One in four Kiwis are disabled, and only 22% of them are employed. This low number is an issue The Cookie Project is helping to fix.
The social enterprise, launched in Auckland in June of 2018 by co-founders Eric Chuah and Graeme Haddon, only employs disabled workers to make their delicious cookies.
“Our cookies are purposeful,” says Eric. “All are handmade by a person with a disability, and 45% of what you pay when you buy a bag of cookies, goes directly to wages.
“One cookie equals one minute of employment, so when you buy a bag of 15 cookies, that bag generates 15 minutes of employment.”
The social enterprise began with a chance meeting between Eric and Graeme.
“I offered him some cookies I had made,” Graeme says, “and he was like ‘wow, let’s do something with these cookies and create some employment’. And here we are with The Cookie Project.”
Creating employment opportunities
A study conducted by the Blind Foundation in 2017 found that adding 14,000 disabled people to the workforce would boost the NZ economy by $3 billion.
But yet, as Eric says, “People with disability when they finish school at age 21, it’s very hard to find employment. That’s why the employment rate for people with disability are so low, at a shocking level of 22%.
“One of the reasons is misperception. A lot of employers think that people with disability cannot do a lot of jobs. In fact they have some of the sharpest minds that I’ve ever come across.
It was Graeme’s experience with people with disabilities that inspired the direction the enterprise would take.
“Graeme is one of the most kind-hearted people in the New Zealand,” Eric says. “He actually adopted four children, three of which have a cocktail of mental disabilities.
“So we thought very hard about how we could use his skills to actually create a better future for his children.”
Now, almost a year after opening, they have 23 employees on their production roster with 40 plus on the waiting list. So the more orders they receive, the more people will get the chance to work.
Creating the best cookies
While Eric looks after the business side, Graeme has the enticing title of Chief of Cookies, and it’s his recipes that fuel the enterprise.
“Every time the kitchen is open, I’m here,” he says. “I design all the dough and basically run the kitchen.”
And they are incredibly proud of their product.
“We believe that our cookies are tastier because we use the best ingredients. We use Lewis Road Creamery butter, Pic’s Peanut Butter, and Trade Aid organic chocolate.
“Our cookies have been touted as very clean and very healthy as well. In all of our cookies we use only five ingredients, and have no preservatives, no colouring, and no additives.”
Plans for the future
“2018 was all about cementing the foundation, learning as much as possible,” Eric says.
“Gosh we made so many mistakes along the way, but had a lot of fun too.
“2019 is about scaling up nationally, setting up our online store and retail partners, and also getting certified on the social procurement platform.
“Our goal for the second half of the year is to get our own kitchen and setting up a national presence of satellite kitchens, where we can empower a local person with disability to become a franchise business owner of the Cookie Project.
“And next year we have our eyes on overseas markets.”
How to get some cookies
Whether it’s just a bag for you or a large event you need catered, head to www.thecookieprojectnz.com to place your order.