Location: Liepa, Latvia
Vulnerable group in focus: Disadvantaged youth
Coordination: Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, Anna Broka
Do you speak Latvian? Visit the local blog of the Stopover Coffee Shop.
Social Start-Up Biography
On this page we want to document the Stopover Coffee Shop and its development into an independent social start-up. To take you with us on this journey, we update this interview diary every other month. If you have further questions, feel free to contact the local coordinator (see above). If you want to learn more about certain terms you may encounter here (such as "micro project", "social start-up", "Accelerator Team" and the like) please check our "the ideas behind the project" section.
|Choose your issue of the Stopover Coffee Shop biography:
DEC 2019 FEB 2020 APR 2020 JUN 2020 SEP 2020 NOV 2020 APR 2021 MAY 2021
Tell us about your Micro Project in a few sentences!
In Liepa we are currently establishing a “Stopover Coffee Shop”, a social enterprise that gathers young people and disadvantaged groups living in Liepa and the surrounding area. The idea behind the coffee shop is to create a platform for co-creation, a platform for exchange of experience, expertise and social innovation: it is not only about coffee and cakes, but about new ideas and inspirations and creating a place to develop these imaginations at another level. We imagine the coffee shop as a center for services and local products, coffee and cakes, local tastes and our SEMPRE Liepa handmade souvenirs that are offered to tourists, locals and people passing by. The overarching idea of the coffee shop is to provide inclusive workplaces for people outside the labour market (such as single parents or people with disabilities) and to create a platform for education, training and practice (i.e. apprenticeships) to support the transition to the regular labour market.
Who are the persons behind the initiative?
A diverse group of locals, both professional stakeholders and citizens, developed the idea and we are in place to drive the project further. This includes, for example, a local NGO that works with single parents, poor families and people with disabilities, but also administrative representatives from the municipal and regional level as well as a network of local experts that provides support in various fields, ranging from financial issues to renovation to project management. In the coffee shop, we try to directly engage local citizens in different life situations and work with them by acknowledging their strength, capacity and achieved results.
What are your long-term goals?
With our coffee shop, we follow three main goals that all aim at establishing sustainable long-term structures. Firstly, we aim to build a social enterprise, offering inclusive working places adjusted to the needs of people excluded from the regular labour market. Our second goal is related to the organisational form of the coffee shop. Here, we want to establish a self-sustaining and sustainable corporate structure. Finally, our third goal is to develop new partnerships and attract finances that are needed for the further development of the initiative.
Which topics do you currently address in your project?
Each team member has its own field of responsibility, altogether they contribute to the development of our Stopover Coffee Shop. One of our members, for example, is a talented photographer who further improves her skills both on her own and in training sessions. Her pictures should become the “face” of the coffee shop, they could be used on the website as well as for general marketing. Another team member currently develops a website for the coffee shop. He makes great progress and also gets support from an expert graphic designer. Yet another participant works on the development of souvenirs that are to be sold in the coffee shop. She currently learns the overlock sewing technique and has plenty of plans and ideas for further souvenirs. These are but a few examples of what we do at the moment in order to move forward with the Stopover Coffee Shop. You may see some of the actual products on the pictures below.
What are your challenges at the moment?
Co-creation and open processes such as Empowerment and Action Learning are always challenging insofar as the expected results are less predictable. On the other hand, the real value is that the participants need to “own” the project, that it becomes truly theirs. In more detail, we have several smaller challenges on which we work together, such as cases of low self-esteem, physical restrictions and technical problems which sometimes hamper the motivation of our members or pursuing activities outside the known and trusted environment of the participants.
What are your short-term goals for the next months?
We realized that it is important to devote more time on building the capacity and confidence of our participants and on fostering teamwork. We found that participants feel insecure in “strange” environments which hinders them from acquiring new knowledge because in times of stress, their interest in training disappears. Therefore, we want to increase our capacity and confidence building efforts.
All over Europe, we are faced by the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily life. What were your recent achievements before the pandemic spread?
We had a quite busy schedule before the pandemic started. Two of the most critical issues we dealt with were firstly team building and capacity building and secondly the further development of services and products to be offered by our “Stopover Coffee Shop”. When it comes to team building, we had several pieces of training and discussions in our start-up team. One of the methods we used was role-playing; we also learned about conflict resolution. When it comes to the products and services that should be offered by the Stopover Coffee Shop, it is worth mentioning a hospitality training that we conducted recently. In the hospitality training, we learned, for instance, how to be a professional and welcoming host for our future guests at the coffee shop. The next training will be about work safety. This is a very critical issue, especially if distant work and what we call “flexiwork” environments will be promoted.
Speaking of the pandemic, in how far does it influence the work in your “Accelerator Team”? What about the services offered by your social start-up during this situation?
Like almost all other countries in Europe, Latvia has been locked down. For us, this means that no physical events are allowed to take place, and organising personal meetings has become very challenging. In our project group, we started meeting online, and we also organised one-on-one meetings. Still, these meetings are difficult as many of us are under pressure, being in charge of childcare and work duties at the same time. Moreover, many of our activities have to be adjusted. Negotiations with potential funders and supporters are not possible due to the lockdown, and some things simply cannot be moved online. The pandemic also has an impact on the needs of our team, especially in terms of the workplaces. Next to our physical premises, high-speed internet connections equipment for remote work become more important.
