Maybe you’ve seen them wearing their branded t-shirts serving coffee at events around Jamaica. There are now three full-time and 25 part-time baristas working with Deaf Can! Coffee, just two years since the social enterprise launched. In that short time, founders Blake and Tashi Widmer have learned quite a lot about how to make a social enterprise work in Jamaica.
Based at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) on Kingston’s Cassia Park Road, Deaf Can! has grown at a time when coffee culture is thriving on the island, as has awareness of social enterprises and their potential impact in Jamaica. Imagine if every wealthy church congregation followed their example and founded their own social enterprise employing youth? I chatted with Blake at Deaf Can’s third location, inside the Toyota Coffeehouse at the dealership on Old Hope Road…
Identify a business opportunity
“I think we are offering a product and a service that nobody else is by being able to deliver a pop-up service at an event with the equipment we have. Also, we’re tapping into an underutilised labour force which is the deaf community, there are a lot of people who don’t have a job or only work part-time and when we have an event we can send out a text and say, ‘Hey we have an opportunity to work at this event this weekend and it’s gonna be such and such hours’.”
…to solve a social problem
The main problem is not the lack of hearing, but the world looking at a deaf person and just thinking that this is a person who cannot hear because that simple thought, although it is true, then trickles down into “they can’t do this, they can’t do that.” If we can change the mindset and look at a deaf person and instead see a person that is gifted and someone with “deaf gain” who does things differently, yes, but it does not mean that they do it in a lesser way – in some ways they might be able to do things better.
Our disadvantages can advantage us
When you first wrote about us in 2015 you asked Carlyle ‘Do you think you have the ability to make a better cup of coffee because being Deaf means you have to concentrate more on other senses?’. He thought about it and I remember him kind of smiling about it and saying, ‘Yeah I can!’ If you ask our team today they’ll tell you that they’re very proud to be Deaf and they have “deaf gain” whereby they have a tangible benefit. Their sense of taste, their sense of smell, their visual acumen enables them to take care of coffee throughout the whole process from roasting to grinding to brewing. Continue reading