 23:22 decrees, “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God” (New Living Translation). [2] In keeping with this decree, by 2008 a community of volunteers shepherded by a general manager (GM), a volunteer board, and a small management team was collecting donated produce and producing dehydrated soup mixes to distribute worldwide. Its first shipment went to Haiti. Nearly five years later, an average of 60 volunteers now prepare and trim 4,000 to 7,000 pounds of donated fresh produce daily. It is then diced, dried, and stored for packaging and distribution during the year through various mission and relief organizations. By the end of 2012, 65 such organizations had distributed seven million servings of soup.

Relationships are integral to OCG’s strategy, operations, and management. They will also be critical to OCG’s future challenge of balanced, steady growth. In this case study, the roles of relationships in the OCGs strategy, operations, and management are examined through a strategic management framework that integrates value creation and trade. Data was collected from secondary sources, site visits, and conversations with selected people. We first provide a brief discussion of our theoretical framework. Next, we summarize our use of the case study research method. Finally, we present the case study. Because strategic management concepts and models may be new to readers, the first part of the case study assesses the OCG’s current organizational strategy using our components of organizational strategy framework, while the second part examines the role of various stakeholder relationships in emerging strategies.

Theoretical Framework

All organizations share the need to achieve their goals through some level of strategic planning; the adoption of strategic management strategies used by for-profit organizations by not-for-profit organizations has been a topic of study for decades (Mintzberg, 1989; Bryson, 2004). [3] [4] For-profit organizations usually have goals related to profitability; not-for-profit organizations usually have social objectives that dominate their strategic planning activities and the vision and mission they pursue drives much of the planning activity. Organizational strategies develop formally and informally. Strategic planning techniques and tools like visioning and SWOT analyses (assessing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) are widely used by all types of organizations to develop formal, intentional strategies. Informal, emerging strategies, however, arise through thoughtful responses by managers to the challenges that an organization faces.

Components of Strategy

Figure 1 depicts the components of organizational strategy. These can be planned but may also emerge as managers attempt to address stakeholder needs and concerns. An organization’s strategic direction is comprised of a vision, mission, strategic goals, and core values. Product-market strategy includes those products and services an organization provides in markets or value spaces. An organization’s competitive premise suggests the ways in which it will provide value to its customers and stakeholders in a sustainable way. The business system refers to the various activities, resources, and skills used to implement the organization’s strategy. Finally, capabilities are the processes that integrate activities across the organization allowing it to execute its strategy. While business systems consist of various resources, skills, and activities in different functional areas of an organization (such as marketing, finance, operations), capabilities refer to the application, coordination, and combination of these processes to achieve superior organizational performance. Customer responsiveness, efficiency, superior service, and innovation are capabilities.

Figure 1

OCG's Components of Organizational Strategy

OCG's Components of Organizational Strategy

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Stakeholder Theory

Stakeholder theory was developed to help managers understand how value creation and trade occurs in an ever-changing world and to integrate ethics into our ideas about capitalism (Freeman, 2010). [5] The theory was developed to counter the dominant logic of business economics and argued that value creation should be the focus of capitalism Freeman, 1984) [6] rather than profitability; profits and competitiveness are viewed as emergent properties of value creation. Stakeholder theory begins with identifying ‘stakes’: individuals or organizations that could affect or be affected by the actions of the organization. Then, managers aim to make decisions that create value for all stakeholders while minimizing trade-offs. Managers who practice effective stakeholder management will improve their understanding of their organization’s external environment and this should result in improved organizational performance since value will be created for all stakeholders.

Stakeholder theory is particularly important to managers in changing and complex environments. It is also very useful when examining organizations that must build relationships with multiple stakeholders to achieve value creation objectives.

Methods

The case study method is based on Robert Yin’s Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Case studies are appropriate when the goal is to investigate a “contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context” and is suitable for situations that have many variables of interest, rely on multiple sources of evidence, and can be guided by theoretical propositions to direct data collection and analysis. (Yin 2009) [7]

The objective of the OCG case study is to examine relationships among stakeholders in a not-for-profit environment, where achieving organizational goals may involve helping organizations while potentially competing with them for resources. A single case design was selected because OCG provides an intriguing example of how value is created for multiple stakeholder groups by processing surplus food.

