Good news coffee lovers: Starbucks is willing to fuel your caffeine addiction, free of cost.
Just one caveat: In order to get free java, you’ll have to sit across from someone you definitely disagree with.
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Founded by HBS student Henry Tsai, the site announced today that it is teaming up with Starbucks to offer free coffee to individuals interested in joining in on a civil, civic discussion.
Essentially, anyone who uses the site has the chance to be matched with someone nearby, of opposing political background. Once an unlikely pair is created, each member receives half of the information needed to unlock a Starbucks gift card. Once both participants collaborate to pick a store and time, they show up to put their pieces together and receive complimentary coffees.
Starbucks has a history of being politically charged up. The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, has made a series of executive decisions in regards to the 2016 election, such as hiring refugees following the introduction of the ban and creating a website so Starbucks staffers can register to vote. He also sent a company-wide memo the day following President Trump’s election, urging Americans to “honor the democratic process... give him the opportunity to govern well and bring our country together.”
“Our favorite part about the collaboration with Starbucks is that participants work together before they even sit down. The entire process is shaped like a collaborative effort, encouraging empathy and cooperation,” said Yasyf Mohamedali, an MIT senior who leads the technological development of the site.
The pair explained that the site was launched after the polarizing election. “It seems like people on different sides go between not talking to each other and yelling at each other. There are a lot of problems we need to tackle, but getting people to talk with each other civilly seems to be a good first step,” Tsai said.
If you’re still feeling a little shy about the meetup, the team created a solution for the awkward pauses and silences. Using the help of conflict negotiators and psychologists, Henry and Yasyf created a conversation guide for participants.
“When I was a kid, my mom always told me stories of people she meets. Looking back, these are simply ordinary people, but their stories made them so important in the moment," said Henry. "That’s why the first half of the conversation guide we share with our participants have nothing to do with politics. It’s just getting people to hear each other’s stories.”
Think it’s too good to be true? So did I, until I read these success stories. Even before the site offered the free caffeine incentive, thousands of individuals signed up to give the other side a chance. According to these statements, a couple of meetups went so well that participants set up future calls and conversations.
“One of the really cool recurring pieces of feedback I’ve received from technical students around MIT is that there's been a lot of press lately about fake news and how tech was used divisively,” People really appreciate seeing a real-world application of how they can use their skills to do good. It's been such a powerful reaction that we actually have an incredible number of talented people offering help in one way or another,” Yasyf said.
It'll be interesting to see how the collaboration pans out over the next few months and to see if this HBS startup makes coffee a catalyst for political understanding.
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