Siem Reap’s funky Footprint Cafes is merely the first step to a dream of becoming a charitable conglomerate as large and famous as Starbucks, according to founder Georgina Hemmingway.
“The plan at the moment is to open two more [cafes] in other countries. Thailand first, then perhaps Myanmar,” she says.
“Scaling within Cambodia will come after our next funding round and Battambang is definitely first on the list once we start doing that.
“After we’ve proven the concept in three different countries we are going to try for a $1.5 million funding around. Our chair of trustees, Dr Darrin Disley OBE, is going to lead on this. He has a lot of experience in fundraising in the millions and scaling operations, and this is something he’s going to share when gives a free talk at Footprint on June 2.
“If we are successful, we hope to expand the Footprint concept a lot more rapidly.
“Our mission is to establish cafes all over the world in any communities that have thriving tourist markets but with pressing social needs. We want Footprint to become the go-to brand for tourists. Every Footprint cafe will be different, but the quality of food and service will be the same backed by a business model that empowers the host community and its team.”
Big plans, big ambitions, but Georgina Hemmingway might just pull it all off.
After graduating from prestigious Cambridge University, Georgina worked in politics in both London and Washington – among other things, she headed the parliamentary offices of two UK government ministers, co-ordinated the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Debt, Aid & Trade, and worked as a political consultant for Publish What You Fund and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable in Washington.
But after a dramatic Road to Damascus moment during a trip to Cambodia in 2010, Georgina embraced the world of charity, social enterprise and philanthropy.
“I first came to Cambodia in November 2010. I used to work for two Labour MPs in the UK parliament, we had just lost a general election and I was on a global sulk,” she says.
“A friend of mine had got in contact after she saw I was in Bangkok and suggested we meet up in Cambodia. I had only planned to stay in Cambodia for a few days.
“I arrived in Phnom Penh on November 22. It was during the water festival, and that was the night of the stampede and the bridge collapsing. “The atmosphere in Phnom Penh the next day was very somber and sad. This triggered a series of events that would lead to me staying in Cambodia and volunteering in Siem Reap.”
Three years later, she co-founded her first café book store.
“In 2013, myself and Ian Croft had co-founded New Leaf Book Cafe. I had recently been to New York and one of my favourite places to work was a second hand bookshop with a small cafe run entirely by volunteers.
“We decided to tweak the model. No volunteers, fully-paid team, the space to be more cafe than bookshop but with all the profits going back to community projects.”
But about a year later, Georgina figured it was time to move on.
“I loved making New Leaf a reality, for me it was something totally new, having worked mainly in politics and campaigns before,” she says, “I wanted to do it again and again. For Ian, it was a one off. Ian had a lot of business experience and I knew that if I wanted to develop the idea and grow it into a chain I needed more businesses training.
“I applied to the Cambridge Judge Business School to study entrepreneurship and I was lucky enough to get in. Ian was very gracious and said he was happy for me to develop the idea there as I saw fit.”
At the business school, she studied a post graduate diploma in entrepreneurship and in April 2016 she pitched the idea of Footprints to a café full of potential donors in Cambridge, with an instant result – UK scientist and entrepreneur Darrin Disley injected $150,000 of his own money into Footprint Cafés and announced that he was leading a drive for an initial $350K of launch funding.
In October 2016 the new social enterprise Footprint opened as both a café and a bookstore, importing almost 8,000 titles from book drives in the UK, and there’s been no looking back.
The café’s a success with chunky wholesome food, a savvy Khmer staff and wall-to-wall books, mostly fiction. The café also recently expanded its offerings, opening an upstairs enterprise hub and co-working area.
“With our new hub space above the cafe I’m hoping that through events, collaboration, partnerships and visiting speakers Footprint can give those same opportunities and support to young Siem Reapers looking to start their own business,” Georgina says.
She’s also put out the word for guest speakers to run seminars and workshops at the new hub.
The inaugural speaker was Georgina’s first Khmer barista, Piseth, who she initially sponsored for the National Cambodian Barista Championships in Phnom Penh, where he was the runner up. He left her employ to work at Starbucks. Now he has his own coffee shop in Phnom Penh and he’s the national barista champion.
Other speakers have included Dr Belinda Bell, director of the Cambridge Social Ventures Programme, who has also supported Footprint and launched its social innovation workshop. Then of course there’s Dr Darrin Disley’s talk on June 2, and much more to come, possibly including world domination.