The research design used analytic generalization to compare established theory to the case study results and increase external validity. To increase construct validity, multiple sources of evidence were used including publicly available documentation, direct observations gathered during three site visits, and interviews with selected managers and volunteers.

The Case Study

The case study of the OCG focuses on the role of relationships with stakeholders in the emergence of its organizational strategy. Figure 2 illustrates how the OCG’s organizational strategy is situated with respect to primary and secondary stakeholder environments.

Stakeholders

Primary stakeholders are individuals, groups, and organizations with formal, regular, contractual or transactional relationships with an organization. At OCG they include donors: of vegetables and fruit, supplies like pails, and services like free waste tipping; communities that receive the dried soups, fruits, shipping barrels, and pails; mission and relief organizations that raise funding and distribute the food and collect stories to return to OCG; and finally the volunteers who donate their time to perform purposeful work.

Figure 2

Ontario Christian Gleaners' Strategy within its Primary and Secondary Stakeholder Environments

Ontario Christian Gleaners' Strategy within its Primary and Secondary Stakeholder Environments

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Secondary stakeholders refer to groups that do not have regular relationships with an organization but may be affected by its actions or affect its actions indirectly through their activities in the market or society. At OCG, secondary stakeholders include the end users who eat the soup; various interest groups such as food businesses, consumer or environmental organizations; the earth that supplies the resources to create vegetables along the value chain; the media that report positive stories of OCG impact and drive interest and inspiration for new volunteers or donors; the government that oversees the charitable status requirements of OCG and provides food safety legislation; food banks and other gleaning operations who have similar missions to feed the hungry; and, educational, social, and health institutions who have goals that intersect with the OCG’s and people who are looking for meaningful volunteer experiences.

After nearly five years of operation, OCG is beginning to grapple with the challenge of growing in a balanced way while remaining consistent with its core values and physical and human capabilities. Figure 1 summarizes the OCG’s components of strategy as of May 2013 and provides selected examples of how relationships play a role.

Strategic Direction

OCG has a strong vision of “using surplus product to feed a hungry world. As an interdenominational organization, its mission is to “visibly demonstrate God’s love and grace by working with volunteers to collect, process, and distribute surplus agricultural produce for the relief of the hungry in overseas nations.” Its core values are providing fellowship for volunteers and feeding the hungry without undermining capacity building in recipient communities. Both of these products or services are aimed at primary stakeholders. The core values support and facilitate stakeholder engagement in the other components of strategy. One volunteer ― with a professional background that includes writing for a Canadian Federal Minister of Agriculture ― articulated this interdependence by emphasizing the need for each person to feel s/he has a purpose in the world. The OCG provides a purposeful volunteering activity because volunteers are given detail about how the soups they produce help feed the hungry in overseas communities. Each day at break time, the impact of the volunteers’ efforts is celebrated.

Product Market Strategy

OCG creates value for primary stakeholders in the form of two products.

The first tangible, physical products are the dried soups that have been distributed to mission and relief organizations in over 40 countries in the last 5 years. In 2009, OCG provided 1.64 million servings of soup to communities in 23 different countries. The soup has been distributed by mission and relief organizations who apply to the OCG for the right to distribute the soup, and who must be able to demonstrate that their distribution food aid will not undermine local capacity building. By 2012, over 7 million servings were distributed in Central and South America (60.2 percent), Africa (37.8 percent), Eastern Europe (1.6 percent) and Asia (0.5 percent). Volunteers with the mission and relief organization are asked to talk about how the food aid has been used. OCG features some of these on its web page several times per month, in photos and visits from mission and relief workers, and also keeps a binder on the “impact stories” with information on each shipment in the event they are asked for evidence that their soup is being used in a manner consistent with their mission and charitable status. Many of these impact stories focus on how the soup is used: for school nutrition programs, hunger alleviation in man-made and natural disaster crisis situations, and as a means of supplementing activities in those communities while they work to become more self-sufficient through food production and trade.

OCG decided early to serve overseas needs since they did not want to compete with food banks or other organizations focusing on alleviating hunger in Canada, preferring instead to cooperate with these secondary stakeholders.

