Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Page 102 of 107

103 to help someone else! You have to let one thing go." So, I let telecom go. I thought working in coffee would be the easy thing I would do! [Laughs] I would just contact people over the phone about coffee and go to SCAA once a year and that would be it. Well, the rest is history! BMag: A lot of your work in Burundi is with women coffee farmers, and you are active with the International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA). Can you tell us a little about how that aspect of your work began? JNA: I was doing work for my nonprofi t, Burundi Friends Inter- national (BFI), on one of my trips to Burundi, and I just happened to meet the woman who was the president of the IWCA in Burundi [Isabelle Sinamenye] while visiting a washing station. I actually knew her growing up as a young girl, and in such a small country, we all indirectly know each other. She explained that she was working with a group of women farmers, and suggested that I get involved. I asked, "How can I help?" At that time there were only 100 members of the IWCA in Burundi, so I just sat down with them and listened to their ideas. So, they wrote a proposal for me and what they actually wanted was goats. I took their proposal to the board of BFI and they agreed to provide two goats to each member: one male and one female. It turned out to be one of the most successful efforts. It's still being talk- ed about! That was in 2013, and in 2015 the women came back to me and said, "We're in the coffee business but we can't sell our coffee. Can you help us?" It was a turning point for me, so I said, "Well, I trade in high-quality coffee. Of course, I don't know what quality you have, but if you can make the grade quality-wise, I think that we can do some- thing together." Then, I purchased a small lot from them. In 2016 we met again and I decided to start a small program in which we would provide more support to produce quality and then pay a premium for their high-quality lots. This program grew quickly and had a measur- able impact. In 2017 we paid these women growers $80,000 in premi- ums for their coffee, and that year I was able to place all their coffee in the international market! When we started this work together, there were 100 women in the group; now there are 2,000 members! BMag: What is your specifi c focus for the women coffee producers? JNA: Women are the single most underutilized group in terms of labor, and the most underserved in terms of equality. When Isabelle started this IWCA group back in 2011, they used to tell her, "Women don't own land in Burundi." Well, things are changing, but they change very slowly. In Burundi, when a woman marries, her husband is the one who owns everything. Even though she works the land, she is the one in the fi eld, and often she is the only one doing the picking, it is the man who delivers the cherries to the washing station and who receives the pay- ment. Sometimes the family doesn't even see the income that came from the coffee. We do things differently! When we pay our premium, we pay the woman who grew the coffee directly, face-to-face, hand-to-hand. This changes everything: Their coffee takes on extra meaning because they get something important out of it. Our program has become so successful that some of the men say, "My wife wants to be part of the IWCA and I want to be part of the IWCA, too," and we say, "Yes of course, absolutely!" It is important to be inclusive with success, and now about 30% of the IWCA members in the Burundi chapter are men. Men are participating with their wives because they see the importance of what the IWCA is doing for the family. BMag: Wow, really?! JNA: It's unique! This is one of the few chapters that pays the money directly to the women who grew the coffee, tended the coffee, and cared for the trees. Our agreement with the washing stations is that we wire the payment money directly to the IWCA chapter and then the executive members of the chapter distribute the money directly to the farmers. From time to time people will ask, "How do we make sure the money is directly going to the right people?" We just provide proof with statements. I love to attend these payment celebrations. We are making women part of the economy. Our project is transforming how they see themselves because now they are empowered. BMag: It seems like working in coffee has a very different motivation than working in telecom for you. JNA: I woke up one day in my condo—I used to live in a high-rise overlooking the ocean in San Diego—and I was thinking, "I come from one of the poorest countries on the planet, I've been gifted all of this. What am I doing for my people?" For me, I felt that because I was blessed, I need to pass the blessing to others. Today, every single thing I do is about Burundi. I gave up the money from tele- communications and found the most fulfi lling work I've ever done. There's no greater joy than doing what I'm doing. We are here to make a difference.

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