Combatting Homelessness Through Social Business

Combatting Homelessness Through Social Business

By Kate Reid

In 2011, a sandwich and coffee shop opened in Edinburgh, Scotland, and since has scaled to locations in all of Scotland’s major cities, competes with corporations such as Starbucks and Costa. What sets Social Bite shops apart from these “name” brand coffee shops is that Social Bite is a social enterprise. After employees are paid and costs are covered, 100% of profits go towards tackling social problems in Scotland and abroad.

Besides donating their profits to charity, Social Bite’s business features several other innovative ways to combat social issues. One in four of Social Bite’s employee’s are formerly homeless, and they work to feed the local homeless community through a “suspended coffee and food initiative” where customers can pay in advance in-store or online for food or drinks that a homeless person can come in later to claim.

social business

Social Bite founder’s, Josh and Alice, were inspired by the philosophy of Nobel Peace Prize winning economist Prof. Muhammad Yunus after reading his book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism which describes the idea of “social business”. We recognize this concept as “social enterprise” but they are one and the same, businesses that are created not for the traditional purpose of making money, but for solving social challenges.

Josh and Alice travelled to Bangladesh to see first hand various businesses that Prof. Yunus had established, which tackle social problems such as the financial exclusion of poor women, malnutrition of children, and blindness of the poor. Witnessing that the efforts of one man were literally changing the lives of tens of millions of people in his native Bangladesh was a life changing experience, so much so that it prompted Josh and Alice to sell their event production business and start their brainchild, Social Bite.

So why are we talking about a social enterprise in Scotland? Because Social Bite provides an easy perspective for people into the core concept behind social enterprise, that if we effect change in the way business is done on a grand scale, we can solve huge problems. Each Social Bite location provides nutritious food and hot drinks to over 30 homeless people each day, and the company has already invested tens of thousands of pounds towards charities and social projects. Here’s a sandwich and coffee chain that competes successfully on a daily basis with brands like Starbucks and Subway, whose menu is created by Michelin star chef Mike Mathieson, uses fresh and local ingredients, and is competitively priced, offering outstanding value for money.

And their end goal: “That one day there will be a chain of Social Bites donating millions of pounds to many charities, and employing hundreds of people, 25% of whom will have been homeless.” As their website states, “This is not a PR spin. This is not a token gesture. This is just a different kind of business. A business to help others. This is a Social Business.” 

Written by Kate Reid

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