The Empty Bowls Project: Creating, Leading, and Sustaining a Social Enterprise


  • The authors would like to acknowledge John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn, founders of Empty Bowls/Imagine Render. John and Lisa approved this case study in October 2011 and provided valuable information for the case to be developed for the purpose of teaching and class discussion.


Lisa and John never envisioned that a luncheon held 20 years ago at their local high school would grow into The Empty Bowls Project, an international grassroots effort to fight hunger. The premise is simple in that potters, educators, students, and others create handcrafted bowls and serve a simple meal of soup and bread. In exchange for cash donations, attendees take home the bowl to recall all the empty bowls in the world. Monies raised are donated to community-based organizations working toward food security. The founders subsequently formed the nonprofit Imagine Render and now are considering their succession and future direction.