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This Coffee Company Offers The Homeless Job Training, A Way Out Of Poverty

Change Please wants to expand its social enterprise to the U.S.

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London has seen a growing number of homeless people on its streets in the past decade, a troubling trend that didn’t escape Cemal Ezel when he was eager to start a business with a social mission. The familiar plea for money from the homeless was like a knock on his conscience. “I don’t know what to do. Do I give money or don’t I?” he said.

The internal struggle to do the “right thing” set him on a path to find a solution.

Ezel found his solution by analyzing the coffee industry and spotting its skills shortage. And with the average Londoner treating themselves to two coffees a day, he knew demand was rising. Change Please, founded in 2015, was developed as a social enterprise to be “staffed by the homeless to help the homeless.” The nonprofit organization is empowering London’s homeless by training them to be baristas. It provides full barista training, jobs paying a living wage, and support with housing, banking and mental well-being.

This approach has seen the emergence of more than 35 Change Please coffee outlets on U.K. shores. Their locations vary from tube station and main street locations to solar-paneled carts, and are boosted with a more recent leap into corporate offices.

It has really grown. You’ll find Change Please coffee in the offices of UBS, National Bank of NYC, Barings, Goldman Sachs — and soon, Coutts,” Ezel said.

With corporations increasingly taking a conscientious look at their daily coffee suppliers, Ezel said he can now confidently see expansion plans in the United States going ahead. The need for job training services is even greater in the U.S., where about 553,000 people are homeless. The U.K. homeless figures is estimated at roughly 4,700. U.S.-based Thomas Finke, chairman and CEO at Barings, an investment management firm, said the business is committed to engaging in social issues affecting the communities in which it operates.

“Our goal is to help address issues, such as economic mobility and housing, through philanthropic programs and volunteerism,” Finke said. So, the new partnership with Change Please allows Barings to “lean into addressing the homeless issue in London.”

Change Please runs its business operation with sustainability in mind, from the sourcing of the beans to using recyclable cups. With 100 percent of profits going back into training homeless individuals, Change Please is poised to gain ground on its main goal: pushing Starbucks aside and giving alternatives to the local community, both in terms of the coffee it serves and the social good it offers.

“It’s about making easy changes within the supply chains,” Ezel says. “We get referrals from Crisis or The Big Issue, and then we interview the prospective baristas ourselves. We give a month’s training, check out their customer interaction skills; and once we are sure they are suitable, we give them a job, housing and therapy.”

With 40 percent of homeless referrals making it through the recruitment process, Ezel said he can count on them for their focus, loyalty and commitment.

“If one of our baristas is running late, they are sprinting to work because they don’t want to lose their job with us. Consider the change in dynamic; these people have gone from begging for money to people now offering them money.”

For its homeless employees, Change Please is a place to learn job skills, build relationships and gain recognition for their good work. The nonprofit has named coffee blends after some of the baristas, with their faces even appearing on the packaging.

“When I got this job it changed everything for me. I was an angry person and it has changed me 100 percent,” says Tom, whose award-winning coffee blend is currently stocked in Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain.

Support for Ezel’s coffee concept is plentiful, with funders and clients including Trafigura Foundation, Comic Relief, CAF, Chiva and Virgin. 

The overall message from Ezel is two-fold: “If you’re a successful entrepreneur, why not consider being a social entrepreneur? Consider the environment — what can we do? It’s an empowering and equitable choice.

“Many small steps are as good as massive leaps. Purchase your water, biscuits or coffee from a local business. Do something for the social good,” Ezel said.

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