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Serving coffee with a conscience

Posted by Ivana Rnjak on Sep 2, 2016 8:00:00 AM

The number of cafes operating as social enterprises has been steadily increasing, in response to persisting inequalities in access to income and opportunities.

These cafes are filling the economic need for job creation, especially for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, while running their businesses with a social conscience to promote the breakdown of divisions and inequalities in society.

What is a Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises are organizations that operate with an economic, social, cultural or environmental mission. These organizations conduct trade in order to fulfil their mission, feeding profits back into their operations.

Social enterprises have been playing a key role in economic recovery through job creation and product innovation, whilst simultaneously helping the most disadvantaged groups in society.

They provide aid in many forms to marginalized and vulnerable groups, including those who are:

  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • From low socio-economic backgrounds
  • Experiencing homelessness
  • Struggling with alcohol and drug dependencies
  • Recently released from prison
  • Living with disabilities

Why Social Enterprises Matter

A report published in the UK in 2015 found that social enterprises are already accomplishing impressive feats in representations of diversity. It reported that 40% of social enterprises are led by women, 31% have Black, Asian or ethnic minority directors, and 40% have a director with a disability.

Furthermore, these organizations lend a helping hand to vulnerable groups, while fostering a culture of equality through fair pay distribution within the business and employment of people who are most disadvantaged in the labor market.

How Social Enterprise Cafes Are Run

Cafes are a good choice for a social enterprise for a number of reasons:

  • There is a great demand for coffee and cafe food
  • Cafes tend to attract returning customers who provide steady revenue
  • The small business model fosters connections with the community, providing opportunities to address local issues
  • The start-up costs are generally low
  • Cafes can give individuals access to long-term employment, while providing training that will be beneficial for the future

Cafes that are social enterprises provide jobs and training to individuals from disadvantaged or marginalized groups who would otherwise struggle to find work, or donate their profits to charity (or sometimes a mixture of both). These cafes help vulnerable individuals develop life skills and gain job training and experience that is essential for future employment prospects.

Cafes operating as social enterprises have to provide a quality product that will attract customers. In a competitive market, it is not enough to be operating with a social conscience.

These cafes have to ensure they are offering goods and services that match the standards of the for-profit businesses operating in their area. By doing so, they can win over customers by providing coffee and food of the same quality, but with the advantage of giving customers the satisfaction of putting their money towards a good cause.

Successful Social Enterprise Cafes From Around the World

STREAT in Melbourne, Australia

STREAT provides young people experiencing homelessness with transferable employment skills through training at a technical college and hands-on work experience in their cafes. STREAT also assists in finding housing placements and future employment for the individuals they work with.

Second Shot in London, UK  

Second Shot employs people affected by homelessness, provides them with job training and helps transition them to long-term employment. Second Shot operates a suspended coffee system. This gives their customers the opportunity to "pay it forward” by pre-paying for food and drinks that someone in need can later receive. The cafe also operates as a hub for the homeless after business hours, and partners up with charities to provide food drives and advisory services. 

Blue Sky Bakery in Chicago, USA

Blue Sky Bakery provides a 12-week paid employment program for homeless and at-risk youth, giving them access to job skills and training, including resume writing and interview skills. Additionally, a weekly meeting with a social worker is provided.

Kinfolk in Melbourne, Australia 

Kinfolk donates all its profits to charity. Their donations have helped organizations that work to address homelessness, drug dependency, indigenous welfare, poverty and children’s rights. They work with charities locally and abroad. 

Brew Bird Coffee in London, UK 

Brew Bird employs people with criminal convictions who have been recently released from prison. By putting these individuals into a working environment and providing them with skills and training, they help to reduce the chance of reoffending and give them an opportunity to turn a new page in their lives. 

Long Street Coffee in Melbourne, Australia 

Long Street provides six-month paid hospitality traineeships to asylum seekers and refugees, giving them the opportunity to improve their employment prospects.

ACspresSO in Melbourne, Australia 

ACspresSO hires and trains people who have criminal convictions, are at risk of being in trouble with the law, or are on the Work For The Dole program. Their efforts provide people with the necessary skills for future employment, and help to reduce rates of reoffending. The cafe’s pantry produces food packages that are delivered locally to people in need.

Square Peg Coffee House in Swansea, UK

Square Peg donates its profits to local and international charities, whilst also providing jobs and training to disadvantaged youth. 

The Final Step in Melbourne, Australia 

The Final Step uses its profits to fund Food For Thought, a health and education program established by the cafe to help underprivileged children in Argentina. The program works directly with communities in Buenos Aires to find sustainable ways to provide the help that is needed.

How For-Profit Cafes Can Get Involved

Many for-profit cafes are contributing to social missions in their own ways as well, by:

  • Displaying charity donation tins in their business 
  • Making regular donations to charities (KereKere in Melbourne is a good example)
  • Becoming involved in charity initiatives such as CafeSmart
  • Organising a suspended coffee initiative in their business
  • Spreading awareness of certain causes through their business and through social media (have a look at the image below)


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Topics: Hospitality operations, Health and wellbeing, Hotels, Hospitality managers, Hospitality staff, Restaurants