3 Questions for a Leader with Former Trader Joe’s President Doug Rauch

Rauch (center) with leadership luncheon attendees from BCSSW.

Rauch (center) with leadership luncheon attendees from BCSSW.

The former president of Trader Joe’s, Doug Rauch, made news when he started his own, novel variety of market called Daily Table, his solution to better serve the poor and to reduce food waste.

A not-for-profit retail store, Daily Table’s mission is to “help communities make great choices around food by making it easy for them to choose tasty, healthy, convenient, and truly affordable meals and groceries” in a “respectful manner that honors our customer, engendering dignity.” Daily Table is able to do this in its first location, in the Dorchester section of Boston, by providing both ready-to-eat meals priced to compete with fast food shops, and grocery items at prices well below average.

This November, Rauch visited BC Social Work to share his expertise with students as the latest featured guest in the school’s Leadership Speakers Luncheon Series. 

“What I found most interesting in speaking with Mr. Rauch,” explains one student who attended the luncheon, “was seeing the issues of dignity we talk about in class enacted through Daily Table. Mr. Rauch explained that 38 percent of the people who are eligible for food assistance, through food banks and pantries, do not seek it because they see it as lacking dignity. Daily Table instead feels and behaves like a grocery store. In that way, it is a health social service that specializes in dignified interactions. I found it reassuring and exciting to know that this amount of thought and critical thinking went into defining the program. It was an inspiring opportunity to learn more about it.”

Here, in this month’s edition of Three Questions for a Social Work Leader, Rauch speaks with BC Social Work about why “narrative really matters”, “finding common ground” in your work, and being “on guard for compassion fatigue.” 

What does it mean to be a social worker in 2015? 

Doug Rauch: Today, it’s more important than ever to either have a variety of skills, or attract those who do. You have to be chief evangelist for your mission; a successful fundraiser; a serious networker well connected across multiple channels and disciplines; be grounded in basic financial planning and business strategy; a great story teller — narrative really matters; and find a source of undaunted optimism in your heart. As it’s been said, most people in this work won’t care what you know, as much as they’ll want to know that you care.

Tell us about the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader in the field. 

DR: Systemic problems can’t be solved quickly, or by silo’d approaches.  And what meaningful social issue isn’t complex and a systems problem? That means that it will take a network of diverse interests finding common ground, putting aside the deficit mentality that haunts the field (not enough funding, not enough supplies, not enough people, not enough interest, etc), and learn to find synergies and solutions together.  Learn to really trust the people who want to help — they often have much better solutions than I would have ever developed alone.

What recommendations do you have for those who aspire to be social work leaders in the future?  

DR: First, you’ll have to dare greatly if you want to achieve anything of lasting value. It won’t be easy. And you’ll risk genuine failure and frustration.  You have to know that you’re doing this for the right reasons because the work will strip you of any incongruence between your words and your actions.

There are so many inspiring examples of ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things simply because they cared deeply and kept at it.  It is possible to make a lasting difference, to do good and do well. Try and remove as many preconceived opinions as possible, and come with an open mind and heart to the work you’re doing. And finally, be on guard for compassion fatigue — that wearing down of your spirit through confronting the relentless challenges social work presents. Never lose heart, but also know your own limits.

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