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I had the privilege to speak with Sam Bishop, head of Research and Communications at Montaag, a design firm in Berkeley, California.  Montaag was chosen by the founders of 1951 Coffee, Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, to design their unique mission-driven coffee shop.  After the team at Montaag heard 1951’s clear mission, impact and challenge, they wanted to create the design plan.

Montaag’s research team began by interviewing the refugees involved with 1951, to hear their personal stories.  This created the foundational elements around which they built their design. The challenge for the design plan was to put a face and name to the refugee struggle and counter the fear of the refugee with a message of shared humanity.  In addition, they wanted to educate the community and advocate for the refugee in a way that did not take away from the feel good experience of drinking a great cup of coffee, and the opportunity to have a positive encounter with their refugee barista server.

On average the refugee journey can take 17 years!  17 years! Sam called that a paradigm shift. How do you convey these stories and make the Cafe a place of hope? A place of hope for the people who work there as well as for the patrons.

The advocacy experience at the Cafe can be encountered on many levels.  The customer can walk in and immediately walk out with a cup of coffee, or stay to work, or stay and read a story on one of the Cafe walls or stay and chat.  The Cafe needed to be a safe and welcoming space at each of the various touch points.  It also needed to provide a safe space for the server who may be asked about their story by one of their customers.

Their message includes that notion that in the process of buying a cup of coffee you are helping the refugee community.  So it might take multiple visits to understand the plight of the refugee.  One good experience leads to another and with each visit, the customer learns more and more.

Their aspiration is that the community will be educated and as a result will feel more connected and empathetic, and think more openly and critically.

To keep it fresh, one wall at the Cafe has a TV screen that allows 1951 to tell more refugee stories in depth.  These will be developed more extensively over time.

Each person who has worked on this project at Montaag has been changed in some way.  Their lives are richer for it. They are proud of their continuing relationship with 1951 which will give them more opportunity to do good work in the community in the field of human rights.

Montaag started a design partnership with 1951 to design their space.  They are now part of the community who share the love of the 1951 mission and want to spread the word about the refugee journey.  The community wall in the coffee shop has a map of the Bay area and highlights the individuals and organizations who worked to create and support the Cafe as well as the refugees they serve.  There is a yellow line that winds throughout the Cafe highlighting all of the people who are impacted, who visit and who serve at the Cafe.

Founded in 2012 by Per Ivar Selvaag, Montaag has offices in Berkeley, California, Oslo and Stavenger, Norway.  Click to learn more about Montaag.

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