Social Enterprise Cafes: Why are they so popular?

For the past two months, founder of Social Agents (and new SEA South Africa tutor), Carrie Leaver, has been getting involved in the social enterprise scene in Scotland. From Cape Town to Edinburgh, Carrie explores why social enterprise cafes are gaining popularity across the globe. 

giraffe social enterprise perth

When looking to blend purpose and profit, cafés and coffee shops have proven to be a successful model. Social enterprises are compassionate businesses – driving social and/or environmental impact through business activities. What makes social enterprises unlike any business or charity, is that impact is at the core of their business culture and profits are reinvested into their impact strategy and the enterprise, rather than into shareholder pockets. Social enterprise business models vary but the café/coffee shop is definitely one of the most popular and it’s easy to see why.

I have been fortunate to spend two months working with Check-In Giraffe Social Enterprise in Perth, Scotland. As I have been working on their impact programme and evaluation process, I have learnt so much about how dynamic cafes are as social businesses.

socialenterprise biscuit
Giraffe Cafe Kitchen, Perth, Scotland

Well-rounded Impact

Social enterprise cafes generally work to empower people who have been excluded from work opportunities for various reasons; learning disabilities, homelessness, criminal records and those who have struggled with substance abuse. People with such ‘barriers’ (Scottish employability term) are so often excluded from mainstream institutions or systems but these cafes are closing that gap

1. Hard Skills Development

Hospitality skills development do not need a university degree or even completed secondary education. All the necessary skills are teachable and measurable; table settings, coffee making, customer services and responsible waste management, just to mention a few. Coffee shops offer a space for skills development to those who have struggled to gain training and experience through traditional channels like school or college.  Working in a kitchen also allows young people to gain skills that could be used at home; using equipment safely, nutritional cooking methods, preserving food correctly and food preparation.

2. A Sense of Belonging

These cafés offer a safe space where people immediately belong to a group and a team. This does wonders for regaining ones dignity and confidence (soft skills) as many have often spent much of their life-time being excluded from anything as simple as a team. Social Bite in Edinburgh has had a significant impact on allowing those who have been socially and economically excluded through homelessness to build self-confidence, a strong personal identity as well as responsibility. Often, added social activities enhance social inclusivity; Giraffe Café has a Friday social club which is completely run by the job trainees themselves, which includes coffee, games and casual banter. It provides a really positive space for those who are accustomed to feeling excluded, to feel a part of something and like a regular members of society.

3. Dynamic Work Experience 

Cafes and coffee shops are buzzing little nodes within a greater community which means they cannot exist without the people they serve. Social enterprise cafes add an extra element of compassion and inclusion to any community as they provide and easy way for community members to support something good. Social enterprise cafes, like regular cafes, often have a core group of regulars – whether they be local businesses bringing meetings to the café or others coming in for lunch or a take-away coffee. The customers of social enterprise cafes are just as awesome as everyone who works within the café; they are aware of a greater cause which brings patience, kindness and generosity.

4. Creating Awareness

Not only does I Love Coffee Shop in Green Point, Cape Town, focus their employment initiative on deaf South Africans but they also provide their surrounding community with awareness and knowledge on how to communicate with people who are deaf. This indirect impact on the greater community, and the inclusion of deaf people in society, is unbelievably valuable. Social enterprise cafes are effective channels of encouraging tolerance and inclusion.

5. Impact Options Beyond the Café

Profits and compassion of social enterprise cafes can reach beyond the immediate work they do. Social Bite dedicate a portion of their profits to feeding the homeless in Edinburgh and move way beyond Scotland by providing micro-business loans to female entrepreneurs in Malawi. Giraffe Café runs a Monday Lunch Club for pensioners in Scotland’s Perth. They serve a three-course lunch in the local Salvation Army to pensioners for only £4.00.

Roast Republic live by their motto ‘Coffee is our currency, education our priority’ and commit 50% of their profits to Youth Zone which brings education programmes to over 400 000 youth in South Africa.

cafeonthecorner socialenterprise edinburgh300x200
Cafe on the Corner, Edinburgh, Scotland

Let’s Talk Business

1. Financial Stability / Less Reliance on Funders

The coffee and take-away culture is increasingly popular with people spending up to US$3 a day on coffee, or US$ 1,100 per year. This spending trend is similar across the world, hence the coffee business being a preferable one for social enterprises as they strive for financial sustainability and independence.

Cafes can easily cater for more than one income as they often function as gift shops and event venues (Giraffe Café) as well as art exhibitions (Café on the Corner). Giraffe Café has recently introduced frozen meals for sale as an additional income. Gifts and art are not only additional income streams, but an another channel to showcase crafts of people who struggle with barriers. Café on the Corner has plenty of art on display and for sale, created by autistic members of their community.

Social Bite has grown into strong competition for corporate franchises like Subway, bringing their customers high quality, fresh and affordable sandwiches. Along with Giraffe Café, they also provide outside catering for events and corporate.

Social Bite, Edinburgh, Scotland

2. Accountability

Social enterprise cafes need to work hard at maintaining their income to keep their doors open to those who need the work opportunity. Too often, do we hear stories of charity and NGO funding being mismanaged, inevitably bringing organisations to their fall. Driving impact through business activities such as cafes, means that financial and operational accountability sits at the core of the enterprise – providing little room for weak leadership or management. Profits are far easier to monitor and track than impact; when profits drop in any business, leadership and management are the first to be evaluated and often results in leadership change. This allows social enterprise cafes to remain accountable to their strategies, operations, income and most importantly, their impact.

BrownieS and downieS, Cape Town, South Africa

 These awesome, buzzing hubs of business are popping up across the UK with South Africa seeing the start of a similar trend. Not only is the coffee culture thriving, but impact is scaling and creating a far more economically and socially inclusive society.

To stay up-to-date on our latest social enterprise blogs, subscribe to our newsletter here.

This blog was origionally published at: in September 2017.