Robert Egger: Ensuring impact is about “liberating the receiver”

Robert Egger: Ensuring impact is about “liberating the receiver”

// By Jacqueline Brennan

/ By Jackie Brennan /

“Twenty-first century charity seems to be about the redemption of the giver instead of what it should be about: the liberation of the receiver.”

That’s one of the biggest lessons Spanish-American chef José Andrés has taken away from his friend and mentor, Robert Egger. As the chef most credited for bringing the small plate dining concept (also known as tapas) to the United States, Andrés’ name is more of a household one in the American mainstream. But his friend, mentor, and long-time partner in food-based philanthropic work is no less influential in both the foodie and social good communities. And we’re stoked to announce that he’ll be speaking on the Main Stage at Upswell!

In 1989, while still working as a nightclub manager, Robert Egger founded DC Central Kitchen, the nation’s first community kitchen to collect perfectly good surplus food from hospitality businesses and farms to feed the hungry, and fuel culinary job training programs.

If the “central kitchen” aspect of the name sounds familiar, it’s possible that you’ve heard of Egger’s higher-profile friend’s venture with a similar name. That’s because it was Egger’s charity that inspired Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. Though also focused on feeding the hungry, food education, job creation, and sustainability, Andrés saw an opportunity to launch a venture with a global focus in the wake of an earthquake that devastated the island nation of Haiti in 2010. Subsequently, the international spin-off of Egger’s concept has reached additional continents, serving communities in Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Zambia.

In addition to inspiring the vision of Andrés’ charity that continues to have a burgeoning impact across the globe, Egger took the local central kitchen model to Los Angeles in 2012 after leading the DC iteration for 24 years. Egger’s major focus at LA Central Kitchen is raising awareness and ultimately combatting the problem of food waste—an issue that costs the U.S. about $165 billion annually. Like the model in Egger’s previous base of operation, the central kitchen approach is holistic. That is, while doubling down on the issue of food waste, LA Central Kitchen has created jobs by employing LA residents who are actively implementing the steps and strategies involved in eradicating a mammoth social and environmental issue.

In the Upswell community, our year-round, in-person engagement by way of Lab work is designed to surface the solutions to local challenges that have national relevance, and tremendous potential for being transported, scaled, and adapted to improve our world. That’s why Egger—as the champion behind a social impact model that has now traveled across U.S. coasts and overseas, changing lives and communities along the way—is right up our alley.

Egger reminds us of the paramount importance of stepping back and taking stock of whether we’re just spinning our do-gooder wheels to, in his words, redeem the giver. Moreover, he reminds us that the real measure of impact—and the end-goal of all changework—should be liberating. It should be about the liberation of the receiver. What good are our efforts if they don’t amount to more doors open for people to improve their own lives, their communities, and their environments?

We know Egger is on to something. And we can’t wait to hear from him, to learn from him, and take in the full glory of his impact-minded culinary wizardry on the Main Stage at Upswell this November. But you don’t have to wait until then to hear more about Egger’s Upswell involvement. In coming weeks, we’ll share more here on a recent one-on-one conversation we had with Egger. Stay tuned!

Jackie Brennan is the associate of social media and web at Independent Sector.

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