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Social Entrepanue Index Nominee: Nemi Teas

NEMI Tea's, producers and distributors of whole tea blends, are working to break down barriers faced by refugees seeking work in the UK. Speaking to UMi, managing director Pranav Chopra discuss his inspirations in setting up a social enterprise and the important difference his business is making. 

What does your social enterprise do?

We are a London-based tea company offering a variety of whole leaf tea blends as loose tea and in biodegradable tea pyramids along with a Chai Syrup for chai lattes and iced teas.

We are strong believers in creating positive change through business and provide employment to refugees to help them better integrate in the UK. We employ refugees to run tea stalls across London food markets, festivals, events and conferences which allows refugees to boost their English skills, regain confidence and work on skills required to enter the UK job market. We also employ them within our business to perform commercial roles including sales & marketing, events, packaging and distribution.

This allows us to help remove the barriers refugees face when looking for a job in their field of work as they have us as a referee and a UK company on their CV.

What made you start your business up?

I’ve always liked using entrepreneurialism to create an impact. In the past, for example, I created a startup called Slumdog Travels, which used tourism to fund education projects in India.

I got the idea for NEMI Teas after seeing an episode of BBC Hardtalk about an Iraqi family who had fled to Germany but were now returning to Iraq — putting themselves in real danger — because they had failed to integrate or find work. This just seemed crazy. The more I read, the more I saw that lack of integration and issues around language, education and especially employment are the key problems holding refugees back from successfully resettling.

That’s the problem that NEMI Teas was set-up to solve. 

How do you measure your impact?

We have put in place both direct and indirect impact metrics and measure them both quantitatively and qualitatively each quarter. This allows us to monitor and manage our initiative and to alter our strategy if we are not meeting our set metrics given below.

Our direct impact metrics include:

  • Quantitative measures: Number of refugees employed; number of hours worked by refugees; wages earned by refugees; number of jobs secured after working at the café
  • Qualitative measures: Reported change in refugees’ English skills, confidence, and job readiness; change in refugees’ quality of life; change in refugees’ relationship with the local community (integration metrics).

Our indirect impact metrics include:

  • Quantitative measures: Number of customers at the cafe; number of followers on social media
  • Qualitative measures: Changes in local community’s perception of refugees.

What help did you have to start your social enterprise?

We got support from UnLtd with a £5000 Refugee Do It Award which helped us set up our first tea stall at the Venn Street markets in Clapham Common, London.

How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?

Company limited by shares was the only legal form I considered when setting up my business as I wanted to showcase that a profit-making organisation can also make a large scale social impact. You don’t necessarily need to set up a Charity and/or CIC to create good in today’s society. Plus we are not reliant on grant funding nor do we anticipate to – we want to scale our operations based on our earnings and human potential.

However we did amend our Articles of Association to include clauses and an asset-lock to ensure we met the requirements of Social Enterprise UK and are officially registered with them as a ‘social enterprise’.

What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?

I feel being a social entrepreneur gives you another level of challenge as you are running not only a traditional business but two businesses in one. For us, on one side we are running a traditional tea company servicing over 60 clients across the UK, Germany and France and on the other side we are working closely with refugees living in London and helping them by providing them with employment, helping them gain training & health certifications, enrolling them in English classes, providing additional support in ad-hoc matters which can typically be an entire business in itself.

I feel being a social entrepreneur also allows me to test out my entire skill-set I have gained over my 10 years of corporate experience as well as personal skills as I have to engage with members of the community who face multiple challenges in integrating and settling in with the society.

What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?

One of the biggest challenges was to gain trust from the UK-based refugee bodies who had never heard of us and were a bit hesitant in partnering with the ‘newcomers’ on the block with a bold vision and no prior experience in working within the Charity sector or with refugees. Also gaining trust with our own beneficiary sub-set was a challenge as the refugees who came to us initially were a bit hesitant in working for a small company as they thought there was a hidden agenda for us trying to help them especially as we were not a traditional Charity.

Only over time have we gained both trust and respect from both the refugee bodies and the refugees themselves as we have proven our business model and our social impact in empowering refugees in taking the next step in their journeys.

What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Hire someone right away! The day that I went full-time with NEMI Teas, I hired our first full-time employee. There’s nothing like the pressure of having to meet someone’s salary to focus your mind. It’s also worth noting that a social enterprise model doesn’t have to be complex in order to make an impact. I sell tea - it doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering idea.

What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?

Some useful resources:

-       Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nyu-reynolds-program-in-social-entrepreneurship/id293044197

-       Book: The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur by Jonathan Lewis

What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?

From a business perspective, we want to enter into the food-service space and work with large catering organisations to supply to offices, hotels, resorts, airports, function centres and the like.

From a social impact perspective, we’d like to set-up a range of hole-in-the-wall type cafes that are run and owned by refugees to allow them to gain self-confidence through ownership, ability to practice their English as well as engage with local members of the community so they can better integrate into to the society. By running it as a franchise model we will also look to enforce that the franchisees, the refugees, can only employ other refugees within the business so we have a sort of “circular impact” model in place.

The UK Social Entrepreneur Index, sponsored by UBS, is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK. 

Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.

For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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