Summer is at our doorsteps; and even though the situation with the pandemic is still difficult, we want to look ahead: What are your plans for the next months?
We have a significant and exciting milestone ahead of us, which is the opening of the Stopover Coffee Shop. We are currently in the final preparations and hope that we can open within the next few weeks. Luckily, we did not open the cafe before the pandemic. If we had opened, say, three months earlier, the pandemic would have hit our social start-up in a very critical phase. But right now we are confident that everything is on track and that we can open for the first customers soon. We are still searching for additional funding and supporters in the fields of social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. There are several restrictions that are difficult to overcome in the current development stage.
During our first interview half a year ago, you told us about your vision: a social enterprise, offering inclusive working places adjusted to the needs of people excluded from the regular labour market – embedded in a sustainable corporate structure and a supportive partnership. How far did you come on this path?
We are right in the middle of the process. We plan to open soon, but of course, the opening does not mean that we reached a final stage (if something like this exists at all). We still need to empower our Accelerator Team and foster their individual and group capacity to become leaders of their own developed businesses. The opening will be a first and essential step, but still, we will have to widen our network of partners, improve our processes and make further progress in terms of our future corporate structure. As to the latter, we are planning to apply for the social enterprise status at the Ministry of Welfare and hope to get a confirmation soon.
COVID-19 is still with us, but step-by-step you returned to a certain degree of “normal” in your Accelerator Team. How is it?
Quarantine time caused difficulties because much time was spent without face-to-face communication. There were difficulties in maintaining contact online, so there was an urgent need to organize joint activities with the participants. Remember that we are working with a special group – the Stopover Coffee Shop is not a random for-profit business, but we aim at developing inclusive workplaces with and for people outside the labour market (such as single parents or people with disabilities). They are the ones who eventually “own” the coffee shop, and this is also why it is essential to work with instruments like Empowerment and Action Learning and to tailor the coffee shop development process to their needs. Against this background, we started to meet individually in smaller groups (max. three persons) as soon as it was possible again to further work on our social start-up. Still, lacking short-term child care facilities were a barrier for our participants to participate in the process with full forces.
What are you currently working on?
It is important to further train the skills that are needed to materialize our coffee shop as an integrated working place. This includes, for example, learning about health safety and security, hygiene and food safety. Moreover, we had support by external experts who prepared training on these specific issues, tailored to the action learning approach of SEMPRE Accelerators. We are looking for additional funding resources for equipment and the like. We also had exchange visits from the social start-ups from Estonia and our fellow Latvian partners from Liepa. It was a first real possibility for our participants to present their results, to co-create products at a workshop and once more to acknowledge the importance of working together. You can see pictures of the visit below.
We also learned that the members of your social start-up conducted a job-shadowing in the meantime – an instrument that all social start-ups in SEMPRE Accelerators use as an opportunity to learn and experience first-hand the actual workflow and processes of a service provider. How was it?
Indeed, the job-shadowing was important for our enterprise, which is created by the users themselves, to learn about entrepreneurship and get inspiration from someone who successfully embarked on a similar endeavour before. In our social start-up, we decided to “shadow” a zero-waste sewing and design business from our region. Their founder comes from a low-income family, and the business is closely related to our own understanding of co-creation and social entrepreneurship. Together we embarked on a one-day visit and got acquainted with their development plan, learned about practical operations and discussed the hidden sides of starting and running a business.
In SEMPRE Accelerators, all groups organise a so-called micro project breakfast – an empowerment support tool described in the Empowerment Handbook. You had your micro project breakfast just now, in April.
Indeed. And it wasn’t easy to organise such an event in the midst of a pandemic. We considered meeting online, but due to constraints with the internet connection and poor equipment of some of the participants, we eventually decided to meet in person, but outdoors. In April we finally met – “we” means several micro project members, our facilitator and local leaders from different NGOs.
How did you prepare?
There was a need to gain trust and feel welcomed and to talk openly about what our micro project members are afraid of. They were encouraged not to be afraid and ask what they are interested and that they are free to leave the meeting if they don’t feel comfortable.
And how was the meeting as such?
Firstly, we all informed each other about our respective projects. Then we discussed, for example how to make the most out of tourism for the StopOver Coffee Shop. We were also offered support regarding promotion, once the coffee shop has finally opened. The micro project participants told us later that this breakfast event helped them getting self-esteem and not to be afraid to talk about own ideas.
In June last year you told us how COVID-19 affected your plans of actually opening the coffee shop that you are developing in the project. Now we are again in a lockdown. How did you experience the situation?
In autumn and winter, restrictions regarding physical distancing and further measures aiming at stopping the spread of the virus were reinstated. Most in-person meetings had to be cancelled up until March. This situation was very difficult for us. Our group members socialization and support, which has so far only been remote - with some exceptional individual meetings. Those difficulties have escalated the personal issues of our members and affected their involvement. While the situation is difficult for everyone, it is especially hard for our group members to cope with the restrictions.
Indeed, opening a Coffee Shop in the midst of a pandemic sounds challenging – even more if it should be an inclusive place that should be co-created and owned by disadvantaged youth. Still, do you also have positive news for us?
Just before the restrictions were reinstated, we organised a work safety training. This was an important milestone towards opening our coffee shop. And now in March, once the situation got better, we participated in a minimum hygiene course for the work in food companies.
And what is next?
Depending on the further development of the pandemic, we are confident that we will be able to open the StopOver Coffee Shop within the next few months – Finally.