David Hertz
Ashoka Fellow since 2011   |   Brazil

David Hertz

With an emphasis on culinary skills, David Hertz and Gastromotiva offer a program for personal and professional development among marginalized young people from the favelas, enabling them to join the…
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This description of David Hertz's work was prepared when David Hertz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.


With an emphasis on culinary skills, David Hertz and Gastromotiva offer a program for personal and professional development among marginalized young people from the favelas, enabling them to join the working world and even become entrepreneurs in their communities.

The New Idea

David is preparing impoverished young adults from Brazil’s most difficult neighborhoods to enter the hospitality field and become productive and confident members of their society. With his organization, Gastromotiva, founded in 2006, he has combined professional instruction with values education in a series of practical tools drawing on classroom learning and on-the-ground training, all based around the burgeoning food service industry. Gastromotiva participants, who range in ages from 18 to 35, are encouraged to reach their potential and expand their creativity, adopting the skills to become professionals and even start their own restaurants or other small businesses in the favelas. As young entrepreneurs, they can serve as role models to other youth and champions for the development of their community.

With gastronomy at its heart, the innovative program David has created upholds the notions of culture, sensory perception, civic engagement, and one’s contributions to others, all intertwined with tools for youth professional development. David’s comprehensive curriculum includes high-quality technical and theoretical training in cooking and hospitality based on peer education. The companion practical activities, such as the Gastromotiva Buffet, in which the young people apply their skills in an actual restaurant setting, and the Gastromotiva Social Incubator, which supplies support and advises students as they begin to create their own community enterprises, together serve as powerful and unparalleled opportunities for participants to engage in real-life preparation for the workplace. Yet, because development of the whole individual, not just vocational training, is the objective of Gastromotiva, the coursework also addresses topics of history and culture, citizenship, communication, self-esteem building, and group dynamics, essential life skills for any type of professional service.

With a curriculum that spans career preparation and community action, Gastromotiva has constructed an educational solution that helps vulnerable youth confront various challenges to which they are exposed. This has also made it an appealing methodology for engagement with other associations, an opportunity that David is leveraging to grow his project. Besides seeking to expand his courses to over nine states in the country, he is establishing relationships with universities and prisons to adopt his initiative. David is also building collaborations with the international Slow Food Movement to spread his Social Incubator and encourage other young people to start new businesses with marginalized youth populations around the world.

The Problem

Despite its booming economy in recent years, Brazil still has few decent labor opportunities for its young people hailing from disadvantaged economic backgrounds. This demographic is disproportionately hit by unemployment, accounting for half of the total unemployed population. Because the market tends to require previous work experience to be hired, poor young people are often subject to a vicious cycle: A young person cannot obtain a first job due to inexperience, but without this job, he or she cannot move up the professional ladder. The problem is especially acute among youth from poorer circumstances, who have even less access to basic public education and can rarely attend a high-quality university. Those few who manage to secure a job end up working in poor conditions with few opportunities for growth and security.

Initiatives that assist impoverished young people to earn gainful employment and become entrepreneurs are practically nonexistent. Moreover, government and civil society programs designed to prepare young people to join the workforce often fail to realize long-lasting results. The public sector offers vocational training courses in technical skills demanded by the labor market, but such narrow, concrete expertise only provides limited and short-term help. These courses seldom include material in comprehensive personal growth and success, and they certainly do not incorporate training in entrepreneurship. In turn, often young participants in these programs do not have nurturing home communities where they can safely experiment with new ideas. Due to entrenched conditions of poverty, violence and family insecurity, motivations to feel, create, innovate, and take on challenges may be directed toward crime and drugs. Meanwhile, some initiatives that do manage to transform young people’s lives by helping them build self-confidence and plan for the future and do not provide practical means for income generation and employment. There is a deep inconsistency then, between long-lasting and comprehensive professional development and social and personal growth among programs, doing a disservice to the youth who take part in them.

Given its extraordinary economic growth, today Brazil has the capacity to supply good jobs and professional opportunities to its young people. The food service and hospitality industry is one sector that has grown quite rapidly and is increasing its demand for skilled labor. With Brazil hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, this sector looks even more promising. In addition, demand exists for skilled jobs in the hospitality industry for lower socioeconomic classes. These communities have experienced some economic advances, such as improved access to credit in recent years, but the quality of local establishments—especially in the food service industry—have not improved. At the same time, like other professional fields, it is still difficult for young people, especially the poor, to gain access to a premium education in hospitality, to enter the workforce, or launch their own businesses in their home communities.

The Strategy

David created Gastromotiva in 2006 because he was convinced that the culinary arts, a field that had played a central role in his own personal and professional life, could offer transformative employment and livelihood opportunities for young people from low-income communities. He understands that beyond benefiting from a growing market, training in gastronomy has the potential to unite community engagement, entrepreneurship, and professional development. It encourages young people to experiment with new techniques, explore their creativity, and engage with their families and communities. David has gradually expanded his toolkit of methods to offer an array of learning experiences in the classroom and full-service, revenue-generating kitchens.

