Change Please is empowering London’s homeless by training them to be baristas — providing full barista training, jobs paying London Living Wage, and support with housing, bank accounts and mental wellbeing.
Working 15 hours a day, seven days a week sounds like the life of a workaholic. But since the arrival of his seven-week old baby, Sonny, Cemal Ezel — founder of Change Please — has altered his business plan.
Ensuring the rapidly expanding coffee brand continues to grow, whilst he re-finds his balance, Ezel has turned his focus towards building his award-winning team.
The thought behind his venture originally stemmed from the founder walking past homeless people on the streets of London.
“I didn’t know what to do. Do I give money or don't I?” he told Sustainable Brands in a recent interview. The internal struggle of doing the ‘right thing’ made him pinpoint a problem, assess it, and then find a solution.
Ezel found his solution by analysing 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 was developed as social enterprise to be “staffed by the homeless to help the homeless.” The organization is empowering London’s homeless by training them to be baristas — providing full barista training, jobs paying London Living Wage and support with housing, bank accounts and mental wellbeing.
“I went to private school,” Ezel said. “There, you are taught that you are the leaders of industry, for the future.”
So with this grounding in place, Ezel stepped away from his money-making successes of his 20s and decided to use his saved income as a chance to not just survive but “to do something that is right to do” — an admirable approach to life and one that has seen the emergence of 35 Change Please coffee outlets on UK shores. Site locations vary from tube station and high street pitches to solar-panelled carts, and are boosted with 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.”
With the corporates taking a conscientious look at their daily coffee supplier, Ezel can now confidently see expansion plans in the US going ahead. With UK homeless figures estimated at over 4,000, the US figures of 553,000 poses a somewhat different scale to traject.
US-based Thomas Finke, Chairman and CEO at Barings, says the business addresses 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.” So, the new partnership with Change Please allows Barings to “lean into addressing the homeless issue in London.”
Every step of Change Please’s coffee process — from the sourcing of the beans to the used granules — is considered for its sustainability approach. Ezel’s approach of considering coffee not just as a commodity but as an opportunity of creating a society with more than a nod to ‘social good’ is, however, at the crux of this rapidly expanding enterprise.
With 100 percent of profits going back into training homeless individuals, Change Please is gaining ground on its main goal: pushing Starbucks aside and giving alternatives to the local community.
Image credit: The Big Issue
“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 knows 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.”
Image credit: Change Please
The relationships formed at Change Please go beyond the initial day job, with coffee blends being named after some of the baristas, and 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.
Support and funding for Ezel’s coffee concept is plentiful, with recent securement of one of the world’s largest independent commodity trading houses, Trafigura; alongside stalwarts such as Comic Relief, CAF and Chiva. A partnership with Virgin continues; and soon, Virgin Atlantic will be serving Change Please coffee to its Upper-Class passengers.
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.”