03/11/2011

By Modwenna Rees-Mogg, AngelNews

When Jamie Oliver burst onto our television screens in 1997 as that cheeky chappie young TV cook, who would have thought that he would use his experiences, fame and fortune into such a powerful force for the good? Within three years and at only 25 years old he had become a global phenomenon winning plaudits and awards for his cooking style and TV persona.

It’s all the more impressive therefore that by 2001 and at the age of 30, he was already wanting to give something back to the world that had given him so much.

Back in 2001 Social Enterprise was not a term in popular usage, but I am certain that Jamie Oliver was, and has remained, a social entrepreneur. His cult status helped him to start on this track and thank goodness it did. He now sets the bar for everyone, from the humblest start-up owner to the chairmen of the largest companies in the world, on how to use entrepreneurial zeal and passion to achieve great things for others as well as for yourself.

To be honest I cannot imagine many people who have used TV and the media more widely to make a social impact. Of course, Jamie’s raw materials of a great personality and a passion for creating delicious food make for a winning combination, especially here in the UK. We love the people who entertain us on the box and an obsession with food is the hobby of choice for millions. Even if he had remained “just a TV cook” Jamie Oliver would have held a special place in the hearts of the UK for a generation or more, but what has earned him the plaudits and awards that really matter has been his Social Enterprise activities.

There’s Fifteen – his restaurant enterprise that trains up young unemployed people in the catering and restaurant trade. It’s a model that has inspired a generation and which has been replicated and adapted by others across the world. And part of Jamie’s genius was to use everything he had to get it up and running. It was a superb strategic move on his part to televise the trials and tribulations of getting Fifteen up and running back in 2001. In doing so, he showed the world, how to do something entrepreneurial – a business with customers, suppliers, employees and a brand – that also achieves a greater good. Jamie’s Kitchen deserved its manifold TV awards in its own right, but it’s creator deserved his MBE in 2003 for his social enterprise achievements far more. And it’s good to know that the Fifteen model is alive and well. Now in its 10th year, it has spawned restaurants in Australia and Amsterdam as well as in Cornwall, UK.

But one social enterprise has not been enough for Jamie. With Fifteen up and running, and his mainstream career of TV cookery shows and books continuing unabated, he turned his attention to helping people to understand the challenges around poor food quality and weak catering in the UK. In 2003 he used the magic formula of a social purpose with a populist angle and access to prime time on our television screens in Jamie’s School Dinners. Along with his FeedMeBetter campaign which demanded government intervention to provide funding and training for dinner ladies so that they could provide children with better quality school meals, this second social enterprise has continued to put the spotlight on the importance of cooking in the education curriculum, and plays an important role on keeping pressure on government, local authorities and school management teams to focus on the issue of teaching children about and giving them good quality food.

You might have thought that Jamie would be happy with two social enterprises under his belt but, having done something about the catering trade and school food, it was not surprising that someone like him would want to do something else. Following the formula developed in School Dinners, The Ministry of Food launched on our TV screens in 2008 to teach people who did not know how to, to cook well at home. The TV programme in itself was great entertainment and as such it did well; but the fact that the Ministry of Food Centre in Rotherham has been so successful that it has spawned 2 more centres in Bradford and Leeds shows that its underlying social purpose is needed and demanded. And arguably this is proven by that fact that many other councils in the UK are engaging with the Ministry of Food about opening centres elsewhere to try and deal with the epidemic of obesity which is threatening to break out across the country.

It’s a sign of the times that both Jamie’s School Dinners and the Ministry of Food have been launched in the US under the banner of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in a campaign that is solely funded by donations made from the USA.

Jamie Oliver runs all his social enterprises within the charity he set up – The Jamie Oliver Foundation – but he has shown that, done the right way, there is every reason for enterprises to use the trappings of the media and commerce to achieve a massive consumer social impact. Good on him, I say. And while I muse on what his next social impact project will be, long may he remain an inspiration to all entrepreneurs and TV stars on how to combine fame and fortune, from the earliest point possible, to make a positive difference to the world.

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