Breakfast With a Side of Social Change
5 September 2018 at 8:31 am
Well-loved Melbourne cafe, Kinfolk, is fighting barriers to social inclusion and unemployment, one coffee at a time, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
When Jarrod Briffa opened the Kinfolk cafe in Melbourne eight years ago, he wanted to create a business that had a social impact, but didn’t need to rely on philanthropic donations for it to work.
“We wanted to provide something simple that people have everyday, like a coffee or a meal,” Briffa tells Pro Bono News.
With only $10,000 to back him, little to no experience in running a cafe, and a plan to donate all profits to charity, it was a risky venture.
There was also nothing to look up to, as at the the time, no one was quite doing what they were doing.
“There wasn’t much we could really take inspiration from, from a social enterprise perspective. We did look at a few other things but no one was doing exactly what we were doing,” he says.
Briffa says some of the most important advice he received was that if “he was going to be operating in this [social enterprise] space”, and wanted it to work, it had to be “backed by good business”.
“The impact’s great, but if the business model is not viable then the impact is very limited in how long it can score,” he says.
Their model is simple. They serve up healthy fresh seasonal produce, which draws big crowds, and then put aside 95 per cent of their revenue to keep the cafe running.
Briffa says this is called “conscious consumption”, as the money is spent with a conscience.
Kinfolk donates profits to two partner charities each year – currently the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Cathy Freeman Foundation. Customers are given a coffee bean which they use to vote on their favourite charity.
With an impressive pool of volunteers coming through the doors each week to help run Kinfolk and their catering business, an event space and a second cafe about to open, Briffa has proved that a business donating 100 per cent of its profits to charity can work.
What he found interesting however, is that the area they are making the most impact in is quite different to where he thought it would be when they first started out.
“From the moment we opened the doors to volunteers, all the people who were coming to volunteer who were facing barriers to social inclusion themselves,” he says.
“We realised very quickly in the first year the biggest impact we were going to have was how we created meaningful experiences for the people coming to volunteer.”
Over the time they have been open, the volunteer program became a really big focus of the business.
“We’re working with really a broad cross-section of the community, so that could be anyone from a person transitioning from prison, people facing long term unemployment, mental health challenges, and those with physical and mental disabilities.”
Their successful volunteer program is one of the main reasons why they are expanding and he hopes with the opening of Sibling in Carlton North, the number of volunteers will “double within two years”.
“We constantly had people waiting months at a time to get into the volunteer program and so that’s been a real surprise motivator for us to expand business and sale,” he says.
It’s not all about the numbers though, and Briffa says creating “diversity of opportunity”, and giving the volunteers something “to walk away with” from their experience, is the number one priority for the new space.
“We’ve partnered with a registered training organisation, Fitzroy learning network to try and get some hospitality modules on their scope so that we can provide accredited training to our volunteers,” he says.
Along with the accredited training, they will host training days where an industry professional will host a master class, teaching anything from chocolate making to wine training.
“I think for a lot of the people coming through our doors, it’s about giving them the confidence and the capacity to apply for a job. This is just taking it that step further,” he says.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in this space to broaden the training that we’re offering our volunteers and to welcome these experienced people in the community space as well.”
He explained that partnerships with commercial groups was something that “makes sense” in that everyone had skills to offer, no matter what background they were from.
“We couldn’t have opened Kinfolk without harnessing the support of our community… regardless of whether you’re a social enterprise or commercial business,” he says.
“The number of people who not only volunteered, but donated their goods and services to help it get up and running was incredible. We are massive advocates of sharing with the community.”
Like many social enterprises, Sibling predominantly came to life through the help of a crowdfunding campaign and fundraising events, which for Briffa was exciting because he saw a way to help the community come together and support a positive venture.
“We realised when we started Kinfolk that there were so many people within our community who wanted to help, and do something positive in their community… they just didn’t know how, and they’d possibly never had the opportunity to offer their skills in a useful way, which is why crowdfunding is a really tangible way to help people get engaged and make a difference,” he says.
Briffa is excited about the future of the social enterprise market, and says he is happy Kinfolk has been a “an inspiration to a lot of people” looking to start their own version.
“We’ve had a number of people come through Kinfolk as volunteers, and then going on to start their own journey of setting up a small business, and I think it’s really great people have looked towards our model to gain a bit of inspiration for how they might create impact in their communities with their businesses,” he says.
“I think a lot of people just want to do something more with their businesses these days. They see the opportunity that a business can both make money and do good at the same time, and it gives the customer a bit more too.”