May 4, 2015 Sustainability

Increasing Empathy through Starbucks Community Service

Throughout the month of April, Starbucks partners (employees) and customers volunteered as part of Starbucks fifth annual Global Month of Service. Blair Taylor, Starbucks chief community officer, shares his personal experience and observations about the company's 30-day celebration of volunteerism.


Service is one of the great mechanisms to increase empathy toward other people.

As Starbucks continues our journey of diversity and inclusion, the pathway toward understanding each other runs through community service. Reaching out to people through service opens your eyes and helps you to be empathetic in ways you could never get to if you were just writing a check or encouraging others to go out and do something for the community. 

The purpose of Starbucks Global Month of Service is two-fold. First, it provides an opportunity for partners (employees) and customers to volunteer together in the neighborhoods where we have Starbucks® locations and make an impact in the lives of others. Second, it raises volunteers’ awareness and consciousness about issues that matter in the world. We saw this take place time and time again during the month of April.

We saw this in Phoenix where 700 partners, customers and young people transformed 20 acres of land into a community garden to encourage healthy food production and reduce urban blight. We saw this in Beijing, where young migrant workers received training and mock interview practice to facilitate their career development.  In cities around the world, community service brought people together and helped them learn about others as well as themselves.

Restoring Human Dignity

On April 23, I volunteered in Seattle at the United Way of King County’s annual Community Resource Exchange.  When I was first exposed to this project in 2012, I fell in love with it and it is one of the reasons I chose to join the United Way’s Board of Directors. There is a personalized element to this project that is unique for each volunteer and brings to light the very real problem of homelessness. For the community event, hundreds of homeless clients were assigned to their own personal assistant who accompanied them to various stations providing special services such as dental care, haircuts, a place to get new clothes and much more. 

I spent my time with a talkative man named John. Relationship troubles led to substance abuse, which caused John to fall out economically and ultimately lose his home. He talked about leaving the shelter where he currently sleeps to find a permanent residence and search for work in the food industry – something he had done as a teen.

Speaking with John reminded me that there often isn’t much distance between the homeless and those more fortunate. The majority of the time, people become homeless because of one catastrophic event that derails them. It could happen to anyone. We all share a common thread of humanity.

Given Starbucks focus on creating pathways of opportunity for youth, I encouraged the United Way to focus on homeless youth this year. United Way estimates there are at least 5,000 homeless individuals in Seattle and King County and close to 1,000 of them are under the age of 25 who are sleeping in cars or shelters at night, often all alone. These young people need our help to get on the right path to rebuilding their lives and securing their future.

A Focus on Opportunity Youth

Starbucks synergized all of our community efforts this year to focus on the extensive Opportunity Youth population – young people ages 16-24 who are not in school or employed. With an estimated six million young adults in that situation in the U.S., and as many as 300 million around the world, this is one of the biggest issues of our time. In response, we streamlined Global Month of Service to focus on collaborations with non-profits that support Opportunity Youth. 

In March, Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth by the year 2018. We are also targeting this same population with our Starbucks Foundation grants and have formed a powerful collaboration with our supply chain known as LeadersUp, which concentrates on hiring Opportunity Youth as well. In April, we took another step forward with this commitment through community service projects that prepared disengaged young people for jobs and in some instances, hired them on the spot to join our stores as baristas.

In my experience, partners join Starbucks because they believe that our brand and our company stand for something bigger. I would argue that Global Month of Service is a big part of what standing for something bigger actually means. 

Maintaining a Spirit of Service and Empathy beyond April

Global Month of Service is just the beginning of what partners will do throughout the year that is good for the company and good for society.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines. It’s harder to get out of your seat and do something. But when you do, the rewards are immeasurable. You start believing you’re serving others and eventually realize that you have gained more than you’ve given. I encourage everyone – partners and customers alike – to continue the momentum of April and do something to positively impact your community throughout the year.

By Blair Taylor, Starbucks chief community officer

For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom