Toyota’s Kaizen: Helping Food Banks with Efficiency

This New York Times piece explains an unusual partnership that developed between the car company Toyota and the Food Bank in New York City. Instead of giving money, it gave kaizen. It’s an optimistic, remarkable way that for-profit businesses can help their communities, without giving money directly:

At a soup kitchen in Harlem, Toyota’s engineers cut down the wait time for dinner to 18 minutes from as long as 90. At a food pantry on Staten Island, they reduced the time people spent filling their bags to 6 minutes from 11. And at a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where volunteers were packing boxes of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a dose of kaizen cut the time it took to pack one box to 11 seconds from 3 minutes.

Toyota has “revolutionized the way we serve our community,” said Margarette Purvis, the chief executive and president of the Food Bank.

A bit of history:

In the early 1990s, Toyota limited sharing its expertise to its auto parts suppliers. But as the Toyota Production System Support Center, the company’s headquarters of efficiency, came to recognize broader interest in the Toyota model, the company offered consulting-style services to nonautomotive manufacturers and nonprofit organizations. Today, the center supports about 40 organizations, half of which are small to midsize manufacturers that pay a small fee. The rest are nonprofits, like the Food Bank, that get the services free.

The term for this effort is kaizen, a philosophy for “change for the better.” More of this kind of corporate philanthropy, please.

The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Peter Buffett, a son of Warren Buffett, has an important op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he calls for a re-definition of charitable giving; he argues for humanism, not capitalism:

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

What can you do today and in the long term to bring down the perpetual poverty machine?

Joining Wall Street to Save the World

The Washington Post profiles a 25-year-old Jason Trigg, who’s decided to join a high frequency trading firm to make the most amount of money as he can. But why? So he can give a lot of it away. He figures it’s a better bet than going into academia:

He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.

In many ways, his life still resembles that of a graduate student. He lives with three roommates. He walks to work. And he doesn’t feel in any way deprived. “I wouldn’t know how to spend a large amount of money,” he says.

While some of his peers have shunned Wall Street as the land of the morally bankrupt, Trigg’s moral code steered him there. And he’s not alone. To an emerging class of young professionals in America and Britain, making gobs of money is the surest way to save the world. When you ask Trigg where he got the idea, his answer is a common refrain among this crowd: “I feel like I’d read stuff by Peter Singer.”

Interesting, to say the least.