All in a day’s work

By Niccola Anthony

Jarrod Briffa is a pioneer of the Melbourne cafe scene on Bourke St’s West End.

In 2010 he co-founded Kinfolk, a cafe run by volunteers that donates all its profits to a number of charity partners based around Melbourne.

In the eight years of its operation, Kinfolk has housed more than 700 volunteers who have contributed around 50,000 hours to the cafe.

However, as Mr Briffa explained, Kinfolk’s volunteer program has transformed from an initial strategy to keep operational costs down, to a form of work experience for those facing social exclusion.

“Originally, the volunteer program was about keeping costs low so that we could donate more money. What we didn’t realise was that we were going to get such a diverse group of people who were facing their own challenges, who wanted to volunteer. So that’s where the business has really evolved,” he explained.

While the challenges faced by each volunteer vary, common themes include mental health issues, long-term unemployment, physical and learning disabilities and those transitioning from prison.

The overwhelming success of the volunteer program is not lost on Mr Briffa, who highlights that, throughout last year, 76 per cent of volunteers were successful in finding paid work.

“That’s really unique for us because we didn’t set out with the intention that (the volunteer program) would be a core focus of what we do,” Jarrod said.

Another unintended consequence of Kinfolk’s operation has been the creation of a “safe space” in the CBD for city workers to escape the stress of their office jobs.

“We found that a lot of our customers were seeking a place where they could escape their busy jobs for half an hour so that they could build themselves up to go back and fight the fight,” explained Mr Briffa about Kinfolk’s uncanny ability to momentarily replace the daily grind with the coffee bean grind.

The seed for social entrepreneurship was planted in Jarrod from his early 20s when he spent a few years living abroad in India and around South-East Asia.

Following his travels he studied entrepreneurship at RMIT, where he found himself particularly inspired by the idea of social entrepreneurship.

From there, he assembled a team and, with less than $10,000 in cash, attempted to set-up a social enterprise that could positively impact the local community.

Mr Briffa acknowledges that, given his adventurous spirit and love of travel, it’s ironic that he has spent the past eight years in Melbourne operating the business.

“I made the commitment early on that I would manage it for the first 12 months, but then I think I just fell in love with it and fell in love with what it’s all about. It gives me a lot of purpose coming to work every day and it gives the people I’m working with a lot of meaning as well,” Mr Briffa said.

As the popularity of Kinfolk has grown beyond the capacity of its Bourke St venue, the need for a second site has been recognised.

Jarrod is now working to extend the business model to Carlton North with an aptly-named sister cafe, Sibling.

The new space will allow a doubling of volunteer opportunities, extending the current volunteer intake of around 60 a week to 120.

Mr Briffa is aiming to raise $60,000 by August 29 to fund the Sibling’s opening and initial operational costs.

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