Instead of Cash, Toyota Donates Efficiency

Although the offer of kaizen, or "continuous improvement," instead of cash from global auto giant Toyota initially was met with apprehension at the Food Bank for New York City, the efficiencies the company has built into the charity's operations have been transformative, the New York Times reports.

Toyota engineers began to work with foodbank officials in 2011 to optimize workflow and quality by continuously looking for ways to make incremental improvements at the foodbank's facilities. At a Harlem soup kitchen, for instance, wait times were cut from as much as ninety minutes to eighteen minutes by allowing patrons to wait closer to the kitchen and enter as soon as a seat became free. At a Staten Island food pantry, families spent six minutes picking up groceries instead of eleven minutes after pantry shelves were reorganized and color coordinated. And at a warehouse in Brooklyn, a conveyor belt and an assembly line enabled volunteers to pack a box of supplies for Sandy victims in eleven seconds, down from three minutes, while the introduction of smaller boxes increased the number of boxes delivered in each truckload.

"It's a form of corporate philanthropy, but instead of giving money, they're sharing expertise," David J. Vogel, a professor and an expert in corporate social responsibility at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Times. "It's quite new."

In the 1990s, Toyota shared its expertise only with its auto parts suppliers. But as the company came to recognize that there was broader interest in its model, it began to offer consulting-style services to non-automotive manufacturers and nonprofits. Today, the Toyota Production System Support Center supports about forty organizations, half of which are nonprofits that receive the services for free.

"From banks to restaurants to airlines, people give money and time and we're grateful," said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for NYC. "But it's very rare for people to come and say, 'You know what, this is the model that made our company great, and we will share it with a charity with the hope that it will provide for the neediest people in your city.'"

Mona El-Naggar. "In Lieu of Money, Toyota Donates Efficiency to New York Charity." New York Times 07/26/2013.