Production processes perfected by the private sector can help the social-minded scale efficiently
The Toyota Effect series from Toyota highlights the car company’s fundamental mission to share good ideas to positively impact the world. Over the next month, PSFK and Toyota will demonstrate how the company and other thought-leaders are using the power of the collaboration to innovate, and create change for people, society, and the planet. Watch the entire video series to learn how joint efforts are helping organizations approach problems differently to move the world forward.
In distancing their core mission from that of corporations, nonprofits have unintentionally isolated themselves from traditional models of efficiency. In some instances, this has stunted their ability to help the greatest amount of people possible. Yet, when they take a page from the production processes found within private enterprise, nonprofits are able to improve and scale at a rate that keeps apace with the needs of the world’s hungry and displaced.
The case is true for St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit that provides relief to disaster-impacted communities and began its organizational journey as a two-person reconstruction team in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As hundreds of volunteers mobilized and greater resources flooded in, the small leadership team found they were unable to keep up with the growth in a way that would most effectively offer aid to potential beneficiaries. Seeking out systematic improvements, SBP partnered with Toyota to brainstorm solutions for scaling their impact.
In the collaboration, SBP pin-pointed ways in which the organization could more quickly and efficiently build homes for the disaster-afflicted regardless of conditions such as staff, money or volunteers. As a result, victims of home devastation were able to— and continue to— return home in an expedited manner.
The short film “Coming Home” illustrates how a nonprofit can benefit from the mentorship of legacy businesses, including SBP’s 33 percent improvement from building 8.6 homes a month to 12.8. By adopting the key principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS), SBP created new systems for product and project management, including a playful way to track and assess project needs as inspired by Toyota’s call to fix inefficiencies through simple actions. Supplies like ladders, for example, were given human names like “Laddersaurus Rex” to help with recall and resource sharing, allowing the organization to almost halve the construction time needed for a home rebuild.
In a similar case, Food Bank For New York City worked with Toyota in a project dubbed “Meals Per Hour” to improve food bank distribution in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. By packing boxes in an assembly-line system similar to those found in production factories, Food Bank For New York City was able to optimize how (and how fast) it got meals into the hands of New York’s hungry.
Much like what can be seen at St. Bernard Project, food banks are adopting corporate models of efficiency in hopes of meeting their mission. In New York alone, almost 100 million meals are missed each year due to a lack of food as caused by a lack of efficient food distribution models.
To that end, digital points-based systems, akin to those you’re used to using at supermarkets, are allowing food banks like St. John’s Bread and Life in Brooklyn to better disperse donations—even rewarding people when they pursue healthier diets. In addition to cutting food waste and ensuring autonomy among those in need, customer choice pantries can factor in expiration dates, diet restrictions and stock numbers when providing meals that are in short supply. This ensures that no food is wasted as a result of avoidable errors like lapsed edibility.
As daunting of a problem as hunger is in the first world, it is dwarfed by the growing refugee crisis in places like Syria. The sheer size of the matter—the number has been tagged at 450,000 people—puts a heavy strain on existing governmental and public models that have a hard time keeping up.
Modeling itself after Airbnb, which lends much of its prosperity to its easy-to-use platform, Refugees Welcome pairs those fleeing their homeland with hosts in countries like Germany and Austria. The service enlists willing owners and renters and matches them with refugees, allowing both parties to share a living space that offers the displaced greater inclusion and social integration than government-appointed housing or camps.
Once signed up to Refugees Welcome, roommates are matched depending on a range of factors, like languages spoken and place of location. From there, a meeting is arranged to ensure that the two parties get along. Given that they’re already undergoing a highly uncertain situation, Refugees Welcome works to get refugees situated as quickly (and safely) as possible.
Through this model of voluntary housing, countries are able to avoid anti-immigrant sentiment, can ensure no added strain is placed on public resources that are already stretched thin, and are able to help more people through a process that is infinitely less cumbersome than usual.
As the success of Airbnb shows, a similar initiative could be scaled to meet global demand, something Refugees Welcome is keenly aware of as it branches out across 20-plus countries. So far, 570 refugees have found a flat they can call home for the time being.
As seen by the venerable work of Refugees Welcome, and organizations like St. Bernard Project, much is owed to the nonprofits and socially-minded organizations that plug the holes neither governments nor corporations can address. Yet, the very nature of their work ensures that it is always far from over. In tapping the production processes of companies like Toyota, which has refined the Toyota Production System over the course of 78 years, organizations can attend to a world in need of a scalable social good.