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Optimism Tea

February 23, 2017

 

SOCIAL TEA HOUSE

Varna | Bulgaria

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The Social Tea House is a place in Bulgaria where youth from orphanages can get their first job experience.

 

We offer the job to youngsters from orphanages and provide mentorship to them – says Maya Doneva, founder. With some people we need to work 2-3 years before they are in a shape good enough to be employed. Many youngsters we work with are illiterate, they are 16-17 years old. They look like any other teenagers but unfortunately, because of how orphanage houses work, they lack a lot of social skills.

 

In orphanages children and youth often have no real rights, they cannot decide about the place they live in or the food they eat. What’s more, they don’t have many duties. Most of them don’t have an idea how real life looks like, what it means to work, manage your own money, live on your own.

 

Before opening the Social Tea House I was volunteering for many years organizing trainings in one orphanage. It was strange for me to realize how neglected they are. I engaged some volunteers and every week on Tuesday we came with some activity, sometimes we would just watch a movie. But it was so much not enough, our impact was not really big, we wanted to do something more. All in all, they were still illiterate and not able to join the society. That’s how the idea of Social Tea House was born. We use a lot of tools for changing their attitude, not only providing jobs. For example, we invite expats who live here to share their travelling stories and we make sure our youngsters participate in such meetings. We want to mix them with other people. Each boy from orphanage knows at least one drug dealer and several prostitutes, but no poet, guitar player, entrepreneur. We try to clash.

 

In the Social Tea House, in general, different groups clash. They rent the space to NGOs as well as big companies, they organize different kinds of events and meet-ups.

 

The Social Tea House is not only a place for drinking tea and coffee, it's also a safe, creative space and learning environment. You can find here people who think the same way and co-create with them. We give this place for free to other organizations, we barely charge NGOs. But on the other hands, we charge quite a lot corporates or banks. It’s our community impact, we want to support other socially oriented groups. We don't give the space at the same conditions and we are very clear about it.

 

And it’s not the only sign of innovative approach.

 

We wanted Ikea to sponsor our furniture. We sent many emails, letters, most of them they didn’t answer, and those which they did said: very good project, good luck. We decided to change strategy. We started a campaign in any possible social media, for example publishing our photo and tagging Ikea with questions: why don’t you like us? Stupid as it sounds, after two days they called us to propose the meeting. Finally, they gave us the whole furniture needed on the ground floor, where the proper Tea House is located.

 

Innovation and flexible approach are very useful also in working with youth from orphanages.

 

We have a kind of time frame. We want to employ them here for no more than 1,5-2 years. After that they become too dependable. The environment we create here is very safe. We want to have strong, deep impact for 1,5, maximum 2 years and then they should be able to join the regular labor market. We mainly work with boys unfortunately, most of the girls on their teens are prostitutes. This year we started a mentoring program for girls age 9 to 11. Normally we work with 14 to 19 years old people, but at this age girls are already into trafficking and you cannot attract them with salary or education, their brain works in a different way. We have to start very young to work on their empowerment, gender equality.

 

Doing that requires quite a good balance between the social part of the project and the business, which allows the whole idea to sustain.

 

We have different line of customers, we did a lot of profiling and segmentation of what kind of people we want to attract. We have different parts of this project. One is social, to try to fix a broken person, help him/her join the society. It's really challenging. On the other hand, we have a business, if you want to do social stuff, you need money. At the end of the month if we don't have enough money in the bank account, we cannot pay salaries. We cannot pay the youngsters, keep mentors. It's difficult to balance between the social part, which people like and come for, and the business part without which you are not really able to keep going.

 

Keep going and developing, as there are a lot of ideas for the future.

 

We want to rent an apartment as a safe place for youngsters to live. For most of them it’s very difficult to have an independent life in a rent apartment, they are kicked off after one month because they don’t pay. We were even thinking to have an eco-place outside of Varna which we could build together with the youngsters. But it’s a further perspective. Another idea is to have the Social Tea House in Sofia and other cities. Or franchise. We also think about having a herbal garden, we want to grow herbs, instead of buying them. We could hire more people and make a sustainable business also from the supply chain point of view.

 

Sounds quite optimistic?

 

Optimism is not a problem when you have good people around.

 

More about Social Tea House: thesocialteahouse.bg

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