Dušan Jordović, Cafe 16 Crises again hit the most vulnerable, and social enterprises come to the front line by providing assistance

On the grounds of ​​the former brewery of Đorđe Weifert and Ignjat Bajloni, the so-called “Belgrade’s Berlin” grew up tucked away in the center of the old part of the city, open for different opinions, beliefs, lifestyles, and cultures – the Cetinjska district. In addition to the spirit of freedom, Cetinjska, in its abundance of diversity, also contains a unique combination of urban culture, social mission, and solidarity – the social enterprise Cafe 16.

We dedicated our first story about social enterprises to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which hit caterers and tourism professionals the hardest, as we wanted to show through a practical example just how much and why social enterprises were the main actors of solidarity in and out of the crisis. zato je naš izbor socijalno preduzeće Kafe 16.

We stopped for coffee in the afternoon at Cafe 16 and talked to the general manager Dušan Jordović in the great ambience of the renovated terrace, about why and how the team of people dealing with social work and integration of youth, decided to start an entrepreneurial initiative and why the cafe. Why is, in addition to the desire to make guests feel good, the mission of Cafe 16 much more exciting and responsible? Do people know that when they drink their morning coffee or spend lunch breaks in this cafe, that they contribute to keep young people off the street and find their rightful place in society? How did the COVID-19 crisis affect the work of the social enterprise Cafe 16? Will this crisis raise questions again about the shortcomings of the existing system and position solidarity as one of the most important topics in the further development of society?

CoSED: Hi Dušan! For starters, really, how did the idea for Cafe 16 come about? Most social enterprises are founded with the idea of contributing to solving a perceived social problem in the community, what is your story?

Dušan: It all started with the launch of the Inn (Svratište) in 2007, as a place where we deal with kids aged 5-16 who, due to circumstances live and work on the street and in informal settlements. The Inn has been developing a relationship with children for many years and provided them with technical conditions such as temporary residence, food, and even development conditions such as education and direct work with psychologists and sociologists, all in order to increase their chances of getting off the streets and have opportunity for personal development and improvement of living conditions. Then in 2017, we realized that after they turn 16 in that teenage period, they have a need for income, which unfortunately they can create only in the “gray zone” on the street, and which most often affects them so that they re-enter the vicious circle of all social deformities of life – theft, dealing, prostitution and the like. Unfortunately, not a small number of them, after passing through Svratiše, returned to these patterns and we realized that we also have to deal with this problem systematically. So we decided to create conditions in which kids can learn to do something, have a place to apply and along the way and earn money for their independent start in a completely legal way. This is exactly how Cafe 16 was created.

CoSED: So Cafe 16 was founded with the idea to train and employ children from vulnerable groups, after they turn 16 and go through the programs of the Inn? How many teenagers do you manage to hire?

Dušan: Exactly. However, the kids first go through training for 3 months, with financial compensation, and then, if it turns out that they can do it and that they are interested, they succeed in getting a job. We currently have 4 kids working full time and one working part time. Most importantly, we manage to redirect those who are not good at waiting tables or bartending, to other areas of service – hairdressing salons, nursing salons, and similar. We almost had an example that our kid Daniel, after working in Cafe 16, managed to get a job in the cafe of the Museum of Yugoslavia. The basic idea is to give kids a perspective and show that they don’t have to make money in the gray zone on the street in order to survive. Life can look completely different and better.

CoSED: And how did you, as a team that deals with social work, without experience in entrepreneurship and catering, come to open a cafe? What is the experience like now after 2 years of work?

Dušan: The cafe was the best solution for us for several reasons. For a start, it was a job that seemed simple in terms of training, and then an element of social integration – talking and meeting wider social groups enabled our youth to integrate more easily into society. After 2 years, we are aware that the job is not easy at all, and that it is necessary to master mathematical functions, work with appliances, a menu that contains a range of various drinks and food. It turned out that it is great that they learn some basic things while they are in the Inn and have the opportunity to apply them very quickly. And how did we manage to succeed without experience in that area? Well, we were guided by the idea that it must be good, because the idea was not to make a profit, but to provide funds for their further development – that’s how we succeeded.

CoSED: What were the biggest challenges for the functioning of the cafe that is also a social enterprise, which distinguishes it from most other cafes?

Dušan: Unfair competition. What is understood and followed as an unwritten rule is that you cannot work as a social enterprise and contribute to solving the problems of young people from the street, and on the other hand employ them illegally. It seems like absolute nonsense, which it is. Our competition, on the other hand, makes many omissions in the work, to the detriment of fulfilling the obligations and rights of workers, so that their result would be more efficient and their profits higher, and we really cannot come to terms with that. Profit in itself is not important to us in the function of profit, but funds that are intended for kids as compensation for work and to a lesser extent, but also important for the functioning of programs within the Inn. Finally, the challenge is that the social enterprise as such is not sufficiently recognized in society, and especially in the state, given the lack of a regulatory framework and incentives for development by public authorities.

CoSED: We are just coming to the point, what do you think needs to be done to encourage the development of social entrepreneurship in Serbia?

Dušan: The question is not easy at all. To consider everything that can be done to encourage the development of social entrepreneurship, there must first be a confirmed consensus on what we mean by social entrepreneurship. Somehow, it is again imposed that the law is the one that, if it were in accordance with the practice, would succeed in confirming and affirming social entrepreneurship. This is the biggest step, because sometimes it is simply necessary for the municipality to point out that there is a great initiative that provides a good service or produces a product, and also contributes to solving a local problem, so that people hear about it and decide to support it themselves. Sometimes that domain of promotion is much more important than the support measures. Financial support is needed, but it is usually one-time that it does not make a difference in the long run. So, the most important thing is that the public, and first of all the state, recognize and help the society to understand the importance of social entrepreneurship.

