Robert Egger, founder of the D.C. Central Kitchen, spoke with students about innovative ways to give back to the community at an event hosted by the GW Social Enterprise Forum in Funger Hall Thursday.
Egger – who was named one of Oprah Magazine’s ‘Real Sexiest Men Alive’ in 2006-said he believes social enterprise is replacing charity as a way for people to give back to the community. The D.C. Central Kitchen was launched on Jan. 20, 1989 with excess food from the George H. W. Bush’s inauguration and has been “using the existing ingredients of our society to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities” ever since.
After graduating from high school, Egger became involved in the nightclub scene and worked his way up in the industry, eventually booking bands for several of the D.C. clubs.
After an experience volunteering with a church group to help feed homeless people, Egger came up with the idea for a business model that would eventually become the D.C. Central Kitchen, which he described as “a badass organization.”
“Instead of having people serve across the table, I wanted to bring everyone to the same side of the table,” he said.
The D.C. Central Kitchen prides itself on being “more than a soup kitchen” and invites homeless people, former felons and other struggling individuals to learn how to prepare food in a working environment to give them the skills necessary to find employment. Nightclubs and restaurants donate excess food to supply the organization.
“I took inspiration from leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez….they tried to help divergent groups find common ground and work together,” Egger said.
Since founding the kitchen, Egger has been involved in setting up many other organizations, including The Campus Kitchen Project, where students utilize cafeterias to prepare food for the homeless, and the V3 Campaign, which seeks to elect politicians who recognize the potential of social enterprises.
Egger’s talking points included the significance of nonprofit organization in the United States.
“If NPOs in the U.S. were a country, they would be bigger economically than India,” he said. He said Americans were beginning to integrate the spheres of their social, work, and spiritual lives, a process that social enterprise represents.
Freshman Katie Hurrelbrink said, “His mode of thinking is very inspirational-the idea that he’s trying to take things that are already there to alter the foundation of how things work.”
The GW Social Enterprise Forum, which hosted the event, is a group of students who are interested in the prospects of social enterprise, which their Web site defines as “an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods.”
Egger tried to impress his passion and message to students.
“I’m trying to just download a bunch of ideas that you will hopefully assimilate into your minds,” he said.
This article appeared in the December 7, 2009 issue of the Hatchet.