The second type of value created is the intangible “spiritual” product that is the meaningful volunteer experience. The value of the value produced is not easily measured by economic measures. The value of the dried soup varies by both the local economic conditions in the recipient communities and the severity of the crisis being ameliorated by the aid. The value of the volunteer experience is even more difficult to assess. The hours of volunteer labour could be estimated as a mix of minimum wage (peeling and cutting fruit) and hourly rates for tradespersons (millwrights, machinists, mechanics), but the value created by and for the volunteer experience would clearly exceed that estimated value.

Competitive Premise

The OCG ultimately provides value to those who receive the soup, but its primary stakeholders are the mission organizations who distribute the soup mix, and the volunteers who produce the soup mix. Unlike for-profit organizations, OCG is not primarily concerned about business sustainability or competitors providing a similar service or imitating them. In fact, quite the opposite is the case; OCG’s strategic direction includes eliminating the need for food aid. In support of this goal, OCG welcomes the establishment and operation of other gleaners, locally and elsewhere. OCG’s GM and volunteers willingly share their expertise in order to increase the number of organizations aiming to eliminate hunger.

Business System

OCG’s GM works to create both dried soup and volunteer experiences, both of which are often of inestimable value. Much of this value creation arises from relationships that are managed within the OCG business system. Table 1 summarizes the key features of OCG’s business system.

Procurement

OCG’s GM ensures that sufficient produce arrives daily so that soup can be made and volunteer experiences can be fulfilled. One volunteer noted that there has never been a day without produce to process, although there have been days where it arrives “just in time” because of a last minute request from the GM to a producer or retailer. Since donations of produce currently occur regularly and volunteers are so plentiful that more chairs are sometimes needed at break time, procurement of produce or volunteers are not pressing issues at this time.

Inbound Logistics

To make the volunteer experience less physically taxing, OCG used donated funds to install a dock plate for unloading produce. Several volunteers have also been trained to assist with forklifts and air pallet jacks to move materials. This equipment reduces the chance of injuries. Selected volunteers are also asked to accompany the volunteer truck driver on the first trip to a new produce donor and to distribute print material about OCG, its mission, and its story. This interaction creates value for volunteers by allowing them to share the story of OCG It is also the beginning of a new relationship with a produce donor.

Table 1

Key Features of the Ontario Christian Gleaner’s Business System

Key Features of the Ontario Christian Gleaner’s Business System

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Operations

All aspects of the produce operation are handled by volunteers, as are daily coffee breaks. These important breaks each weekday during processing provide needed sustenance, respite from repetitive activities, and fellowship with friends. They allow volunteers to build relationships around shared goals. It is also volunteers who pick up donated, day-old baked goods for the coffee break from local businesses. Recently, some volunteers donated funds for upgraded breaks. For example, occasionally a volunteer will donate a $100 gift card for a grocery store that is used to buy cheese, crackers, and fruit for a special snack. In this way, volunteers are supporting their own volunteer community and building relationships with other volunteers without direct involvement on the part of the manager. This gives the volunteers a sense of community and a sense that they have contributed meaningfully to the shared mission.

Marketing, Sales, Service

A part time employee handles the website along with general office tasks. Other promotional work is managed and performed by volunteers, including 12-15 tours of the facility per month. As well, four teams of volunteers speak at approximately 12 venues monthly (churches, schools, community organizations). This involvement empowers volunteers since it contributes to future OCG produce donations and the recruitment of volunteers. These activities integrate volunteers in the process of developing OCG relationships with other groups and individuals. The OCG’s promotions committee, again comprised of four volunteers, examines opportunities for additional exposure through the support of other charities and community events. For example, the committee recently organized and staffed a booth at SoupFest, a fundraiser for Meals on Wheels.

Distribution, Outbound Logistics

The OCG also has a food distribution committee made up of volunteers who decide which agencies will receive soup for overseas distribution. A detailed application form that can be accessed online allows aid agencies to request soup by the bag (100 servings/bag), pail (4 bags) or drum (55 bags). Criteria used by the committee include the expected beneficiaries of the soup, the charitable status and activities of the organization distributing the soup, and any stories, photos, video or other evidence of impact will be provided to OCG. This evidence is shared with volunteers, in promotions, and is required by Revenue Canada. The visual evidence of OCG’s story contributes to building future relationships and support. OCG relies on organizations with funding to ship the soup to end users. The OCG brochure and website list a variety of partners who have distributed product overseas and would like this list to grow in future.

