When it came to thinking about the brand story behind Kinfolk – the social enterprise café that has its home on the ground floor of Donkey Wheel House in the Melbourne CBD – the creation was cinematic in its evolution.
“Build it and they will come”
– Field of Dreams.
The Kevin Costner classic is one of Jarrod Briffa’s favourite films. He remembers watching it, repeatedly, as a child. With the creation of Kinfolk in 2010 – an idea that sprang, Briffa is at pains to point out, from a group plan to ‘do something’ under the auspices of Elliot Costello’s YGAP initiative – the movie’s key message proved prophetic.
Many of the minds behind Kinfolk’s genesis drew on a collective wealth of knowledge gleaned from a three-year course in entrepreneurship at RMIT. There were no strategy meetings with advertising boffins, strategically sculpting a brand personality to lure the philanthropic masses.
This was a more simple, heartfelt approach. Kinfolk was built. And then they came.
The first key step on the cafe’s path to social enterprise success was to secure a venue. That was sorted thanks to Donkey Wheel House – the hub for a range of ethical and sustainable enterprises – who approved of the Kinfolk business plan enough to kick the business off to a friendly start with several months’ free rent. Then other things simply ‘happened’.
Identity spoke to Jarrod Briffa for this article but, because, when it comes to Kinfolk, there is to be no singular voice as representative, it was Kinfolk who answered our questions. Kinfolk is community. And it walks the talk.
“There are various suppliers that support the café. So many – and none of them is doing it for self-promotion.”
Materials for the floor were given by keen suppliers happy to do their bit. Plumbers and electricians donated their time and specific skills in the name of giving.
“Shortly after we had the space, we showed people. A friend had a café he was getting rid of and he gave all the operational assets to Kinfolk. Then people would come in and they’d start to see how it could be a coffee shop and they’d offer their help.”
Specialty coffee roaster Di Bella committed to a full sponsorship to provide the coffee and volunteer floor staff continue to donate their time to serve it. While the concept is touchy-feely in its tenderheartedness, it still needs to operate as a business.
The biggest challenge in the early days was centred on how to make it risk-free. (As much as possible.)
When the very nature of the business model is reliant on the transient nature of volunteerism, the steady ebb and flow of reliable staff is tide-like in its predictability. And then a freak wave hits.
“Things always come up where (volunteers) can’t commit and with business you need consistency.”
The challenge remains but at least now the systems are in place.
Shifts operate in small bursts. 7.30am-11.30am; 11.30am-3.30pm. Consistency.
“Then you have to manage consistency. Kinfolk has five or six paid staff who work in the café and about 30 volunteers who support the floor staff. Some of those people have been around the whole time, since we opened the doors. Some of them, just two weeks. Everyone comes for a different reason, leaves for another. Everyone gets something different out of it.”
What’s important is that the exchange works both ways. People who are giving their time in order to give to others via the charity projects Kinfolk supports are, in turn, given back to in the form of training and up-skilling in the hospitality environment. If they come in to clean the dishes, they will leave having worked the tables and run the food.
“It’s about the time to nurture their experience, understand them as people and see what they’d hoped to get out of it – then help them with that.”
For the corporate workers, keen students and passers-by who visit, when it comes to the building of a loyal clientele, Kinfolk operates on the philosophy that good food and good coffee come first.
“Some of those people become attached to the social values and they stay.”
And here we are, back to brand identity. If you build it, they will come. Or, in this case, if they build it, it will come.
“We never sat down and said ‘this is the brand we’re creating’ but, in saying that, we did all the same things you would do to create a brand. It all just happened as a big part of the initial volunteer stuff.”
For Kinfolk, it’s a story that makes sense.
“A good brand isn’t necessarily created by people in the world of advertising. A good brand is created by people who understand.”
In Kinfolk terms, the breadth of that understanding extended to research of farming practices for the food the café sourced, finding bio-degradable cups and serviettes and a natural ticking of all the boxes that a social enterprise café needed to tick.
“They are things now that help us stand out in that area.”
The lifecycle of any social enterprise venture is difficult to predict, with the true notion of identity as fluid as the folk who work within it.
