CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Christchurch in New Zealand, the damage caused by a 2011 earthquake remains evident with metal girders and scaffolding on every street and a near constant beep of construction vehicles.
The earthquake was devastating for the city: nearly 200 people were killed and up to 100,000 buildings were damaged and 10,000 needed to be demolished.
But Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the disaster had given rise to a new sense of community in New Zealand’s third largest city which on Wednesday began hosting the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF), an annual gathering of social entrepreneurs using businesses to do good, with the theme “creating our tomorrow.”
One sector boosting the community and helping drive the city’s regeneration is the coffee industry with coffee shops found on almost every corner of the city of 370,000 people.
For New Zealand boasts more coffee roasters per capita than anywhere else globally with its coffee shops offering innovations like activated charcoal lattes or turmeric lattes.
A business at the heart of regeneration is C1 Espresso which was set up in 1996 but was knocked out of business in 2011.
It reopened in 2015 in a former post office in part of central Christchurch, proving to be a catalyst for the re-emergence of business in that area as well as supporting communities vulnerable to natural disasters in other nations.
The venture supports farming in the Pacific island of Samoa, which was hit hard by the 2009 tsunami and subsequently battered by successive cyclones in the years that followed.
“When the earthquake happened we realized how vulnerable we are when we’d previously thought we were the great White Knight,” C1 owner Sam Crofskey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He initially went to Samoa hoping to convince people to grow coffee but soon realized it would create a culture of dependency. Instead he looked at the ingredients that were being grown and thought he could use them in a new line of tea.
Ultimately, he said he was trying to keep families together, describing the dire living conditions faced by some Samoans who leave for jobs in Australia and New Zealand but end up in menial work with every spare bit of money sent home.
Crofskey said the idea provided his staff with a sense of purpose, with some even going to Samoa to meet the families and work on the farms.
“The ability of our staff to hold their heads up high because they work here is equally important to what we do in Samoa,” Crofskey said.
C1, which sells salads in old jam jars and bottles its own juices, has helped revitalize one part of the city which was dead at night when the coffee shop re-opened but other businesses are now operating there and the area is on the up.
A 30 minute walk away in the suburb of Addington, another coffee shop is working to help Christchurch residents and slum dwellers and former sex slaves in India after its destiny was also changed by the earthquake.
The Addington Coffee Co-op, based in a former mechanics workshop since 2008, was one of the lucky few to retain access to power in 2011, meaning the cafe became a community hub.
It also proved a lifesaver to those for whom power was essential, such as people needing electric oxygen pumps.
“For us to play a small part offering a helping hand on a city scale is really just in the DNA of our business,” said sales manager Jared Gardiner.
Gardiner used to work in banking but, following a trip to Kolkata where he encountered the slum dwellers of Khal Par, he returned to New Zealand resolved to try to improve lives there.
Now 70 percent of the Addington Coffee Co-op’s profits go back to community initiatives such as the local school and to water, toilet and other projects in Khal Par.
The Co-op has also set up an interest free loan service and expanded to include a shop selling fair trade products from India and a clothing line importing products made by Freeset, a Kolkata-based company that employs women freed from sex slavery.
Welcoming 1,600 delegates from 45 countries to Christchurch for the ninth edition of the three-day SEWF, Dalziel said the earthquake helped her see what was important in life.
“Sense of purpose creates meaning for individuals, for cities and for whole communities. Christchurch this week is proud to be the global capital of social enterprise,” she said.
Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org