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Can Grilled Cheese Save the World?

Probably not, but it sure is delicious. All joking aside, college campuses have always been rife with awareness/activism, however the recent trends seems to be direct involvement in projects rather than simple awareness campaigns. Young people are becoming more interested social and environmental issues particularly in far-away places thanks to social media and online images/videos that take you right to the spot.

One initiative, Feel Good World, is raising money and consequently providing business training through the sale of grilled cheese on college campuses. Sounds weird? I thought so too, but things really seem to be taking off.

Started in 2004 by a few students at the University of Texas in order to end hunger, Feel Good World began accepting donations for grilled cheese on campus.  It has since spread to 27 college campuses, involving 50,000 students and raising $850,000. Of course, I was skeptical about where the money was going (as I always am) however these guys really seem to have it together. Their partners appear to be reputable (The Hunger Project and CHOICE Humanitarian)- they take capital outlay breakdown seriously for both their own organization and their partners. They even have a “Feel Good Certification” which utilizes metrics and research (they have clearly spent time working with Charity Navigator) that they then use as criteria for selecting partners .

This is the international development side of me talking (especially impressive since I’m not, generally speaking, a big “aid” guy). The business side knows that once the donation is made, regardless of the research you have done on your partners, what they do with the money is now out of your hands. Clearly, Feel Good seems to understand the importance of reducing this risk. What maybe more impressive is the social enterprise aspect of this organization. While technically a 501(c)3, the students wrote a business plan that allowed them to scale their idea rapidly.

What’s more is that they are now passing this along to students at universities who sell grilled cheeses at Feel Good Delis, in much the same way they did. The students purchase products with start-up capital provided by Feel Good, keep order of financials and return the revenue (apparently a 20% average ROI) to be donated. There appears to be much more expansion in the works involving restaurants and training, but if nothing else, they’ve got a really rad website and some pretty impressive interactive annual reports.

Written by Jonathan Banco

Jonathan has worked in both journalism and various facets of small business development over the past eight years. Most recently, he graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (graduate school of Middlebury College) in 2010 with an MBA and an MA in International Development Policy. His interests include SME development and its role in economic growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as how CSR/Sustainability measures impact both business operations and the communities in which businesses operate. While at MIIS he worked as a summer fellow involved in small business consulting in Accra, Ghana and was an active member of the MIIS Net Impact chapter. As a life long traveler, Jonathan has been fortunate to have lived in, worked in or visited over 20 countries on 5 continents and he truly hopes that he will be able to continue this trend.


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