“You have to be open to evolve. Essentially, you’re running a small business without small business owners. Nobody has a financial benefit if this project runs well or not. That’s why the project needs to be diverse enough to evolve with the people who are passionate about it and involved in it at any point in time. What is happening in the café – which projects we fund and how we operate – reflects the community involved at that point in time.”
Today’s Kinfolk community supports four charities, including two Melbourne-based initiatives. Urban Seed Project is a homeless kitchen and then some. Think social inclusion, with the people who eat there encouraged to play a part in providing their own opportunities for good health and wellbeing by producing, serving and clearing up after the meals. Then there is the Palm Island Project with the Cathy Freeman Foundation.
“Eye-opening thing for us was that people have, traditionally, looked at international projects but understanding how bad the situation is in your own country is quite a dramatic experience.”
Social Enterprise in Action
The YGAP Story
When Elliot Costello’s community-spirited genetics (he is son of World Vision chief, Tim Costello) led him to create YGAP (Y Generation Against Poverty) back in 2008, he was fresh from overseas and keen for a solution to the problem of overblown administration costs associated with sending young volunteers abroad to help impoverished communities.
Under YGAP’s model, innovative fundraising initiatives and community enterprises are about lasting project partnerships – work that carries on making a difference long after the passport ink has dried. Kinfolk is just one of the ventures that has taken shelter under the YGAP umbrella. 5 Cent is another.
Earlier this year – on the fifth of the fifth, in fact – YGAP launched the five-week campaign of the Our World Needs Change project and called on Australians to gather their five-cent pieces in the name of helping others. The advertising strategy cost nothing. “Media Monitors did a report on us and we reached 13.3 million Australians. Media is something we are really connected with – we know the value of it and we know the importance of it,” Costello says.
When they had the campaign valued, YGAP’s call for five cent pieces received $600,000 worth of donated media sponsorship time. “That includes Channel Ten and Channel 7 both giving us $180,000 worth of free air time, that includes IOM who gave us ten free super-size billboards, Cruise Media Group donated a lot of their time for radio coverage and our PR agency Undertow Media worked pro bono to take the message to 13.3 million Australians,” he says.
As a financial adviser for PPB Advisory in his ‘day job’, Costello’s moves seem the perfect showcase of calculated cleverness – philanthropy for the thinking set who want to reach beyond tossing coins into the plastic buckets at that next intersection. Bigger picture thinking. As volunteers in various projects that can deliver the resources to truly make a difference, Costello says, “we’re asking people to take a slice of their week”.
The YGAP target audience is the people who have wanted to volunteer but simply didn’t know, under the banner of traditional charitable volunteerism, how to make it fit their lives and abilities. Working behind the counter in the local op shop might have worked for grandma but in the world of double incomes and soaring living costs, Costello knew the system needed tweaking.
The YGAP brand awareness is built around the notion of reciprocal giving – identifying with a demographic that wants to belong and be a part of something bigger than merely ‘me’. So far, it’s working. What he’s most proud of, Costello says, is development outcomes. “You can talk about branding but it all amounts to nothing unless you actually do experience what we do in the field,” he says. Scan the YGAP website to read about helping sex slaves in Cambodia, school children in Ghana and adult literacy in Bangladesh.
The differences made so far, Costello speaks emphatically, are genuine. Micro-finance is one thing but why give 1000 villagers $100 each when you can give an entrepreneur $100,000 that will help fund the infrastructure and enterprise to change the course of the entire village for generations to come? The target audience Costello’s YGAP message is directed to is the 25 to 35-year-old member of the Y Generation demographic. “They’re a person who is very enthusiastic and energetic, enjoys the comforts of their lives but is passionate about global issues.
People who, while they are blessed to be living in a country like Australia, still care about the way others live elsewhere – “people who’d like to do something to change it,” says Costello.
While this knowledge of brand identity and target market has been pivotal to YGAP’s success, Costello knows that the secret to longevity is to grow beyond it – pushing the brand to evolve with its audience, than remain, Peter Pan-like, with only a continually new generation of the young to address.
“We don’t want to be locked into being a youthful thing – only for that 25-35 age range,” he says.
The dream is a big one. “We want to – and will become – the most inspiring social enterprise in Australia. We’re launching a series of different social enterprises that will connect to our vision and we’re really proud of what we’re doing,” says Costello. “We have no doubt we’ll continue to engage people to think differently about their contribution.”