The View

Last month we began a discussion in the View about sustainability. It is our position that the only truly sustainable model is one that takes into account a holistic approach to the needs of all stakeholders; not just a single focus on economic, or environmental, or any of the other ideas about sustainability.
Of course, attempting to create a holistic approach to sustainability is not possible for any one company or NGO. There simply is not enough money and energy to make that happen. However, what about a different approach?
•    What if all the money that is currently being spent by universities, foundations, corporations, government, non-profits, and whoever could be pooled into a single fund?
•    What if a conference were held annually to review achievements, analyze future projects, and perform course corrections on current projects, and establish the coming years budget?
•    What if everyone shifted his or her socially responsible project funds toward this new idea?
What do you think the effect would be if instead of everyone doing their own thing and running over each other, a unified holistic effort was brought to bear to accomplish comprehensive change in the communities that produce our industry’s key ingredient?
As things currently stand, aid to communities at origin follows a course similar to a collection of blind people attempting to describe an elephant by touch. One area receives a great deal of attention but most of the animal remains unknown. Many well intentions efforts have ultimately failed because the activity was not sustainable – funding ended, staff support was not available, or some other cause. Whatever the reason, after 40 years of activities by specialty coffee in origin countries, the question of sustainability still remains.
Clearly a unified approach to development is not easy, nor is it necessarily legal. (Collusion and price fixing for example) However, the current methods are not as effective as intended and something new needs to be tried.
So, a small group of representatives from large roasters, primarily in Europe, is giving it a try, and the way they are doing it is meeting “pre-commercial,” before they engage in their paid positions; before they have to make decisions in the best interest of their shareholders and stakeholders. By meeting and prioritizing developmental needs before work, they can then go back to their offices and use the corporate funds at their disposal to accomplish the pre-determined plan.
So the question is…why don’t we do this?
Imagine a scenario. A community in Nicaragua supplies highly desirable coffees but is desperately poor and underserved. There is no electricity, no telephone, no easily accessible water source, poor roads, no health care, and no schools. The only government presence is military ensuring that this mountain border community stays repressed. There are no young people, they have all moved off to Managua in search of prosperity. Women must walk daily to the market town (they have no refrigeration), which is 2 hours each way, the trip to the Coyotes to sell their coffee is a 5 hour one-way mule/walk/bus trip carrying their coffee the whole way. They have no sanitation facilities, few vehicles, and little hope. (By the way, this is a real place)
Many agencies have come to this place but little has stuck for any length of time.
Now imagine a scenario that brings industry leaders together with experts and service providers to thoroughly research the full scope of requirements that are needed in the community, identify the key pressure points and rally the funds and human resources necessary to deliver long-term results. With this focus and organizational prowess, a more comprehensive strategy leading to solutions can be developed that moves toward ensure effective and lasting impact. Not just research, but action mandated by the charter.
And this community in the scenario probably does not need everything fixed. Identifying key elements that are most negative in the community and making appropriate adjustments can lead to unseen results from the community itself. Instead of small narrowly focused benefits that do not directly change the key infrastructure of a community, this idea focuses on holistic results with tools that are beyond any one agency or company.
Properly funded, staffed, and directed there is no project too daunting.
This idea is in the best interests of the coffee industry; fulfills the idea of investment, not charity in our extended industrial infrastructure; facilitates permanent value development in origin; and addresses locally originated elemental quality of life requirements.
This idea could be huge, or crackers. I am not sure. What do you think?
Kerri & Miles

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