Grounds for celebration

Categories: News and previews

Cemal Ezel, the founder of Change Please social enterprise, which provides homeless Londoners with training and employment through its distinctive coffee stands, on the impact of his success at the Chivas Venture awards—an international competition that saw the business crowned world’s best social enterprise

“If you’ve ever done a bungee jump, you’ll know the feeling—you’re looking out at what’s to come, and everything in your body is telling you not to do it,” says Cemal Ezel, founder of the Change Please social enterprise, which provides homeless Londoners with training and employment through its distinctive coffee stands. The feeling in question came not from an extreme sport, but from the final round of the Chivas Venture, the international competition to find the ‘world’s best social enterprise’ which saw him present to an audience of thousands in Amsterdam last week.

The feeling he got when Change Please won, mind you, was much the same as the exhilaration you experience when you finally muster the courage to fling yourself over the edge—and he’s still flying high. “I’m still coming back down,” he beams. “We are so proud of what we’ve achieved. It was a terrifying but hugely rewarding experience.”

The process was lengthy, involving an initial application to Oxford University, which whittled the UK entries down to a shortlist of five enterprises, before eventually picking one—Change Please—to represent the UK against the top picks from 29 other countries. The final pitches came under the scrutiny of a panel of judges, including singer and entrepreneur Will.I.Am; Alexandre Ricard of the Pernod Ricard spirits brand, parent sponsors of the event; and Sheila Herrling, senior fellow at The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation.

Efficiency and reach
Being crowned the overall winner provides Cemal and the team at Change Please with welcome recognition for their tireless work in helping London’s homeless off the streets and into housing and employment, via barista training. It does far more than that, though: the not-insignificant prize money will enable them to take a huge step forward in both the efficiency and reach of their operation.

“With the prize money, we’ll be opening training academies and centres of excellence across the UK,” says Cemal. “At the moment we train people on site at our coffee stands, which is impractical. Dedicated training centres will mean that at any one time we can take on 30 to 40 people who were formally homeless and train them to a level that will ready them for employment, either with our partners or with us directly. It will almost triple the number of people we can reach—it will make a real difference to many people’s lives.”

Looking to the future, Cemal hopes to take his entrepreneurial nous further afield, and off the back of the event has formed a partnership with Will.I.Am that will see them establish a similarly charitable start-up in LA. “Will.I.Am does a lot of philanthropic work—he founded the I.Am.Angel Foundation—and asked if he could work with us following the competition,” Cemal explains.

International growth
“Our aim is to grow internationally, and Borough Market has really helped us in that sense; in getting that recognition on the world stage. In fact, while we were competing, somebody from Colombia introduced themselves to us and told us they’d heard our story through visiting the Market on a holiday to the UK, which is fantastic. The reach and support that Borough has given us really is invaluable.”