Technology, R&D

Preparing and dehydrating vegetables and fruit at OCG is labour intensive, so technology is aimed at enhancing the volunteer experience. While technologies developed at OCG appear deceptively rudimentary, they are successfully applied to repetitive, dirty, or difficult tasks. Opportunity for innovation presents a welcome challenge to certain volunteers. One volunteer in particular has become known for inventions: for example, a device that makes cutting cabbages safer and easier, modified cutting boards for user ease, a drain table that allows mounds of red peppers to be drained after washing despite a single drain in the floor, and so on. Visitors often ask about the equipment being used and stories are then relayed about the experiences of the volunteers. A ground-level approach to process innovation allows OCG to create meaningful volunteer experiences for those who would not be willing or able on an assembly line.

Human Resources

OCG’s GM is continually multi-tasking, pays close attention to all aspects of the operation while carefully avoid micromanagement, which could detract from the volunteer experience. During weekday mornings, when processing is under way, she works to facilitate the work of the volunteers and to ensure that they build meaningful relationships with one other. For example, at break time the manager may spend a few minutes putting some yellow peppers amidst the red ones in order to provide some visual interest for volunteers when they return to cutting vegetables. The GM looks at and for certain cues: does everyone have a job he or she is capable of doing? Who needs to change tasks or work location when they return from break? Is equipment ready when and where volunteers need it? Are workstations as comfortable as possible? Has anyone arrived a bit late who needs to be welcomed? Does anyone look like tired or unhappy? In the afternoon when processing has ended, the manager meets with committee members, makes calls to solicit produce from a list of potential donors, or conducts business related to other aspects of the operation; but every morning is spent taking care of the volunteers, those who perform the basics of the vegetable processing integral to value creation.

Information Management

A new part-time employee now records the weight of donated produce to both meet Revenue Canada requirements and to share this detail of the OCG story about surplus food in Canada and ways in which it can be used to feed the hungry overseas. Data on the amount of dehydrated product is collected in spreadsheets for inventory management and as a means of determining soup mix ingredient proportions. A retired math teacher, who came on a tour with other retired teachers, works with the OCG’s GM to calculate the amount and proportions of dehydrated produce that will be packaged as soup mixes twice per year. All other information on target moisture rates, dicing settings, where the dried soup has been used and how much has been distributed is maintained by a part-time employee and several volunteers. All information is freely available and/or posted for volunteers who need the information to perform their jobs.

Financial Management

To maintain status as a charitable organization, Revenue Canada requires annual information on the value of donated produce, other gifts-in-kind, and where and how OCG food is distributed. This information also adds richness to the OCG story, disseminated via tours, brochures, the website, and other media outlets. A map of the world covering the entire wall of the break room contains a thumbtack for every overseas location that has received a shipment of dried soup since 2008. Volunteer output is measured in terms of the number of soup servings, thereby directly connecting the volunteer to the mission of the organization in a relevant summary statistic.

Governance

The OCG’s Board of Directors consists of seven volunteers who all sign and agree with a Statement of Faith that is posted on the website. Board terms are limited to ensure rotation and allow new ideas to arise in the organization. An Advisory Council provides comment and oversight for board or committee decisions. This council consists of four volunteers who provide “heart, wisdom, and interest” oversight. OCG’s annual general meeting is held every June. Two issues are currently a priority diversification in terms of denomination and management of steady growth for the organization. The governance by, of, and for volunteers ensures that the OCG mission is consistent and well-articulated throughout the organization. Volunteers at the ground level who wish to contribute further are encouraged to work at the governance level.

Capabilities

OCG’s volunteer experience may first appear deceptively simple. A couple who had been volunteering with OCG for several years noted “the OCG model works so well due to its simplicity.” “If there is ever a problem, the nature of the problem is shared with the volunteers” and someone “fixes it. No one suggests a study group.” This comment highlights the meaningful nature of an active volunteer experience rather than passive participation through meetings or discussion. The GM’s relationship with volunteers allows her to understand their abilities and motivation. This set of relationships is at the heart of OCG’s ability to make the best possible use of each person’s skills, interests, or abilities in furthering the mission of the organization.

Conclusions

As a mission-driven organization in which nearly all the labour and significant management and leadership is provided by volunteers, the OCG’s relationships with its stakeholders are critical to the value it creates by transforming surplus produce into dried soups and fruit snacks.

Parties annexes

Parties annexes