A Cafe With a Conscience

This post originally appeared on December 10, 2015 as “Joma Bakery: A Cafe with a Conscience” at http://southeastasiabackpacker.com/joma-bakery-cafe-with-a-conscience/.   It was written by Nikki Scott, Director, www.southeastasiabackpacker.com.  Used with permission of the author with minimal editing.

Next month, Joma Bakery Café in South East Asia celebrates 20 years of social enterprise! Formed by three Canadian and one Thai founder in 1996, Joma opened the doors of their first two cafés in 1996 in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The company now has 12 branches in 4 cities and 3 countries in the region (Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia).

So what is the secret to their success? And why are we writing about them?

Here at South East Asia Backpacker we love to tell you about the places that we think are making a positive impact to the environment and communities of South East Asia. Places where as a backpacker, you’ll be spending your money and contributing to a good cause.

Here are some reasons why we love Joma Bakery Café:

 Joma employs staff from disadvantaged backgrounds

“Joma currently has 54 employees that our competitors won’t even interview. This alone is success in my mind.” (Michael Harder – Chief Operating Officer, Joma Bakery Café)

Working with international non-profit organisation Hagar International, Joma hires employees that have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. These could be victims of human trafficking, women and men who have been abused, repatriated refugees or just young men and women who are unskilled and seen as not useful in the eyes of the work force. Joma staff are made up of a lot of people just getting started at life, college students, as well as many who are looked down on socially, such as people with disabilities. In Laos for example, people born with physical disabilities are often not even sent to school!

Joma invests highly in training. Whereas initially it may take longer to train an employee who is at first unskilled and inexperienced, Joma believes that the investment is worth it in so many ways! The individuals usually stay long-term with the company and have a passion and enthusiasm for their work. They find economic hope and financial independence through their work and are incredibly appreciative of the opportunity of safe employment and a pathway to a brighter future. Seeing staff members eventually move on to have a successful career in whatever they choose is highly rewarding when you know that it would have been difficult for them without having been given this initial chance.

Joma also gets to connect with, and help out, amazing grassroots social enterprises that are doing practical good things on a day-to-day basis. Through partnerships such as this, Joma leads by example in their communities and shows other local businesses that running a successful business as well as being socially conscious in this part of the world is indeed possible! It is positive action such as this that causes a benevolent rippling effect throughout society.

Joma promotes fair-trade

The coffee that you’ll drink at Joma Bakery Café is made using quality Arabica coffee beans that are grown on the lush Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos by a community co-operative of farmers. The green beans are shipped directly to each Joma city where they are roasted by local roastmasters.

No mass production or big corporations are involved. The Coffee Farmers Co-operative works with ethnic minority families, such as the Mon-Khmer, who rely entirely on coffee harvests for their income. In 2005, the co-op received a certification to recognise their ongoing efforts to ensure a higher sale price for the local farming families.

With their 2% People and Planet plan, Joma gives 2% of every sale (before profits!) back to the people and planet through various charitable organisations in the communities around their cafes.

Good coffee that helps the environment

Rising to an elevation of 1,350 metres, the beautiful Bolaven Plateau region in Champasak province, Laos, is perfect coffee growing country. With cool temperatures, rich volcanic soil and plenty of rainfall, the conditions are just right for the cultivation of world-class coffee beans.

The coffee trees are shade-grown, which means forests are not harmed by planting the coffee trees. Rather, the forest actually helps the coffee trees by giving much needed shade from direct sunlight, and balancing the soil’s nutrients. The Bolaven Plateau provides prime coffee-growing conditions such as volcanic soil, high elevation, cool temperatures, and ample rainfall. This mutually beneficial environment also maintains the natural habitats of native birds and insects. The Arabica plant has been found to thrive in these elements, yielding one of the world’s most rare and distinctive coffees.

Joma cares about great quality food

So we’ve heard all of the amazing things that Joma is doing in the community. What about what Joma can do for you?

You can bet your next coffee that everything you eat in Joma is homemade, natural, fresh and most of all, clean! You won’t be in danger of getting ill from lack of hygiene here! Bread and baked goods are made fresh on-site every day and there are no artificial sweeteners or preservatives in that chocolate chip cookie! Every ingredient is sourced specifically to ensure the best quality, whether it’s found abroad (like their New Zealand butter) or locally (like their fresh passionfruit juice) or prepared specially in house (like their gourmet ice cream).

A big hit with homesick backpackers are Joma’s range of delicious bagels (the bagel egger is a must try!), as well vegetarian options, hearty breakfasts, healthy wraps, sandwiches and fresh crunchy salads, which can be hard to come by when travelling in this part of the world.

Joma’s best sellers are their lattes and cappuccinos (served ice cold, if you like, as a cool pick me up in Southeast Asia’a tropical weather), as well as the tasty mango fruit shake. For lunch, you certainly won’t be disappointed with Joma’s delicious freshly-made BLT, chicken caesar wrap, mango sesame salad or pumpkin soup. And for something sweet? Joma’s coconut cake, carrot cake and amazing almond croissants are to die for!

So, when you’re fed up of rice, you’ll know where to go to get some satisfying comfort food, and why not pick up a box of oatmeal cookies for that long bus journey ahead? Check out Joma’s online menu here and you’ll notice excellent value for money prices too!

 Joma has friends in the right places

They say to judge a person by their friends and Joma’s friends are pretty amazing! As well as Hagar International, Joma regularly works with local NGOs to help the community around them.

Recently Joma have been supporting the Laos Girls Teen Project, an organisation in Luang Prabang that is working to educate girls in neighbouring provinces and countryside about their bodies as they enter puberty. Many girls quit school when puberty begins, because they don’t know how to take care of their bodies and therefore jeopardising their futures and their means of having financial independence. Joma has been helping out conducting workshops for young girls and providing them with informative books and the “welcome teenager” bags.

Joma also financially support Laos NGO, Pencils of Promise (founded by another Champion of ChangeU, Adam Braun)an organisation dedicated to improving the literacy rate in Laos. (Currently 30% of Laos is illiterate, with even higher rates of illiteracy amongst ethnic minorities). The money that Joma provides goes towards building schools and equipping teachers every day.

Other NGOs that Joma support include; Soap4Life – an organisation doing great work in Laos with vocational training for women and health education for children; AbundantWater.Org – an NGO that helps remote communities stop disease and death with clean water using clay-pottery water filter technology and many, many more!

Michael Harder, COO of Joma Bakery & Cafe, a Champion of ChangeU, wanted to share this previously published blog post from Southeast Asia Backpacker to show the kind of impact you can have with a vision of positively changing the lives of those living with any variety of human insecurities – and doing something about turning that vision into reality. 
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