A business accelerator programme is assisting Koha Kai to translate some big picture ideas into a plan for a more sustainable future.

The Southland-based charitable organisation aims to achieve community integration and assimilation for people living with disabilities, with good nutrition at the heart of the mission.

“Food is the byproduct. Food is the tool we use. People look at us from the outside and see food, and that’s fine, because if they’re seeing food and seeing the people who are providing the food, then they are not seeing or thinking disability,” Project Leader Janice Lee says.

Koha Kai has grown into a team of nearly 50 people, including community volunteers, trainees, staff and board members, funded through charitable grants and donations, but without a longer-term sustainable revenue stream.

With this in mind, they are using the Venture Southland business accelerator programme to explore options around social enterprise sustainability.

The broad idea is to be able to supplement their charitable funding with a revenue stream to support the organisation’s mission: "Encourage a Life of Purpose".

Lee met Venture Southland business accelerator programme manager Stewart Fleming – the pair clicked – and they set about looking at how Koha Kai’s existing operations could provide opportunities to provide revenue within a holistic vision.

“Becoming a social enterprise is the way to become sustainable, and the business accelerator is proving to be a valuable part of that process.”

Lee says working on the business – not in the business has been an important focus for her.

“I was still in the kitchen, cooking, and driving people around, and that was a real hand-brake for Koha Kai’s development. I need to be in a different space.”

That space is having an overview of the organisation, and helping design its longer-term future.

Their work is people-based and touches on health, education, social development and the role of volunteering supporting that.

Working alongside the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency (Te Putahitanga O Te Waipounamu), Te Kupeka Umaka Māori ki Araiteuru (KUMA), a Maori business development organisation, and Southern Institute of Technology, Koha Kai is identifying vocational training and education opportunities it could offer.

“Giving people a social and educational pathway means they won’t need so many social, medical and financial supports as they become empowered and increase their independence,”she says.

“Everything we do has a bigger purpose.”

Koha Kai is building relationships with a broad range of community organisations, including sports, mental health and community groups.

Lee says Koha Kai could play an important role helping to feed people in the event of a natural disaster.

A food truck is being built to give the organisation the ability to operate remotely – which is ideal for their programme.  It could also service events and play an educational role, such as teaching children about nutrition. 

The business accelerator programme was helping transform some of their ideas into tangible initiatives, she says.

“The programme is a tremendous initiative,” Lee says.