Can one restaurant provide a solution to youth unemployment, social exclusion, food waste and poor access to quality education all at once?

Gastromotiva is an impressive organisation founded in Brasil that aims to tackle each of these social problems through its Refettorio programme. The Refetorrio restaurant and school based in Rio de Janeiro offers professional training and job opportunities to people from low-income backgrounds, tackling both youth unemployment and lack of access to quality education in Brasil.  The food served in the Refettorio is made from fresh produce that would otherwise be thrown away by distributors in Brasil, highlighting the issue of food waste, and volunteers serve the delicious, healthy and nutritious meals that are produced by the restaurant to homeless people every day.

On paper, the Refetorrio’s aim to make a real impact in all of these areas may seem ambitious though my experience as a volunteer for an evening at the restaurant showed me that this was possible. Whilst the concept of providing a soup kitchen to homeless people is not unique, the space in which the meals are provided, surrounded by art and the way in which meals are served as a sit down 3 course meal to homeless visitors is something I had not come across before.

This experience forms a part of the 4 pillars of activity which Refetorrio Gastromotiva undertakes to achieve its objective of transforming the lives of the socially vulnerable through food. Social Gastronomy highlights the ability for food to provide both dignity and sustenance to homeless people, providing a space that encourages inclusion and interaction between a range of people, contrasting with the social exclusion that this group normally faces. The second pillar focuses on Food Waste and the ability to create delicious and healthy meals from produce that has not been sold in supermarkets and would otherwise be thrown away.

By providing Professional Training, Gastromotiva is able to empower young people who would otherwise be unable to afford the training to gain qualifications in the hospitality industry as well as providing paid work opportunities for alumni that take part in their courses. Through its fourth pillar, Education and Health, Gastromotiva focuses on educating people from all backgrounds to make informed choices around their diets, encouraging healthy eating and lifestyles.

Within Brasil, Gastromotiva’s legal status as an organisation sits somewhere between a traditional NGO committed to providing services to its beneficiaries, and a business which sells gastronomy related products to support its charitable endeavours. Whilst the concept and awareness of social enterprise is growing rapidly in Brasil, the legislation and policies that formally recognise these types of social businesses are developing at a slower rate, meaning that Gastromotiva is not recognised as a social enterprise in the same way it might be in the UK or US.

Gastromotiva are registered as an OSCIP*, a legal standard within Brazil which can be given to private businesses or NGOs whose work involves activities that are typically associated with services provided by the public sector, and have a social interest that can be funded by the state or private entities. The OSCIP standard means that Gastromotiva can access funding opportunities and other financial investment on offer to NGOs whilst being able to produce and sell products that mean they can be self-sustaining.

Following a successful launch during Rio 2016, the Refetorrio restaurant in Rio has continued to open its doors to homeless people in the city for the last 9 months, aiming to offer lunches to paying customers in the near future to help sustain this activity. A new Refetorrio is set to open in London in June becoming the third location alongside Rio and Milan, which uses this creative and multi-faceted approach to tackle some of the biggest social issues in the world right now.

* OSCIP stands for Organização da Sociedade Civil de Interesse Público in Portuguese and translates to Civil Society Organisation of Public Interest in English