Around one of Chennai’s busy corners is a bakery that bakes confectioneries with just a little more love and a little more inspiration. The people behind their wonderful creations have not had much sweetness to savour in their own lives, but, that does not stop them from conjuring up delightful baked goodies. Winners Bakery and Confectionary (Winners) is an organisation dedicated to enriching the lives of the less privileged by creating employment opportunities in addition to imparting skill. Those employed at the bakery are taught the art of baking alongside other culinary nuances which allow them to find gainful employment with some of the city’s top kitchens.
“Friends and businessmen expressed the market’s need for individuals with baking skills. Setting up Winners made complete sense and the curriculum was designed in order to meet the industry’s needs and norms,” says Rajasekar
The Winners story began in 2005, when members of the Chennai Mission, The Rotary Club of Madras East and the Chennai Corporation decided to give The Foundation of Vocational Training a facelift. They decided to make best use of its prime location and established a culinary school to teach underprivileged youngsters the culinary arts. With the location set, M. Mahadevan, chairman and MD of Oriental Cuisines put in an initial investment of around Rs. 15 lakh which provided for the equipment necessary to get things baking. And that laid the foundation for the transformation of many lives.
The impetus for the venture came from the fact that the local and national market was in need of well-trained confectioners. As S.S. Rajasekar, President of the Rotary Club of Madras East at the time of Winner’s inception says “Friends and businessmen expressed the market’s need for individuals with baking skills. The Winners curriculum was designed in order to meet the industry’s needs and norms.” In addition to being a culinary education centre, Winners also had a clear business mandate. “At the time of setting up, it became evident that a shop at the location would make the school a self serving organisation. The location was what made me upbeat about Winners’ prospects and once we set up there, we didn’t look back,” says Mahadevan.
In August 2005, with a total of 22 students accompanied by their enthusiastic teachers, Winners opened its doors to the city. One person who has been there from the start is Geetha Krishnaraj, a consultant at Winners. She supervises all the activities and shares, “At any point of time we have 30 students learning baking and confectionary skills, customer service techniques and hygiene. The course lasts for six months and during that time; everything the students make is sold.” The course itself is no cakewalk for the students who come from varied backgrounds, both urban and rural.
Working hours begin as early as 5.30 AM and go on onto the night. The students work in shifts and their day is interspersed with classes that are interactive and practical. The emphasis is not only on the skills required and the latest tools and techniques of the trade but also on grooming. The education is free and those who train at Winners are also provided with food, accommodation, laundry services, travel expenses and a stipend of Rs. 1500. Since it opened in 2005, Winners has sent our more than 250 trained individuals into the culinary world.
Showing the way
The Winners outlet operates out of a single unit. The products sold generate around Rs. 8,000 everyday. Currently, they also outsource to some of Chennai’s five-star kitchens. The revenue generated enables the organisation to sustain itself and provide for the students under its wings. And there’s more. In the past few years, the surplus funds they generate have gone towards funding English and Computer classes for the underprivileged at the same venue, spectacles for corporation school children and even upgrades to children’s wing at the Egmore Government Hospital.
The results this social enterprise has produced speak for themselves. More than Rs. 29 lakh generated through sales has been used to support various Chennai Corporation initiatives. More than 250 futures have been secured and Winners has set itself up to be an admired part of the city scape. The Winners business model, its unique selling proposition, is one that is slowly being replicated. The Freedom Bread project at Puzhal Prison and The Give Life Café at Loyola College are offshoots of this model. And several other projects including a laundry service run by deaf and dumb individuals and training programs for vocations such as carpentry, plumbing and masonry are in the works as well, with the intention of meeting the current market’s needs.
The Winners model has proven successful and is one that can be adopted by any company or entrepreneur if they choose to do so. As Mahadevan says, “If money can be generated to support projects such as this, it becomes a great example of what good commerce can do.”