Keywords: South Africa, deaf, sign language, cafe, social enterprise, training

I Love Coffee

I Love Coffee understands the social impact a communication barrier has created in South Africa. Our constitution does not recognise Sign Langue as an official language so Deaf Youth are denied a proper education and access to employment (70 – 80% of Deaf adults are unemployed). We use coffee as the simplest way to connect those who cannot hear with those who can. Our barista training results in boosted confidence, self-awareness and a career path in hospitality. By operating in-office cafes in corporate spaces we teach customers to sign for a coffee and provide sensitisation training which further bridges the gap. Part of our ethos is to include people with disabilities in sustainability and we ensure best environmental practice is followed from how we roast our coffee, pack it, serve it and dispose of our waste.

About the practice at a glance
Name of OrganisationI Love Coffee
Type of organisationSocial enterprise
of Implementation
South Africa
Year started2015
Funding modelFundraising (individual/ corporate/ foundations), Self- financing

Our equipment is funded through Enterprise Development grants or loans and we trade to cover salary, utility and operating expenses. We are a Social Enterprise in the true sense of the word and reinvest all our profits into the growth of the organisation.


Impact and growth 

We measure impact in a variety of ways.  So alongside hard skills we train soft skills.  A barista will be trained how to make coffee but also job readiness.  All employees undergo health and safety training, etiquette, customer service and we teach them to have a relationship with money.  Aside from work training we provide assistance to medical, legal, banking and social services. 

We opened our first cafe in 2016 employing 3 staff.  Pre-Covid we operated 4 in-office cafes and 2 public cafes in Cape Town and 4 in-office cafes in Cape Town. During lockdown we completed the construction of our Inclusion Hub which hosts our coffee roastery, central kitchen and training facility.  We currently employ 26 staff members of which 80% are Deaf.  We have trained in excess of 100 people of which all but 1 was employed pre-Covid. 

We have a strict policy that our Deaf staff participate in the upliftment of their own community by tasking them with the recruitment, hiring and training of staff. Deaf people understand their own challenges so in our world only Deaf train Deaf. 

Target group 

Our selected beneficiaries are Deaf black youth who we support by providing funding, training and mentorship.  As a service provider we work with corporations who have either CSI or B-BBEE scorecard requirements to meet.  By switching coffee suppliers to I Love Coffee we are both able to meet our goals. 


We asked projects to outline their impact model (also called Theory of Change) – their main target groups, the key activities they offer these target groups, and what impact they want to achieve:

Target GroupActivityImpactIndicators
Unemployed Deaf youthBarista and hospitality trainingJob readiness, work experience, life skill training and career path developmentOur primary KPIs are number of trainees and employment numbers both inside our organisation as well as outside it. These numbers are reported quarterly to our impact investors
Deaf middle managementAccredited training in facilitation, trainer development and management trainingProviding career paths within our organisation to employees that we have identified to be promoted to middle managementThis is measured by the number of staff complete the accredited facilitator training


Replication is a new topic for us, but it is the right time to start working on it 

We have scaled one site to 10 in the space of 4 years.  We have established a central kitchen, training academy and roastery so that we can control and scale according to our purpose. Working with the SAB Foundation and the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship we have set 3 year goals in terms of number of sites, number of trainees, number of employees and social impact. 



In South Africa we have business support from the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship that assist us to outsource addition human and financial resources that we may require. 

Yes, we have a project owner for this program, with the necessary skills and seniority: 

Gary Hopkins, founder of the business. Gary has 26 years of marketing experience, 15 years of which he was running his own marketing business. He was responsible for implementing promotional strategies from the likes of Disney, Warner Bros, Sony Entertainment locally.  He has global manufacturing experience and many of the products and strategies he developed were in turn implemented elsewhere in the world.  He has experience with international franchise models, including royalty reporting, concept approval, quality control, and sales reporting. He has worked with several multi-national companies in this way including, Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, Energizer Batteries, McDonalds; Panini and BP.  Since starting the business he has been responsible for building the operations team and client relationships including WeWork, Virgin Active, Marriott Hotels.


At this stage the only strategy we have considered is scaling our coffee roastery so that we can export our beans. We have also looked at an aligned coffee waste business model. Essentially we would supply coffee and use the waste to create a circular economy to create greater employment impact. 

Aims for the next 3-5 years: 

  1. To operate 40 Corporate Cafés across Cape Town and Johannesburg that employ 100 + Deaf Youth
  2. To establish an accredited hospitality Academy offering theoretical and practical training for Deaf Youth in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
  3. To grow our coffee manufacturing output beyond 2 million tons per month
  4. To list a minimum of 3 retail food lines with 36 months


Our Social Enterprise was formed on three pillars: 

1) Bridging the gap between the hearing the Deaf 

2) Vocational training for unemployed Deaf youth that leads to employment 

3) Fully social and economic integration 

5% of South Africans are Deaf and 70 – 80% of Deaf adults are unemployed and surviving on disability grants or the support of their families. In South Africa there is a distinct disparity between access to education for Deaf learners and mainstream education.  This is not true for the whole world however access to job is a universal problem.   

Shortly after we opened our first cafe we had request franchise requests from India, UK, USA, Australia, Austria, Mauritius, Botswana and Zimbabwe. After four years of operation we believe our training, manufacturing and operational expertise has advanced sufficiently to consider global markets. 

What is the organisation hoping to learn from taking part in the programme? 
  1. Understanding the social challenges facing the Deaf in each region.
  2. Connecting with the Deaf community and operators in each country
  3. Adapting our business model to meet local needs
  4. Developing a social franchise model that works globally
  5. Increasing our manufacturing capabilities, specifically our coffee roasting