Having achieved success with The Song Kitchen cafe – the result of a partnership between YWCA NSW and Mirvac – hopes are high that this unique venture will encourage further social enterprise in the corporate sector. Lise Taylor reports.
Mirvac’s new headquarters at 200 George Street Sydney is not only a unique ‘dual curvilinear’ piece of architecture that rises organically from the skyline, it is also the home to what could be one of the first ventures of its kind in Australia.
The Mirvac cafe, located within its level-28 reception area and known as The Song Kitchen, provides premium catering services to Mirvac and its guests, with 100% of the profits going to fund YWCA NSW services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.
The Song Kitchen is the first extension of YWCA’s profit-for-purpose hospitality services beyond the Y Hotels Sydney, and is also representative of a partnership between the nonprofit and this leading Australian real-estate group. On current trading it is expected The Song Kitchen will contribute $100,000 to YWCA NSW programs over its first 12 months.
Mirvac has worked with YWCA NSW for a number of years supporting fundraisers, including the YWCA NSW Mother of all Balls, and volunteering through its annual National Community Day, which involves its 800 staff working at nonprofits around Australia.
“Our National Community Day forms part of our Enriching Communities program – a key area in our This Changes Everything sustainability strategy,” says Mirvac’s Sustainability Manager, Sarah Breavington. “As part of this strategy, Mirvac is committed to enriching communities and demonstrating community investment within and beyond our boundaries. We work with suppliers, stakeholders, partners and employees to positively impact our cities. With that, every Mirvac employee is responsible for and encouraged to identify ways in which we can give back to the community.”
As a result of the This Changes Everything plan and National Community Day, Mirvac has built a strong relationship with YWCA NSW, as well as an understanding and appreciation of the work the not-for-profit does, which is what led Mirvac to approach the charity to engage in the development of The Song Kitchen.
Developing The Song Kitchen
Jon Ackary, YWCA NSW General Manager Hotels, says Mirvac has been a supporter of YWCA NSW for years. “In 2015 Mirvac’s sustainability manager approached me about YWCA NSW being involved in running its in-house cafe,” he says. “We explained we were looking for commercial opportunities and the Mirvac team knew the cafe would provide a great means to give back to society and function as a premium cafe for its staff and guests. Later that year, Mirvac held its volunteering day at the Y Hotel in Hyde Park in Sydney’s CBD, where YWCA NSW staff catered for the Mirvac team. This resulted in extremely positive feedback on the food and service provided.”
YWCA NSW had been looking at new ways to position more of its premium offerings and saw partnering with Mirvac as a perfect opportunity to do so. “We’ve learned about Mirvac’s staff and its clients and the higher-end experience they’re after. It is helping us with a total rebrand of the rest of our business,” explains Ackary.
He gives the example of the Y Hotel Sydney, which he says underwent an extensive refurbishment during 2016 and reopened its doors late in the year, proudly rebranded as The Song Hotel, which reflects the empowerment and positivity associated with the international YWCA movement.
“The reality of the premium location of our hotel in the city means we need to reposition to take the best advantage of that market. It’s an exciting next step in our profit-for-purpose model,” Ackary explains.
As a result of Mirvac’s volunteering day at the Y Hotel, Mirvac entered into its unique partnership with YWCA NSW in 2016 to bring to life the profit-for-purpose cafe at its new headquarters in Sydney.
Many individuals across Mirvac played an integral role in enabling the cafe to be established – from the HQ Project team through to the wider sustainability team, procurement and legal. “It required everyone’s commitment and willingness to work together to bring to life a successful, innovative and sustainable long-term
partnership with YWCA NSW while at the same time creating a cafe concept that catered to the needs of Mirvac,” says Breavington.
YWCA NSW CEO Anna Bligh, Catering Manager Luke McKenzie Brock and Ackary worked closely with Mirvac on the project, which was completed when the building opened in June 2016, spending time understanding Mirvac’s needs and expectations to ensure the cafe would deliver above and beyond and be a success for YWCA NSW.
“At The Song Kitchen, YWCA NSW is committed to providing a high-quality experience and seeking and responding to customer feedback,” says Ackary. “Central to the commercial operation is understanding and meeting the needs of the corporate market and YWCA NSW is focused on continuing to exceed customer expectations and provide a positive experience.”
Mirvac supports YWCA NSW in a number of other ways. “We promote YWCA NSW internally, encouraging employees to get involved with the nonprofit and contribute to its success,” explains Breavington. “Employees can also support the YWCA through payroll giving and participation in promoted initiatives such as the YWCA’s Breaking the Cycle annual fundraising challenge. We hope to continue making a substantial difference in the lives of women and children in New South Wales.”
The benefits to YWCA NSW are obvious. “Mirvac is providing facilities and the premises rent free to YWCA NSW. We are therefore very well positioned to return profits to the charity arm,” says Ackary. “Mirvac will also continue to hold its community day with us. We thank Mirvac for its ongoing support and look forward to continuing to provide the company with our premium services and opportunities to help make a different to the lives of more women and children.”
Encouraging social enterprise
Breavington says The Song Kitchen has provided a great learning experience for everyone at Mirvac. “To understand your morning cup of coffee will go in some way to assisting people in need is such a powerful lesson. Further, The Song Kitchen was created as part of Mirvac’s brand-new George Street headquarters. The design of the new office supported an entirely different way of working for the Mirvac team, and there were challenges in encouraging the workforce to embrace such wholesale change.”
She adds that, ultimately, change is achieved by inspiring people with new ways of thinking, and this applies to encouraging corporates, as well as the Mirvac team, to change the way they reflect on charitable contributions.
It is clear Mirvac’s commitment goes far beyond piloting The Song Kitchen’s profit-for-purpose model. Breavington says, “Mirvac is proud to lead by example in encouraging corporate Australia to invest in sustainable initiatives that have long-term benefits to the communities in which they operate. The partners hope the initiative will be quickly adopted by other Australian companies as a commercially viable way of incorporating social enterprises into their supply chains.”
Breavington adds that Mirvac is continually looking at ways in which it can further promote the cafe and encourage other corporates to engage social enterprises within their supply chain, saying, “We are also working closely with social enterprise development organisation Social Traders to look at further opportunities within our own supply chain.”