Winning by quality, not sympathy: The Cookie Project celebrates milestone for Kiwis with disabilities

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Bakers (clockwise from top left) Lawrence, Stacey, Ngā Hou, Caleb and Parveen love bringing joy to people with their cookies made without preservatives, additives or colours. Pic: The Cookie Project
Bakers (clockwise from top left) Lawrence, Stacey, Ngā Hou, Caleb and Parveen love bringing joy to people with their cookies made without preservatives, additives or colours. Pic: The Cookie Project

Related tags: The Cookie Project, Bakers, New zealand, disabilities

New Zealand social enterprise The Cookie Project has announced it has generated more than 3,000 employment hours for its bakers, which all have a range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, cognitive and mental challenges.

The Auckland-based bakery was founded in 2018 with the purpose to help Kiwis with disabilities understand their own value to themselves and to society by paying them at least the minimum wage to bake its award-winning cookies.

Co-founder Graeme Haddon said achieving this 3,000 hour milestone is encouraging for those like his adopted daughter, Ngā Hou, who has six different diagnosed disabilities, including foetal alcohol syndrome and autism.

“While there is a minimum wage exemption policy in Aotearoa, we personally don’t believe it’s fair to pay someone less just because they have a disability,”​ said Haddon.

“Ngā Hou and the rest of our bakers have shown remarkable work ethic, and their skill development over the time spent with us is testament to the fact that people with disabilities just need a foot in the door to demonstrate their capabilities.”

Scaling up

The bakery has recently signed a commercial partnership with New Zealand’s national stadium Eden Park, which will provide more employment opportunities. It is also launching a host of novel baking experiences in its kitchen for bakers with disabilities, such as ‘Free Cookie Saturdays’, ‘Bake Your Own Cookies’, ‘Win My Cookie Challenge’ and ‘Baking in the Dark’.

A nationwide ‘Local Cookie Rep’ pilot programme is also being explored for those who live outside of Auckland looking for employment.

Co-founder Eric Chuah attributes the milestone achievement to the social enterprise’s motto of ‘winning by quality, not sympathy’, most recently seen through the response to its limited edition cookies developed for Pride Month and Lunar New Year.

“The positive reaction to our Rainbow Heart and Year of the Ox cookies was uplifting, as many of our team members identify with the LBGTIQ+ and multicultural communities,”​ he said.

“We thank the individuals and organisations that have supported us in reaching this milestone, and also want to acknowledge the involvement of Eden Park and ingredient partners like Lewis Road Creamery, Trade Aid, Pic’s Peanut Butter and Champion Flour that have supported us since we started.”

The Cookie Project is aiming to raise $15,000 through the sale of its Fundraising Cookies in order to scale up the business with new IT hardware, merchandise and retail packaging. The funds will also be used for staff training and marketing. Fundraising Cookies are available for purchase now from its online store: https://tinyurl.com/ue2vaptr

“COVID-19 hit us incredibly hard, with revenue dropping more than 90%. While we’re still in recovery-phase, we want to prepare for our next step which is to scale up and sustainably generate exponential social impact nationally across Aotearoa,”​ added Chuah.

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