Let Them Eat Soup: How Soup Sisters is Bringing Shared Value to the Nonprofit Sector

By Isobel Chiang



Shared Value is usually viewed as a strategy for the business sector, but what if a nonprofit was able to apply the same principles and practices in order to deepen their value and impact?  Sharon Hapton, a local Calgarian and the founder and CEO of Soup Sisters, unwittingly did just that.While her kids were growing up, Sharon Hapton used to deliver soup to her friends as a gesture of care and empathy. Fast forward to 2009 when Hapton created Soup Sisters, a nonprofit social enterprise where everyday Canadians make homemade soup for women, children, and youth living in shelters across the country. Fast forward another 5 years, and the waiting list to attend a soup making event extends well into 2015. Not only has Soup Sisters dished out over half a million servings of soup to Canada’s most vulnerable, it has fundamentally reinvigorated the role of nonprofits as catalysts for social change, showing us how stirring the proverbial pot may in fact be the best way to get things done.A warm bowl of steaming, hearty soup has and always will be a symbol of comfort, familiarity, and nostalgia (I can’t be the only one who’s read “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul”). Furthermore, sharing a bowl of soup with someone in need is a quiet gesture filled with compassion and concern. In that sense, the vision of Soup Sisters is fundamentally— and beautifully— simple: to bring comfort and relief to women and children at a time when they are feeling the most heavyhearted, alone, vulnerable, and unloved.The organization runs on monthly soup making events, wherein groups or individuals gather at a local professional kitchen under the guidance of a chef facilitator. Each event yields 150-200 servings of nourishing soup, which are then delivered fresh to a local women’s shelter. Events are social, dynamic and collaborative, and go beyond traditional philanthropic models of giving; with Soup Sisters, people donate their time, energy, and cooking skills in order to create something tangible to give back to the community.What started as a grassroots initiative in Calgary has boiled over into cities like Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and even Los Angeles. Women feeling domestic abuse and children living in shelters enjoy over 10 000 bowls of soup every month. Perhaps what is most staggering is the subsequent 18-20% decrease in operating costs of shelter recipients after partnering with Soup Sisters.So what is “Shared Value”?Founded by Harvard School of Business’ Michael Porter, Shared Value can be defined as policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the social conditions of the communities in which it operates. In short, Shared Value is the interface at which business goals meet societal needs. Shared Value exists in its truest form when social responsibility is at the core of a company’s mission— not the periphery.Like so many nonprofits that came before, Soup Sisters was founded on the innate desire to address and help rectify a social issue— in this case, domestic abuse and youth poverty. Although altruistic, the desire to give back to society is not new. What is new, however, is using a Shared Value approach within a nonprofit frame of reference in order to deepen a nonprofit’s impact and value.Causing a Stir: What makes Soup Sisters a Shared Value Nonprofit?

  • Soup Sisters encourages a bottom-up rather than top-down route to social change. Soup Sisters does not attempt to solve domestic violence and youth poverty on its own; instead, it wants to involve the general public in order to co-collaborate on a solution. Hapton has shown that participating in a solution is much more effective and empowering than simply donating to a solution. By converting the potential energy of donors into kinetic energy of participants, Soup Sisters encourages people to take full responsibility of their share of the solution.

  • Soup Sisters brings social value to the community without compromising business value for stakeholders. Shared Value runs on the basis of “value creation” and strives to optimize value for all parties involved. Soup Sisters is no exception. It turns out, Soup Sisters’ impact extends beyond women and children; professional cooking schools across the country (where Soup Sisters events take place) have experienced obvious business growth as well. In this instance, business, nonprofit, and the public sphere all stand to benefit from a Shared Value approach.

  • Soup Sisters’ impressive international growth reflects Shared Value’s inherent potential for scalability. Shared Value businesses are inherently scalable— that is, they have a self-contained potential to grow and expand by virtue of their sustainable, socially responsible business mandates. Today, over 12 000 people have joined the network of Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers affiliates, and chapters across North America are continually popping up. Therefore, Soup Sisters has provided another example of a highly successful and scalable Shared Value social enterprise. It’s remarkable success is indebted to a number of things, including Hapton’s unflinching passion and commitment to bringing comfort and nourishment to marginalized populations; Soup Sisters’ simple yet beautiful vision; and even the general public’s desire to give back in a tangible, hands-on way.

I have to confess, I pulled out my old copy of “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” while writing this blog (one can only come up with so many soup puns on their own), and I happened upon this quote by Laurie Colwin:“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.”Here’s to hoping that on the coldest, wettest of nights, a woman and her child are able to sit down together with a steaming bowl of Soup Sisters soup and know that the world isn't as cold as it seems, that there are people— 12 000 people to be exact— who care and are willing to ladle out a serving of love. For more information on Sharon Hapton and Soup Sisters, visit www.soupsisters.orgJS Daw & Associates is a registered Shared Value Affiliate. To learn more about the Shared Value Initiative, visit http://sharedvalue.org/