Bianca Tavella, the founder & CEO of Fair Shot, is a social entrepreneur committed to fighting for equality and diversity. Having grown up with people with learning disabilities, Fair Shot has been a dream of hers ever since she was little. Now a reality, she is determined to use the cafe as a platform to normalize inclusive employment and disprove the stigmas and myths surrounding people with learning disabilities in the workplace.
Fair Shot Cafe is a social enterprise cafe and registered UK charity that aims to transform the lives of young adults with learning disabilities through specialty coffee. Fair Shot provides a year-long supported internship program in which young adults with learning disabilities can prepare for the world of work. Once they graduate, Fair Shot finds their trainees paid employment by partnering with forward-thinking employers and keep supporting all parties involved for the following 6 months.
ConsiderBeyond: Can you share how your upbringing and values shaped establishing Fair Shot Cafe.
Bianca Tavella: I was brought up with a family that tried to do their best to support others and was very close to a mother who radiated compassion. From a young age, I would participate in our community events and it would make me feel alive, but most importantly, make my heart feel full. As much as I am an introvert, being around kind people from different backgrounds truly replenished my energy and I knew that I wanted to commit my life's work to ‘people’ in whatever capacity that meant.
ConsiderBeyond: In any enterprise, there is always a behind story. Tell us about your journey in creating Fair Shot Cafe - the ups and downs and your thoughts along the way.
Bianca Tavella: At 23, I abruptly quit my job in an NGO as I did not feel fulfilled. I was looking for other charity jobs and considering whether I should move to Rome for a masters in International Development to further my career in NGO. Meanwhile, I started applying for cafe jobs nearby to learn how to make coffee, which was a skill I needed for my lifelong dream of launching Fair Shot. It was a dream of mine ever since I was a child, as I grew up alongside people with learning disabilities in my church from the age of 3. I eventually got offered a job in a cafe, which I took as a sign that I should just go for it with Fair Shot. I would work on my business plan and commit to getting 100 meetings. Then, I raised £100k, formed two crucial partnerships for our programs, and obtained free rent for our location. Unfortunately, we faced challenges with our location when Covid hit and I had to work extra hard to raise £300k. I started a pilot program in our partner college to train 40 young adults with learning disabilities. Despite additional location challenges with our first location, we opened the doors to our cafe in February 2023 in Covent Garden, and the space is incredible. We are now onto our third cohort of learners, although we feel like we are just settling in.
ConsiderBeyond: How are you connecting coffee with your social driven mission at Fair Shot Cafe? Tell us about the programs and the impact.
Bianca Tavella: Every year, we offer 12 young adults (aged 18-25) with a learning disability the chance to gain real-life work experience through our hospitality training program. Our program is designed for people who prefer a job in the hospitality industry but lack the skills, experience, or behaviors sought by employers.
Unlike jumping straight into a job, we provide a supportive environment where our learners can take the time they need to become confident baristas. During the program, they spend four days a week at the cafe and one day at our partner college to carry out the educational component. At the cafe, they work with a mentor and a job coach to observe, practice, and hone their coffee knowledge from the first day. Getting a job can be tough and even tougher when the hiring process isn’t inclusive and adaptable to individuals with different needs. That’s why we created our bespoke employment program to make the hiring process easy for individuals with a learning disability. After the program, we work alongside industry partners - often like-minded organizations in the hospitality industry - who are keen to carve jobs out for our graduates. Once we’ve matched our graduates up with industry partners, we provide support to all parties involved for 6 months to maximize success!
ConsiderBeyond: Fair Shot recently published an impact report. Share us some achievements in the report.
Bianca Tavella: Our programs are all about giving our learners a Fair Shot (opportunity) to actually be able to achieve their full potential. So far, our programs have led to 90% of our learners being ready for employment. We have matched up 19/21 of our learners with their dream jobs in 13 different employers and 18 different locations.
All of our learners start the program with little to no cafe work skills and leave as experts in making coffee, taking orders, making sandwiches, cleaning, taking stock, closing and opening the cafe. Additionally, they learn confidence, team-building skills, and working with diverse people. In 3 years, we have taken 36 young adults with learning disabilities out of the unemployment cycle and created a proven path to paid sustainable employment.
ConsiderBeyond: Are there any special moments or people you’ve met since starting the cafe that have changed the way you think?
Bianca Tavella: So many people I would not even know where to start. Despite my hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, I truly have gotten to this point thanks to a sea of generous and dedicated people that give up their free time and expertise to support myself and my team. It has made me think about all the different ways we are able to support each other and how the smallest interactions can change someone's life. From my first boss who allowed me to start a mini pilot, to the guy who gave me a job in a cafe with no experience, to my first few meetings when I was just a 23-year-old with an idea, to all of the partners – all of these people have changed the way I think, act and feel. We also have our incredible learners who make an impact wherever they go as they are hardworking, kind, compassionate, and never give up.
ConsiderBeyond: As an entrepreneur aiming for success in both financial and social impact, how do you balance the two in your decision making process? How are you navigating reality?
Bianca Tavella: I am still very much struggling with this. Unfortunately, it is very much a chicken and egg situation and it is imperative to consider both at the same time. Saying that, I very much started off wanting to perfect our charitable model and I made sure that every decision I made concerning our programs, and learners were made without thinking about the financial implications. Only then would I feel OK knowing that we were building this based on what’s right, instead of trying to cut costs. Now that we are close to figuring out that part, I am focusing on a sustainable financial model for the charity while not losing sight of our purpose.
ConsiderBeyond: Reflecting on your journey so far, what has been the most rewarding aspect, and what keeps you motivated every day?
Bianca Tavella: In all honesty, I think the most rewarding part of Fair Shot is to think about what it can become. I think if I was bogged down too much into what we have accomplished, then my adrenaline to keep moving would slow down. I need to do that to keep motivated every single day. So far, Fair Shot is already miles better (although a million times harder) than what I could have imagined and I need to use that to keep me going every day, as hard as it may be.
ConsiderBeyond: How is Fair Shot Cafe raising awareness about learning disabilities and advocating for more inclusive work environments? What are some aspects that people may not be aware of.
Bianca Tavella: We have our own in-house program that supports employers who are hiring people with learning disabilities. We truly believe that partnerships are the key to widening our scope for impact. Via our partnerships, we support our employers to build roles specifically suited to our learners’ needs while also benefiting their workplace. We provide the team with DE&I training, tailor our support to the learners’ profiles, and support them in adapting their team and workplace procedures to be inclusive after they start. It’s hard to expect employers to start with no experience, so we are happy to help them through the process and make sure that this isn't just a tokenistic exercise, but one that benefits all parties.