In part one of this two blog series, I discussed some of the fundamental questions that have been going around our organization for the past several months, noting that Covid-19 and its effect on organizations and, in particular, entrepreneurial pursuits, has provided something of a silver lining. As the pandemic coincided with a rather tumultuous first year of business (as that first year often is), we really had a chance to ask some fundamental questions about who we were in the past, who we were at the present, and who we wanted to be in the future. If you haven't read that blog, I encourage you to do so now as it lays the foundation for what I'm writing about here: the actual changes that we're making.
As that blog pointed out, we faced two separate but interrelated questions:
1) "why are we doing what we're doing?"
2) "how are we going to do that?"
As noted, the answer to these questions involved a deconstruction of how we answered them previously. But it also required months of listening, praying, talking, thinking, and...waiting. There was no point in constructing answers to those questions if, at the end of the day, we would have to deconstruct them later for their failure to work. But in the end, I believe that the answer to those questions was given and, ironically, the answer to question one was the same answer to question two: community.
What else could a coffee shop be?
And what else was the fundamental change in our organization?
In our prior business, roasting and mug sublimation for online sales did not require any semblance of a real community besides some routine buyers and a Facebook business page (which is not community). But with the coffee shop, centralized in a down town arena, our business is the community and with that everything we would do from here on out would need to take that into consideration. Without the community, we're back to our old model. With the community, we are what we are!
So why are we doing what we're doing? We're doing this because we believe in the importance of community and what it can do in the world, how it can change people's lives, and, in particular, the kind of space it provides. Historically, coffee shops (like pubs) were places where big things happened, where innovative ideas were born, where love first fell from the sky, where career aspirations were decided upon, where enemies found reconciliation, where friendships went deeper, where ministries and movements began, where individuals found God in a book or a conversation, and on and on it goes. Like a fire in the backyard, a cup of coffee serves as a catalyst for deeper things.
I recently asked one of my employees "what is it that happens here when people come here?" His answer, "People are formed."
Formation. That is the kind of space we have. And that is the kind of organization we hope to be.
This does not mean, of course, that we don't love our coffee! We do! And we care about how that side of everything operates. But the reality is that in any pursuit, an answer to why is always there, though it may be unconscious. For some, the means are an end to itself. Coffee for coffee's sake. But for others, the end directs the means.
I fall in the latter camp and always have since the inception of this company. As I have said all along, if we are not doing something better besides making coffee and funny mugs, then I would rather spend my time doing something else (and something a bit less stressful and more financially stable!). Hence, why as I noted in the prior blog, I have continued to believe that coffee with a mission needed to not be left behind in the wake of our day to day work (something which is easy to do) but redesigned, re-strategized, and re-imagined for the new space that we have found ourselves in.
So how are we doing what we're doing?
If we believe in the necessity of formation, we also believe in the necessity of action! What is formation, after all, if it doesn't externalize itself through our choices?
And this is where we have had the opportunity to ask 'what does "coffee with a mission" need to be in the context of this community? If we believe that we provide the community with a space for formation to happen, should we not also participate in being formed and participating in that action ourselves?! (That is a rhetorical question, of course, since you already know how I would answer that!).
Thus, our process of "coffee with a mission" has come to be broken into three aspects: formation, mission, and participation.
Last year Drinklings proto-typed its Thinklings program which brought "community, coffee, and conversations" under our roof to discuss relevant socio-cultural issues. We discussed the refugee situation, mental health, ecology, technology, homelessness, and various other issues. Let me say on record this was good! And I cannot be more proud of how these went. And you might also be able to see that the seeds for all of this recent redesign have been in various places throughout our organization and throughout its history.
However, I began to sense that these conversations were too brief. And that there was no "call to action" or "contract" at the end of these! Like your typical Sunday sermon, they had the potential to be momentarily formative and then quickly forgotten. They were a bit like putting your foot in a puddle and expecting it to be the ocean. As we have rethought things, we have had to ask two questions: 1) Do we believe these are important to our organization and our community? and 2) How can we use them for more effect?
Recently in conversation with a friend of Drinklings (and now a friend outside of Drinklings!), we made the decision to make our Thinklings program a deep dive! We've exchanged the Sunday sermon for a Sunday series. We've decided to actually get our feet wet below the ankle, in hopes that maybe we'll actually wade somewhere in the sea!
Practically, this meant one theme and two semesters. And one centered on how our local community can be formed and form each other through the long view approach. And as we begin this new approach to Thinklings, we're starting with the very essence of what it means to be a community seeking formation: neighboring!
More to come on this!
The concept of social entrepreneurship is centered around developing business for social good. This "good" does not mean "economic revitalization" or "attractionability." In that case, its hardly distinguishable from the base concept of entrepreneurship except for the fact that your business requires people to make it work and that will naturally have a corollary in the economy.
Doing good for a community means, at its center, doing moral good. Uplifting people in their Maslowian and spiritual needs. As our prior mission centered around giving to organizations, the establishment of a community center meant an opportunity to shift that giving to the community.
We are extremely excited and extremely humbled to note that as of May of this year, we have implemented a program called The Dollar Cup that seeks to provide support for those in our broader Jessamine and Fayette Co. area that have had to experience really disparate and tragic events in their lives. For locals, you'll note that this is a program inspired by Southland Church's Dollar Club program, which plays a part in my own story
(Note: you may see the video below here for more).
Our commitment: whether you are local, online, or a wholesale buyer, we will give 2.5% of every transaction away in the form of practical needs to those facing rather outlying life circumstances. In time, our goal is to increase this to 5% or more. This is not 2.5% of profits.
While that is not a lot on a month to month basis for a small business (as opposed to a large church or a large organization), it is a way in which we can funnel some of the money graciously given to us by our customers through our sales into a larger pot and then distribute it for those whose lives have been turned upside down.
The community gives to the community. The community is its own mission. We simply serve as a funnel and through your support we hope we can pay something forward together.
Finally, we believe in the necessity of participation. While we invite the community to practice formation through events like Thinklings, the VFF Society, partnering events we may have with Asbury University, Asbury Seminary, or local churches and organizations, we also believe that the smallest steps of mobility can set the largest wheels in motion. Whatever our theme is for the year, we're asking for members of the community to help lead in the art of bridge building--to push the questions of community into both the public and private conversations, to think of ways in which they can build a better community, to explore ways of partnering together such that our community--while diverse--also becomes a symbol of unity that is enviable.
We hope to foster this in a number of ways (many of which are not yet imagined), but much of this comes with little activities that we will promote like the current Neighboring Card and Neighboring Chalk-Board located down at our shop. This will also come about with the grassroots mobilization and recruitment of individuals locally to address the divisions that hinder the flourishing of community. All of those details are coming in time but we simply believe in a community of movement.
Formation. Mission. Participation.
After over a year in wrestling (and waiting) this out, I think I am comfortable with that being a breakdown for what "coffee with a mission" means. We hope that the community here and abroad will help us in making this vision a genuine reality. Thank you for supporting us thus far!