According to a recent study by the Guardian, the number of homeless people recorded dying in the UK have more than doubled in the past five years. Official figures show that at least 4,751 people sleep rough on any given night.
On average, homeless people die at the age of 43, nearly half of the general life expectancy in the UK. They are almost 17 times more likely to experience violence and over 9 times more prone to taking their own lives compared to the general population.
Empowering the vulnerable through education and employment
Cemal Ezel, a former investment banker, was inspired to set up Change Please by a trip to Vietnam, where he came across a silent teahouse run by speech and hearing impaired individuals who under normal circumstances would have struggled to find employment.
He returned to the UK with the conviction that the devastating homelessness situation can be tackled by leveraging the exponential growth in coffee sales contrasted with a significant skills gap in the industry.
Change Please trains homeless people to become fully-fledged baristas, and upon completion of their training, finds them employment, restoring their independence and dignity in the process. Unlike purely commercially focused businesses, all of Change Please’s profits are reinvested into their training program.
The social enterprise also offers support with bank accounts, housing and counseling, and each trainee is assigned a mentor who was previously homeless as well.
Building a sustainable and ethical supply chain
A robust social and environmental purpose permeates every aspect of Change Please’ s operations, from sourcing coffee beans from communities that support the marginalized to using 100% biodegradable coffee cups and having all their coffee grounds upcycled into biofuel and biochemicals.
“Our strapline is “good coffee, doing good”, and for us it was important that this ethos ran throughout our supply chain. As such, all our coffee is ethically sourced from farms which support good causes, including a charity supporting victims of domestic abuse and another that helps remove landmines”, shares Ezel. “We promote the usage of reusable cups with special offers and aim to have all of our coffee recycled by Bio-Bean.”
Taking on the UK and the world
Since starting out in 2015, the social venture has grown exponentially into operating 15 coffee vans and sites across London, and securing partnerships with businesses such as UBS or Barclays to supply coffee in their offices. Ezel’s unstoppable drive is palpable as he details plans to open nationwide and internationally in the near future.
With the support of the international law firm Latham & Watkins, Change Please has recently set up a legal entity in the US to expand their presence across the pond. They have also received funding to open their first training academy in the UK, which will allow them to finance the education of 12 homeless people per month with plans to launch three more in the US.
In addition, the social venture sells three award-winning coffee blends to the UK supermarket Sainsbury’s – each blend is crafted and named after one of their beneficiaries, and is currently stocked in close to 400 Sainsbury’s outlets.
Ezel attributes the rapid success of Change Please to three main factors: the support of a diverse advisory board, including bankers, lawyers and marketers, a genuine interest in addressing the issue of homelessness from consumers and brands alike, and most importantly, product quality.
“The fact that we have never compromised on coffee quality, whilst remaining ethical, means people buy our product for the great coffee, and the fact that we have a strong social mission is an additional bonus.”
Change Please won the Great Taste Award 2017 and 2018, and has been recently shortlisted for the Quality Food Award 2018 – key accolades for anyone in the F&B sector, with or without a social purpose.
Saving and transforming lives through coffee
With impact and evaluation systems designed in partnership with The Social Innovation Partnership, Can-Invest and the University of Northampton, Change Please strives to find the correct balance between social and commercial impact.
Lucy, Change Please’s first employee, moved to the UK with her husband Marian with no papers and no knowledge of English. She was sleeping rough in one of the train stations in London when she discovered The Big Issue, a social enterprise employing homeless people to sell its magazine. While working for the social venture, she met Ezel who offered her a job at Change Please. Her husband followed suit shortly after, and they have since learnt English, built a home, and have a Change Please coffee blend each named after them.
Adan was a trained chef before divorce led him into depression and homelessness. While on the streets, Adan experienced people trying to set him on fire and stealing from his pockets whilst sleeping rough. One day, he witnessed a woman throw herself off the bridge and without hesitation, he dived into the freezing November waters of the Thames to save her.
He received the George Cross medal for bravery from the Queen, but continued to live on the streets until he was eventually recruited by Change Please, providing him with shelter and work after 12 years of homelessness.
With an advanced regulatory framework that offers bespoke legal structures and tax incentives to social enterprises and their funders, the UK is leading the world in social entrepreneurship, and social ventures such as Change Please might be the reason why.
Change Please is building a training academy to empower even more homeless people – to donate to this great cause, please visit their crowdfunding page.
Based out of Singapore and Indonesia, Trang is in charge of editorial content and strategy for Causeartist in Asia, looking after the media platform’s coverage of the region. In addition to her role at Causeartist, she divides her time managing a global sustainability project for Refinitiv (formerly Thomson Reuters Financial & Risk), as a freelance contributor to publications focused on social and environmental issues, and as a consultant on international development projects on issues ranging from climate change mitigation to education or women’s rights.