Originally from Chicago, Ashley Lopez is the CEO of independent London-based company The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. We caught up with Ashley, to hear about her views on coffee, charity and the social responsibilities of business leaders in our generation today.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
Some people are born retailers and I’m one of those. A perk of running Department of Coffee is I get to retail a very high quality product and work with amazing people to do it.
Why did you choose to branch out to London, instead of staying in Chicago?
London is the greatest city in the world! Enough said!
What is the link between the coffee you serve and social affairs, and how did this combination initially come together to form the organisation?
The founders met through a homeless charity they had started together; they had a deep caring for society and coffee in common and the ‘social affairs’ aspect of the business was the natural progression.
What message do you hope customers receive from your company?
That we are all about quality coffee, quality experiences and social impact.
What charities are you involved with and why?
As an organisation, members of our team are both board members and volunteers for a number of national and international charities. These include the award-winning UK Charity Pump Aid, which has provided safe clean water to over 1.35m of the poorest people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our shops proudly serve Thirsty Planet water, which donates to Pump Aid. We fund meals for the Central London Rough Sleeper Committee events, which are held every two weeks in Oxford Street. This organisation provides hot meals and support to rough sleepers and our staff are also regular volunteers.We provide mentoring and administrational support to The Afri-CAN Charity whose mission is to create, finance and mentor sustainable programs, NGOs and social ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa to alleviate poverty and hunger, to improve education, to provide skills training, and to provide employment. They focus on the poorest communities in Sub-Sahara Africa and The Afri-CAN Charities beneficiaries are aged 1 to 75. Department of Coffee has committed this year to funding 30,000 free school breakfasts to children between the ages of 1 and 6 at The Afri-CAN Charity’s Early Childhood Development Nurseries. I personally sit on the Boards of these charities, which gives me a greater understanding of the issues these organisations face and insight on how Department of Coffee and Social Affairs can help to champion their causes and raise awareness.
How can other business leaders in your generation get involved, and how are you trying to promote this?
Responsible business is about understanding the world around you, knowing your business inside and out and figuring out what social/responsible impact you can make on your community and the world. I’m leading by example with Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, we’re committed to social responsibility via our external output but also through our internal culture. By doing this and talking about it, I’m hoping to inspire others and show them social responsibility should just be a way of life and business.
What can we expect in the years to come/where do you see the coffee chain in five years time?
We see ourselves being an established UK national coffee shop brand respected for our quality coffee and positive social actions. We would like Department of Coffee and Social Affairs to be a benchmark for responsible business in our sector.
What is one of the most interesting things you have learnt working with coffee?
Coffee is science and the baristas who make coffee everyday are true craftsman.
What advice would you like to give younger generations who are interested in social affairs and responsibility?
Make social impact and responsible business a part of you and your business’s DNA from the beginning, nothing is harder than retro-fitting it into your business, let it be a part of what you do on a daily basis from the outset.
What is your favourite coffee (or hot drink)?
Black filter coffee (I am American!)