Refugee-Run Coffee Shop Offers Path for Marginalized Groups
Miller Center’s Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins helps ventures like 1951 Coffee Company run a better business and maximize their impact.
Until he landed in Berkeley two years ago, Ali Fayazi had never heard the word barista.
These days, the former refugee from Iran–by way of Afghanistan and Indonesia–not only makes killer macchiatos and cappuccinos, he manages an entire speciality coffee shop called 1951 Coffee Company, named after the year the United Nations established guidelines for the protection of refugees.
Fayazi attributes his job and enterprising potential to Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, who in 2015 co-founded the Berkeley-based nonprofit as a means of helping international refugees in the Bay Area find stable jobs as baristas, earning decent wages—around $18.50 an hour, including $3 an hour in tips—plus benefits.
“Before this, I was an immigrant living day-to-day, and you cannot think about a future when you’re living like that,” said the 23-year-old Fayazi, who learned the art of coffee at the company's barista training center in Oakland. “This place is amazing, and it’s part of my future.”
It’s also part of a novel program launched this year by SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, aimed at supporting such operations in the U.S. and around the world that serve refugees, migrants, and human trafficking survivors.
Program Touches a Global Nerve
Called Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM), the free accelerator program, believed to be the first of its kind, has spent the past six months guiding and inspiring leaders of 18 enterprises—many nonprofit, some for-profit—as they boost their business and investment skills.
Globally, there are 22.5 million refugees, 65.6 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and 244 million migrants, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. Estimates of the number of modern-day slaves range from 21 million to 46 million.
“These are the most marginalized groups among our common human family,” said Thane Kreiner, Miller Center’s executive director. “And our mission as a Jesuit university is about what can we do to help those most in need.”
Leveraging 15 years of experience accelerating more than 890 social enterprises that address poverty in 65 countries, Miller Center used its Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) online accelerator program to engage the SEM leaders. And just this week, the institute hosted a showcase in San Francisco where the companies’ leaders pitched investors to help their cause.
In addition to 1951 Coffee, participants included Zero Trafficking, which sells software that uses artificial intelligence to track and eradicate human trafficking; More Than One Perspective, which trains qualified refugees with backgrounds in IT, engineering, and business for entry into the Austrian labor market; and Five One Labs, which offers training, mentorship, and seed funding to help displaced refugees in Iraq launch and grow businesses.
An Invitation to Nogales
The idea for the SEM program started during an immersion trip SCU President Michael Engh, S.J., encouraged Kreiner to take in 2017 to the impoverished border town of Nogales, Mexico.
As he witnessed the plight of refugees and migrants, Kreiner talked with members of the organizing group about its business model. It wasn’t long before he realized there were ways the group could improve not just the model, but its impact.
“It planted a seed for me that organizations serving migrants and refugees might benefit from the kind of work we do at Miller Center,” he recalled, later broaching the idea with his staff. They told him he was crazy.
Yet Kreiner was convinced the center could be helpful to enterprises serving these groups. As he said to his staff: “This is going to be a learning experience for all of us.”
1951 Coffee’s Taber and Hewitt–a coffee industry expert who became friends with Taber while both worked at a Bay Area refugee resettlement agency–would agree.
Key to their SEM experience was an opportunity to train with mentor Louis Jordan, an executive with more than 30 years of experience in retail and consumer products, including Starbucks, where he was a senior vice president for global finance.
“They have a very compelling mission, a very high quality product, and they are very good at understanding the operation metrics of retail coffee,’’ said Jordan of the nonprofit’s co-founders.
A Game Plan To Grow
Over the months, the trio refined strategies on how to scale 1951 Coffee to five new U.S. target markets by 2022. That’s when they project 1951 Coffee will become financially sustainable.
To get there, Jordan said, the two partners will need to focus on areas where refugees reside, establish local barista training sites, and ensure their cafes remain efficiently managed.
“For us, it’s about how can we grow and push our mission forward?” said Taber, adding that their business model will always focus on hiring refugees for customer-facing jobs, not back-of-the business. All too often, that’s where refugees frequently end up working, she said, hidden from others and less socialized to their new country, language, and customs.
Kreiner hopes the new SEM program that addresses these vulnerable populations can continue to be funded, to the tune of $185,000, which includes the cost of running SEM and hosting the participants at SCU in the days leading up to their investor presentations.
“I would love to do it again,” he said. “The leverage is enormous.’’
For more information about SEM, click here.