I Love Coffee is an award-winning social enterprise staffed by the Deaf and their mentors. We help members of the Deaf community shine as baristas and chefs in our cafes. 70 – 90% of Deaf South Africans are unemployed. I Love Coffee provides training for Deaf Black Youth without requiring a minimum level of education or literacy. We provide barista and chef training as well as soft life and customer skills. We retain the majority of our trainees but also assist those who wish to enter other organisations or who want to study further.
I Love Coffee operates in-house and soon retail cafes for profit that pays for salaries and covers overheads. Our customers are in-house and walk-in customers who want coffee or food. By supporting our enterprise our customers learn about Deaf culture and sign language and actively participate in job creation for the Deaf community.
The business was launched in a gym in Claremont in 2016 employing 3 staff. In May 2017 the business moved to Greenpoint service 120 Saatchi & Saatchi staff members. The agency moved into new premises and I Love Coffee was invited to join the where we service 450 in-office customers of Publics Groupe Africa. The organisation now employs 12 full time staff and 8 part-time staff members.
We conduct our own monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), and follow up with previous employees to ensure they are still employed or following their course of studies.
South African Sign Language (SASL) isn’t recognised as an official language and this means it hasn’t been standardised and accepted as part of the mainstream curriculum for both Deaf and conventional schools. Hearing teachers with a Grade 5 level of Sign Language fluency are teaching deaf children – this effectively causes severe delays in the rate of learning, resulting in Deaf schools to fall behind in the curriculum. Furthermore, almost 90% of Deaf schools don’t offer; Science, Geography, Biology, Maths, History and Economics. Literacy and numeracy rates are lower within the Deaf community.
At home, communication and relationships with their Deaf family member suffer because no one is fluent in Sign Language. Deaf children grow up with gaps in information and life-skills because of the language barrier. As adults this prevents them from effectively completing tertiary education and finding employment.
The biggest challenge is that the Deaf are the unseen disability and by association so are we. Very few people or corporates are aware of the challenges facing the Deaf so in order to be successful we have had to do a great deal of education alongside the day to day work we do. We were able to be profitable in our first year of trading. In our second year of trading we have increased our turnover 5 times and grown our staff compliment 4 times.
We have several partners. The most significant is The SAB Foundation who is our major funder. We have been placed on the supplier development programme of Public Groupe Africa for whom we provide an in-office café solution. We also have a partnership agreement with Electrical Industries who fund some of our equipment.
Lessons we hope to impart
- Learn to fail fast and fail forward. If something isn’t right fix it quickly and move on.
- Social Entrepreneurs need to be tenacious problem solvers. Be prepared to evolve your model every single day.
- Don’t make perfect the enemy of good.
- Don’t wait until you have the perfect product, the prefect business model or the perfect amount of funding to launch.
- If it is good enough to serve one customer, it is good enough to launch.
- Your business will evolve naturally and hopefully you’ll get closer to perfect in time.
- You are more likely to get support based on what you have done rather than what you hope to achieve.
Our immediate plans are to open our training cafes in Cape Town and Johannesburg and accredit part of our training. Over the next 12 months we will open our roastery/ central kitchen and start servicing a network of our cafes in the Southern Suburbs. Our employment goal is at least 55 staff by the end of 2020.
Samantha Niemand left the schooling system in Grade 7 as a result of severe bullying at hearing school. She dreamed of becoming an ECD teacher but lacked the opportunity, confidence or education to purse this career. She came to us in early 2017 with no work experience to start her barista training.
Initially Sam was so lacking in confidence she would literally hide behind the coffee machine and was often reduced to tears out of fear of serving customers. As her barista skills improved so did her confidence. Within 3 months she was making coffee, producing meals with the rest of the team and operating the till as a cashier. Her confidence blossomed as did her sense of humour. Customers who wanted to learn sign language naturally gravitated to her and she flourished as a teacher.
Over the next few months she was given the opportunity to train new baristas which allowed her to develop her teaching skills. After 8 months with I Love Coffee she applied for and was accepted a sign language trainer position at DeafNet. She now coaches large groups of corporate staff in the basic of Deaf culture and sign language.
She remains an ally of I Love Coffee and is involved in the training of new baristas on a part-time basis. It is our goal to accredit Samantha as a barista trainer so that she can pursue her teaching career whilst helping other Deaf youth to enter the business.