“My personal frustration always vanishes when I see the impact of our work in the lives of our boys. It all feels worth it. “ -Julia Krepska, Founder and Director of Our Sansar and The Cafe with No Name
Motivated to create a social impact for street children in different parts of Terai region, Ms. Julia Krepska did not hesitate to move to Nepal from the UK with her husband. Established in 2016, The Cafe with No Name contributes 100% of its profit to the projects under their charity Our Sansar, which provides shelter and education to street children.
A couple of weeks back we connected with Ms. Julia Krepska who answered all of our questions about this unique cafe and its social cause.
Read our conversation to find out more about this cafe here.
How did this dream to become an entrepreneur start for you ?
Having a background in international development, I always wanted to provide support in some place where there was a real need. As I traveled to several countries in Asia, I had developed different project ideas which focused mainly on kids and education. My initial thought to start this journey as an entrepreneur was merely to set up a project in an area where nobody is working towards it.
Why did you choose Nepal for your project?
Before I started, I had not decided on a specific location. I just had an aspiration to bring social change by supporting children or providing quality education. While in the UK, I met with a Nepali guy who connected me to several different people in Nepal. Through my initial research, I did find a huge need in Nepal especially in the Terai region where no one else was doing such work. So, I started Our Sansar charity in 2009 to support children in Birgunj where no other charities were working towards assisting children.
How did the concept of The Cafe with No Name come about?
Our Sansar team is formed of all volunteers who are based in the UK. It is challenging to run an organization in this structure where we need to rely on people to find their time and dedicate their skills for the charity. This also ultimately impacted the time dedicated to fundraising activities. Thus, for a sustainable source of income, the idea of a cafe came into play.
The Cafe with No Name was established in 2016 in Thamel. My husband invested his own money under the charity to open the cafe so we did not have to worry about additional fundraising. We were very hands on in terms of designing, planning and operating the cafe. We wanted it to be a platform where we were not only earning money by selling food and drinks, but also awaring people about our projects and the charity.
How did you decide on this creative name?
Initially, we were coming up with numerous ideas to name the cafe. One day, my husband questioned if a name really matters to create a difference. We felt like it was all about the atmosphere in the cafe rather than its name. So, it just stayed as “Cafe with No Name”. Ironically, the name now grabs attention and many people come to the cafe out of curiosity.
Can you tell me more about Our Sansar and its projects?
Our Sansar currently has multiple projects that they are operating mainly in the Terai region. One of our first projects was building a children home for street boys near Birgunj. We take in children who usually have nowhere to go; some were orphans while others were either abandoned or trafficked. Our main priority is to link children to families as it is always better for a child to be raised in a family. But, sometimes when it is not possible, we provide them shelter in our children’s home in Birgunj. We currently have about 16 boys. Under the charity, we have also opened a day-care center and child helpline. This project supports both boys and girls. Some children stay overnight while some just stay during the day.
Moreover, the new project that we are planning to start in Janakpur will be much larger to support the needs of the entire Province 2 region which covers 8 districts in the Terai region. We will use this children’s home as a transit to later move to our Birgunj home. Other aspect of the project will include providing support to girls who are victims of domestic abuse, trafficking and rape. Different partner organizations will help them by teaching new skills to earn their livelihood.
What makes your cafe unique?
The cafe has become a platform to spread awareness about our charity. It attracts mostly international tourists who want to learn more about our projects and support the cause. We get numerous volunteers who promote us as well as help us by fundraising. Unlike most Nepali restaurants, we have unique dishes on our menu which I personally researched. We compensate for our small space in the cafe through good lighting, music and overall atmosphere.
In addition, some of the older boys from our Birgunj children’s home also get an opportunity to work in the cafe where they can gain work experience and learn about western standards and hygiene. This supports our vision to create real impact in the children’s lives.
Who are your allies in running the business?
Our Sansar team comprises around twelve volunteers from the UK. In Nepal, we have twenty staff who support in running the cafe and children home in Terai region. We do not have partners for operating the cafe. However, we do have support from different local and international organizations in ground level projects. In Birgunj, our children helpline operates in collaboration with the Birgunj Metropolitan City government who are also funding the project. In Janakpur, our new children’s home project has different partners such as ChoraChori UK, Lily’s leaves, and Mithila Wildlife Trust.
What are the main challenges in running the venture? How do you overcome them?
Being someone who has lived in multiple Asian countries such as Japan and India, I am used to differences in culture. But, the difference in attitude created a major challenge. Nepal is more relaxed in terms of work. We found it harder to comprehend the habit of constantly delaying the work. Now, I have learnt to set deadlines two weeks earlier than I actually need it to get the work done in time.
Moreover, the general prejudice of Nepali people towards foreigners is they have a lot of money. It becomes challenging to explain that we work as volunteers. Hence, I train and guide my staff to talk to local communities which is easier to garner more support. It is done mainly in the Terai region since local people get more engaged when Nepali staff communicate with them.
How does the intense competition in Thamel affect your business?
Kathmandu is a district of restaurants. So, it was difficult to find a good space to open the cafe. Nevertheless, we also witnessed that most stores and restaurants in Thamel were similar. Thus, we just focused on being different. From our experience we learnt that if you open something different and put enough care and attention, it can attract people.
How has COVID-19 pandemic affected your operation?
The cafe was heavily affected which was a massive hit for us since it was a consistent source of income. We did try to operate as a takeaway service but it barely covered the staff costs. Ultimately, we have closed it for the time period. In addition, COVID-19 did not negatively impact our existing projects under Our Sansar. But, as directed by local authorities, we were not allowed to take in more children. It was more heartbreaking for not being able to support the kids in need. As for the boys in Birgunj home, we gave them hygiene training and prepared them well about this issue. Despite some challenges to change the schedule of staff and plan online classes for kids, it was not very difficult.
How has this entrepreneurial journey been so far for you?
It has been very challenging. Despite the consistent hard work, there are numerous factors that come into play when operating a business in a foreign country such as local laws, competition from other businesses, bureaucracy, etc. Sometimes, I just need a break. However, my personal frustration always vanishes when I see the impact of our work in the lives of our boys. It all feels worth it.
Is there any suggestion you would like to give to emerging Nepali entrepreneurs?
Like most people, I also had the tendency to ignore other people’s experiences and suggestions. Even though the situations can vary, it does help in making better decisions and setting expectations. Additionally, for emerging Nepali entrepreneurs, I would suggest doing something different rather than bringing a similar idea which is already in the market. Lastly, the most challenging part is to get good people who work honestly and support your cause. In my case, without being physically in Nepal, I can run everything smoothly so it is all about building a strong team.
Check out the cafe and work done by Our Sansar here:
Facebook: The Cafe with No Name
Website: Our Sansar
Interviewed and article by Shreeya Bhattarai