Cause marketing links brands to organizations or efforts that align with their brand or mission and helps them establish a reputation for doing good in the community. Starbucks is going further than that. They are forfeiting part of their business model in order to promote social causes, spurring economic activity in otherwise "dead" towns.

There’s laughter behind the counter. The young people in green aprons, most of whom live within 5 miles of the store and possess a hard knowledge of the streets outside, razz each other and joke easily with regulars. Twenty-one-year-old barista Deidric Cook, who was living out of his Ford Focus before being hired last year, brings the homeless woman who routinely parks her shopping cart outside a tea for when she wakes up at her table. Around lunchtime, about a dozen men and women will gather in the café’s designated community room for a free job-skills training class led by local members of the Urban League. A large photo of a yard sign with the message I LOVE ALL OF FERGUSON hangs on the wall.

Three years ago, Michael Brown was shot dead by a policeman on a nearby block, the event kicking off waves of protest and rioting that made headlines for months. As seen through the media’s lens, this was a city of torched police cars and smashed storefronts, hollowed out with sorrow and rage. So there’s something both bizarre and comforting about walking into Ferguson’s year-old Starbucks and experiencing the chain’s familiar, coffee-scented calm—not to mention watching Michael Brown’s charismatic uncle, who works here as a barista, prepare lattes behind the counter.

This café in Missouri represents one of 15 that Starbucks has committed to opening in underserved communities nationwide by the end of 2018 as part of its larger social-impact agenda, which over the past three years has grown increasingly aggressive, targeted, and sometimes controversial. In 2013, the company pledged to hire 10,000 veterans and military family spouses within five years and, having met the goal a year and a half early, upped its “hiring and honoring” commitment to 25,000 by 2025. In 2015, the Seattle giant launched another hiring initiative, this one to bring on board 10,000 “opportunity youth” (men and women between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working). The company has since hired 40,000, and this past spring pledged to reach 100,000 by 2020. In January, as an immediate rebuke to the restrictive travel and refugee-acceptance policies President Trump announced upon taking office, Starbucks launched yet another hiring effort: to partner with trusted agencies around the world and by 2022 hire 10,000 refugees in its stores across the world.

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