Feature article: Frankie magazine

Published December 2010


cuppas with a conscience

James Murphy has turned your average morning caffeine hit into a revolutionary social enterprise.

In March this year, the stencilled word ‘kerekere’ began appearing on pathways, steps and building frontages all over the University of Melbourne. Students and staff curious enough to follow the chalk arrows soon discovered a takeaway coffee stall like no other.

Kerekere is a Fijian custom meaning a relative or neighbour may ask for something that is needed and it must be freely given, without expectation of repayment. James Murphy, 25, has taken this altruistic idea and applied it to the competitive business of coffee-making. His belief, that ‘the winner doesn’t need to take all; the owner doesn’t necessarily have to be the one that benefits’, poses a direct challenge to modern consumer culture.

‘The more and more I think about it, kerekere is probably a reflection of everything that’s been important to me for the past 10 years’, James says. After completing a BA and a social work degree at the University of Melbourne in 2005, James approached his alma mater about setting up a novel social justice enterprise on its grounds.

James invites his customers to distribute their coffee money as they see fit: to environmental charities, social charities, or to the owner. Customers get a playing card when they order a coffee, and deposit it in one of three slots upon collecting their latte or long black. The results are displayed as percentages on a profit distribution board, which is updated weekly.

Kerekere uses Espresso Syndicate coffee, a newly launched organic and sustainable blend, and is the first takeaway outlet in Australia to use biodegradable cups. At this stage, the money collected for environmental charities is going towards making the whole kerekere enterprise carbon-neutral. Rather than simply writing a cheque, James is interested in long-term schemes, such as providing free bikes for students and helping to green the university.

Environmental credentials aside, the truly revolutionary aspect of James’s operation is its commitment to social causes. Kerekere offers a nationally accredited coffee training program for young people put forward by the St Kilda Youth Service, its nominated social charity. James employs two barista coaches, Lyla Dash and Ossie Campbell, to run the intensive six-week course, which includes five weeks’ paid work at the Parkville site.

James sees coffee-making as ideally suited to kerekere’s youth training program, which aims to provide its participants with solid employment prospects. ‘The great thing about coffee is that there are so many work competencies based around it, especially the core work competencies like numeracy and literacy’, he says. ‘And then there’s the politics, the social issues, the roasting blends, profiles of beans. I mean, it’s just never-ending, how much there is to learn.’

Above all, he sees the social value placed on coffee-making as the greatest plus for program participants. ‘People love baristas. They’re the new rock stars’, he says. ‘And I think that social value is really important for these young people.’

All money allotted to social charities during the course of the program goes to the St Kilda Youth Service, to be put towards further supporting each participant’s development. Four students have completed the program so far, and James hopes to eventually take on 20 students a year.

In recognition of its service to youth, kerekere was recently awarded a grant by the Foundation for Young Australians, a national non-profit organisation devoted to youth-led initiatives. James is putting the cash towards a documentary about kerekere, and he plans to invite every youth charity in Victoria to a public screening and lecture, to publicise kerekere’s youth training program and, hopefully, get some new organisations on board.

For something that started as ‘just a hobby’, kerekere is beginning to take on a life of its own. James recently resigned from his job as a social worker in order to give the growing operation his full attention. ‘It’s sort of at that point now where it could stay as it is and that would be great’, he explains. ‘But for me it’s sort of like, where can we take this? And without giving it all my time, I actually don’t know. So we’ll wait and see.’