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.