The Gastromotiva Professional Cooking Course is the basis upon which the program is built. Over coursework that spans six months and 400 hours, divided equally between theory and practice, the class entails technical cooking and gastronomical training, communication and expression, and seminars on community action. As part of the course, they complete site visits to cultural culinary events, spend time on an organic farm, and visit their home communities to help them reflect on the social challenges their areas face and begin to devise economic and social solutions. At the end of the course, the student is expected to be trained sufficiently to enter the work force. Gastromotiva facilitates the job search through partners in the industry. Currently, the course is recognized and accredited by the Anhembi Morumbi University in Sao Paulo and is offered free to students from the lowest economic class, made possible by sponsorships from companies including JPMorgan and Nestle.

The course content is built around a peer education pedagogy that gives the students the chance to interact with other young people who are brought in as tutors. The latter are of similar ages and belong to similar cultural groups, socioeconomic classes, and communities. Besides inviting professional chefs and gastronomy experts as lecturers, Gastromotiva hosts young people who have successfully secured employment in the food service industry or other professions without the benefit of higher education and study. David says this peer-to-peer interaction with successful young role models shows the students that possibilities for economic and social advancement exist and they too can achieve. This further motivates them to engage in their work.

Upon graduating from the professional course, they have the option to work at the Gastromotiva Gourmet experimental kitchen. They can also complete a practicum with the Gastromotiva Buffet, a social business platform that offers a paid internship so that trainees can apply their techniques in an actual kitchen. Young alumni of the professional courses coordinate and manage the Buffet, creating new recipes and products and providing professional training to the intern chefs. As the Buffet is a working kitchen, with a social end, the profits are reinvested to expand the internship and maintain the course. Thus, the Buffet serves both the school and gives young people a chance to generate their own income and gain practical experience, thereby opening further employment opportunities in other restaurants and buffets.

The Culinary Business Incubator, the third component of the Gastromotiva model, supports the creation of trainees’ new businesses. Inspired by their lessons in self-esteem building and community values, many participants in the course and Buffet have launched restaurants or hospitality venues in their local areas. The Incubator, currently being piloted with groups of entrepreneurs that are graduates of Gastromotiva, provides mentorship and advises budding culinary businesses. In addition to generating income for themselves and in their communities, these young entrepreneurs are meant to become role models for other youth in the favelas—sparking larger neighborhood development. The Incubator is a new opportunity for students to receive feedback and support on their own creative endeavors, not only limited to the hospitality industry, but other careers as well. To build on the Incubator’s success, David and his advisors are studying the possibility of creating a business center that will contribute to his organization’s long-term sustainability.

To date, Gastromotiva has succeeded in assisting virtually all of its growing number of participants successfully enter the workforce. About 90 percent of young graduates regard Gastromotiva as instrumental in increasing their self-confidence; they note they can recognize their strengths, identify areas for improvement and are open to new opportunities. Remarkably, a quarter of the graduates are pursuing higher degrees. Some of the trainees have become chefs and sous-chefs, managing at least five other professionals in the establishments where they work. David plans to capitalize on the growing food services industry by increasing the number of graduates in the course.

David’s main strategy for expansion is through partnerships with other public and civil society institutions that can facilitate the diffusion of the Gastromotiva model to other geographic and demographic groups. First, David is leveraging his institutional relationship with the Anhembi Morumbi University to implement the professional course as part of the university’s social investment program on its nine campuses throughout Brazil. As part of this effort he is training two other COs that work with youth in the state of Sao Paulo in the methodology, who will then apply it in the other states in which they operate.

Gastromotiva is also evaluating how it might adapt its methodology to penal facilities. In collaboration with a highly respected chef in Sao Paulo, David has implemented a pilot project in a prison there, with such positive results that a judge observing it recommended that Gastromotiva become institutionalized as policy. David is also joining forces with the Slow Food Movement, a global association with 100,000 members in 132 countries that seeks to revitalize regional culinary traditions and recapture people’s interest in the origin and tastes of their cuisine. As a member, David is tailoring the Incubator’s methodology to become a core component of the movement. In this way, David hopes to create opportunities for social and professional growth for young people from Brazil and around the globe.

The Person

Born in Curitiba, David received a strong education in Jewish values and traditions from his family and as a student at a faith-based school, where he participated in weekly group activities and camps. Exploring the possibility of living in Israel, after turning 18, he spent a year on a kibbutz with a group of forty young Brazilian Jews. There he began working in a kitchen. During this eye-opening trip, David discovered new ways to perceive himself and the world around him. In his case, cuisine was the catalyst for this transformative process, while also his means to earn a living. He later spent time in countries around Asia, Europe, and North America and always worked in the areas of gastronomy and hospitality.

Returning to Brazil, David was determined not to follow the career path defined by his family, inheriting their small button factory, but instead, would pursue his passion. David moved to Sao Paulo in 1997, by which time the “haute cuisine” movement was beginning to gain traction. He worked in all aspects of kitchens, from washing dishes to cooking, and regarded even the most menial jobs as valuable. In 2004, already working in the restaurant industry as a consultant to chefs, David set up a kitchen in the favela of Jaguaré. From the moment he stepped into this kitchen, he experienced a profound change, understanding that he could use his knowledge and expertise to serve youth in the community.

As David embarked on this process, he became acquainted with the work of Artemisia, which through its network of entrepreneurs inspired him to set up his own project and methodology. This initiative, the Citizen Cook Program, sought to enable young people from the community to participate in the restaurant industry. Using the culinary arts as a means of civic education, this program later gave birth to Gastromotiva. Energized by his creation of a successful model that joins professional development with personal values and community engagement, David hopes to increase the social impact of his work with impoverished young people and other vulnerable groups.

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