CoSED: Because of the current COVID-19 crisis, the state introduced the payment of the minimum wage as a measure of “survival” of the crisis. In what measure was it helpful?

Dušan: In the conditions in which we do business in Serbia, with large levies and the constant need to pay fees, it is difficult to say that the measures are useful. Again, the payment of these minimum wages certainly helped Cafe 16 to pay our employed kids, and we are guided by the moto that any help is welcomed.

CoSED: How did Cafe 16 cope with the so-called “lockdown” during the COVID-19 crisis? Have you been in contact with kids – users?

Dušan: We closed the cafe when the measure banned the work of catering facilities and we opened it on May 15. This collective crisis has somehow indicated that it is difficult to predict anything with certainty, but the most important thing is to adapt quickly and help the most vulnerable. Even though Cafe 16 was closed, we received small, but significant, funds from the donor community, for emergency interventions in working with users who live in very poor conditions without the crisis, and the crisis may have been the hardest hit for them. However, we have contact with users with whom the centers for social work as state bodies do not have, so it is a value for itself and provides a way to at least somehow help people on the street and in informal settlements. As field work was almost impossible, we were in communication with the users, while our volunteers went to the field under all sanitary security measures and delivered food and other necessities.

CoSED: In our last blog post, in the segment “Learning about social entrepreneurship”, we pointed out the characteristics of social enterprises, which still make social enterprises survive in the conditions of crisis and not be existentially endangered. One of the characteristics is hybrid financing – financing from project work and donations and financing through the work of a social enterprise. Does this thesis work in practice? How much did this way of financing help the Inn?

Dušan: Yes, that hybrid financing is considered a flaw in the conditions of regular events, and the exemption from donations is also a kind of achievement of sustainability. We think that in the case of Cafe 16 there is sustainability, and we were not so affected by the crisis because we are a small company. It seems that the COVID-19 crisis affected medium and large companies the most, because the costs were too high, and the income was nowhere to be found. This way, we manage to function at least on a cold drive. These small emergency donor interventions during the crisis provided for part of the program, so that at least one segment of our work managed to survive in some way during the crisis. What is an interesting observation is that people transferred one-time government assistance to individuals in the amount of 100 euros to our programs. Again, not in an excessive number, but we consider it a great and beautiful gesture of solidarity and identification of people with our story and initiative.

CORSE: During the COVID-19 crisis, people very often referred to the word “solidarity” and it seemed to be interpreted as on some spectrum – similar, but different. Do you think that COVID-19 will be able to focus on social justice and change something in the collective consciousness when we talk about the perception of the most endangered categories of society?

Dušan: I agree that the word “solidarity” became popular during the crisis, but even the crisis seems as if the majority has already forgotten that it happened. Not only in terms of the lack of solidarity, but also in terms of the fact that the system is not functioning properly and that it is more the cause than the consequence of such events, so it is with the COVID-19 crisis. It takes a lot of optimism to hope that things will be different in the near future, because we live in a society where everyone is justifiably staring at their own plate, given the standard and problems such as poverty and unemployment, and we are left to contribute and strive that these things come into their own, as well as the improvement of the living conditions of people from the most endangered categories of society. I sincerely hope that something will change on the political agenda as well, at least in that economic recovery program that is sporadically mentioned in public these days, for example, to focus on social enterprises. Finally, whether it is about people or the state, it is important to understand the flow of money when it comes to financing social programs – social assistance and benefits. The economy is clear here, is it better to employ people who are able to work, enable them to build both financial and personal independence, or to allocate limited funds to finance assistance programs in the long run? With the increase in employment of people from vulnerable groups, they are starting to get better, aid programs are becoming less demanding, and the budget is bigger, and the possibility to direct it where there is really no possibility for other solutions, is greater. Thus, social entrepreneurship encourages more economical and efficient problem solving and further planning of the state and the community.

CoSED: As social enterprises exist and develop without the help of the state, although we are the first to advocate for that to change, have you managed to create some conditions for further development? What are your further plans? Can we expect the expansion of Cafe 16?

Dušan: That is why I like to say that it is a little tempting for an entrepreneur to engage in social entrepreneurship, especially in Serbia – you have to respect great number of regulations, and none of them actually recognize or “respect” you. It is quite challenging, but with a strong social motive, there is absolutely no better thing than engaging in social entrepreneurship. We have invested in equipping our garden terrace and we are looking forward to good weather and satisfied guests. For the future, we hope for the circumstances in which we will be able to expand the capacities of Cafe 16 and set aside a part for exhibitions and other events, for which there is a need and interest. In addition, we do not want any of our guests to come and be prevented from drinking their favorite coffee at any time. So we are waiting for the right moment and we believe that it will happen.

In the end, the coffee in Sesnaestica is really great, the ambience is urban, the spirit is noble, and the atmosphere is super positive. We invite you to get acquainted with Cafe 16 and seize your opportunity for a drink, a meal, an exhibition, or a relaxed evening gig. And don’t forget, in addition to making guests feel great, the mission of Cafe 16 is much more exciting and responsible, and we invite you to become part of such a community!

The Coalition for the Solidarity Economy Development has launched the first blog on social entrepreneurship in Serbia within the project “Fostering the development of social and solidarity economy” in cooperation with the Heinrich Boell Stiftung – Belgrade Representative Office.

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