What if your delicious morning cup of coffee also had a positive impact? That’s exactly what Cemal Ezel was thinking when he started Change Please. This not-so-typical coffee company empowers the homeless community by training them to be baristas. They provide full barista training, jobs paying London Living Wage and support with housing, bank accounts and mental wellbeing.
Specifically the capabilities of UBS and the shared values in wanting to drive real change, led to Cemal’s interest in working with UBS.
It was UBS’s support to bring in and supply Change Please in their London Broadgate office that really was a game changer. As the largest single occupancy office building in London, and with a staff population who love coffee, having a Change Please kiosk in the Broadgate office helped add a new dynamic to their relationship. It served as the template for Change Please to consider this approach with other organizations and it was this blueprint, coupled with UBS’s belief, that helped support Change Please to get a foot-in-the-door at other companies.
Additionally, UBS provided Cemal with a mentor. Louise Taylor worked with Cemal to develop a robust management structure to ensure Change Please is operating efficiently.
“Working with Cemal has been very informative for me to learn more about sustainable and practical solutions to help try and address issue of homelessness. The time Cemal and I spent focussing on the correct management structure has helped ensure that the business is structured to be both a viable organisation and sticking true to core values of the company.”
Now the number of Change Please locations across London is growing and internationally as well, with a recent milestone being the relationship with the airline Virgin Atlantic. Hear from Cemal on what inspired him to start the movement and how working with UBS allowed him to kick start the company.
What inspired you to start Change Please?
While travelling through Vietnam I had a conversation with a fellow traveler and we got talking about my job in the city. He asked me if I'd taken the 'rocking chair' test (fast-forward to the future – you're sitting in a rocking chair at 90 thinking about your life, what would your legacy be? Who you've helped? Have you left the world a better place?) Those questions made me want to make a change. But it was a visit to a Vietnamese Tea House run by speech and hearing-impaired staff (fully-skilled artisans and servers whose training was funded by the Tea House) that sparked the idea to tackle homelessness through selling coffee.
I came back to London and saw a homeless person holding up a board saying "Change please" asking for coins. I later went to a Banksy exhibition where I saw a graphic of a homeless person with the message 'keep your coins we want change'. The idea came together, as I learned the number of homeless people in the UK has doubled since 2010 (now over 4,000 sleeping rough every night), while the demand for coffee in London is rising – the average Londoner treats themselves to two cups each day.
How does Change Please impact the lives of homeless people?
There's actually a shortage of baristas in the UK. Coffee-making skills are relatively straight-forward for training, so it made sense to start filling the skills gap in this area. The business model is making a real difference to people's lives and every couple of weeks we see new people whose lives are changing as we support them. For me, the biggest highlight has been seeing this business and vision work.
What’s been the impact of working with UBS?
The support has been absolutely incredible. We've had input from mentors, for example one UBS employee helping us with governance and structure. When you have a new business it can be difficult to do things the right way, so having someone know how to structure an organization has been absolutely fantastic.
We've also had a huge amount of help from members of the Community Affairs team and Baxter Storey in UBS’s London Broadgate office. With UBS and Baxter Storey’s support, we have been able to become an official coffee vendor within the office and have even supplied coffee at UBS’s large scale conferences. And UBS's FX Rates & Credits team organized a charity event, raising over 20,000 GBP. The money went towards a new coffee van and will be helping us lift eight people out of homelessness.
Making sure that you pick the right opportunities and work with the right organizations who share your values can be challenging. We chose to say yes to UBS and no to other organizations based on how they look after their employees and their focus on Community Affairs.
What’s next for Change Please?
In 2019 they opened their new state of the art Training Academy in London, a space where they can train and support more people who have experienced homelessness to be employed as specialty baristas. They also launched their first coffee site in Perth, Australia with sites opening in Dublin, Paris and the US planned for 2020. Change Please has also partnered with Virgin Atlantic so you can now enjoy life changing coffee at 30,000 feet as their coffee is now served on all flights and clubhouses. They now have 10 sites in London open to the public with many more sites planned to open in London and around the UK this year. In 2019 they won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, the highest UK Award for British business. Later this year they plan to launch another Training Academy in Manchester to grow their impact across the UK.
Four years on since the start of the business and a lot has changed with thousands of coffees sold, lots of new sites and brilliant partners and many lessons learnt along the way. However their mission, values and ethos will always remain the same; they produce and serve great tasting coffee with 100% of their profits helping to provide for people who have experienced homelessness with training, employment and support.