MANILA – Rachel Fernandez Harrison did not expect that her “personal project” for her son with autism would make her a social entrepreneur.
Harrison is the founder of Zambawood and Julyan Coffee Spot – two establishments initially meant to help her son, Julyan, become a productive member of society.
Zambawood is a house-turned-resort in Zambales that provides housekeeping and barista training to people with disabilities (PWDs). It has so far produced 40 graduates, with most of them applying for jobs at hotels and cafes in Metro Manila.
Harrison noticed that while most of them were successful in finding jobs in hotels, some were having a hard time getting work as baristas, so she put up a café to accommodate them.
After opening the first Julyan Coffee Spot in Zambawood, she decided to have another one in Poblacion, Makati.
“When you’re a barista there’s a lot of communication involved, so kaya siguro sila nahihirapang maghanap. That’s why the trainer gave me that idea na, ‘you might like to put a coffee shop,’ and that’s how this all came about. We have one in Zambales now which is also called Julyan Coffee Spot, and then now this is our first coffee spot here in Manila. And what better way to have it in Poblacion because Julyan is an artist, and our business is we’re trying to be all inclusive. Everyone is invited to come and participate and experience what we offer here,” she told ABS-CBN News.
When asked why she chose to open her café in Poblacion, Harrison replied: “This is really a melting pot, a hub for creative people. The energy here is just different – very creative, very passionate, very committed, very environmentally-driven, very kind. I can go on and on and I just feel that being in Poblacion it’s so aligned to what we’re doing.”
“I don’t want to open anywhere else,” she added. “I just want Poblacion because I like the energy, I like what it represents. It has a lot of character.”
Julyan Coffee Spot presently employs five PWDs (“four deaf-mute, and one who can talk,” according to Harrison), with at least one other staff member present to bridge possible communication barriers.
On a regular day, they take orders, make beverages, clean the space, and help in creating corporate gifts.
“It’s challenging for us because sometimes you want to tell them something and you just have to think they know, right? I’m not very adept yet with sign language, but I have to say they’re very literate. They write, they read. So we have the white board to communicate with them,” Harrison explained.
She went on: “If we give people the chance to get skills and give them employment, they can be productive. This is what the advocacy is all about. We empower them, we’re teaching them the skills, but that’s not enough. We also have to create jobs, so this is why we are here.”
The menu items at Julyan Coffee Spot are priced competitively, with its specialty paninis not going above the P200 mark. The café also serves pasta and rice dishes, mostly based on Harrison’s own recipes.
“It’s amazing because we attract the graduate school students and, of course, we have an elementary and high school here, just there,” Harrison said, pointing outside the café. “So they come here and they love milk tea, and we have young professionals. Then again the artists – we have the writers, the copywriters, we have web designers. It’s very interesting.”
“And what is nice is these people are looking for a cause to support and then it’s like a magnet – [they would say] ‘we’d like to be part of your community.’ It’s so nice to be aligned, to be connected with people with the same heart and the same mind,” she added.
‘PASSION NOT ENOUGH’
Citing her own experience, Harrison said she learned that passion is not enough to make a social enterprise work.
She said her training under BPI Sinag – BPI Foundation’s initiative program for local businesses and social entrepreneurs – equipped her with the skills to properly run Zambawood and Julyan Coffee Spot.
“Sinag was really truly an eye-opener. My background kasi is architecture so it’s really about arts. Walang business side talaga. So when I went and attended Sinag, wow, naintindihan ko na what my husband was talking about finance. There are a lot of great ideas, but not all great ideas will work if you don’t do your numbers,” Harrison said.
She continued: “You have to equip yourself with knowledge with numbers so you know how to make money. It’s not like you think na konting tubo, it’s okay na. You don’t realize in the long run lugi ka na pala. Akala mo tumubo ka, ‘yun pala hindi. That’s why passion is not enough if you want to survive. Because if it’s just your passion, after a couple of years you lose your money and fold your business. Sayang. But if you are equipped with the knowledge to grow your business and to be sustainable and to really survive, then you will grow. You will scale. That is what they taught us. It’s not enough na okay ka lang sa isa. You have to make impact, you have to scale.”