Our Direct DevelopmentTM program is our innovative approach to creating and implementing effective and sustainable change in the coffeelands. Direct means direct – we don’t just give a few bucks to NGO's or charities or governments. It is just us and the farmers and whatever technical help we need to bring in to train the farmers to manage their own programs. This approach has been tremendously successful over the past twenty years and we have gotten tons of awards and recognition for our work. Within our Direct DevelopmentTM program we adhere to a philosophy and practice called People-Centered Development.
People-Centered Development is an approach to international development that focuses on the real needs of local communities for the necessities of life (clean water, health care, income generation) that are often disrupted by conventional development assistance. Conventional development includes military aid, large dams, free trade zones and export economies that bring lots of money to the contractors and aid organizations, but often result in massive deforestation, resettlement of communities, introduction of pollutants and diseases... you get the picture.
Even smaller scale projects such as "adoption" programs generally don't benefit the kids directly,and the ultimate "project" that you fund (chickens, a school) may not last much beyond the end of the funding. I have seen too many instances where once the aid agency moves on, the project collapses and the people sink into greater poverty and despair. No thanks. We are committed to small, meaningful projects that the community actually wants, and that are sustainable over time without our continued involvement. At the end of the day, the incredible amount of empowerment experienced by the farming communities and individuals we work with is the most powerful thing we can do. This may not be as easy to measure as how many people got clean water, etc., but it has a profound impact on current and future generations.
It is important to understand that we don’t just do a project here or a project there - this isn’t charity. We engage with every coop we work with, it is an integral and fundamental part of our business and our relationship with all of our grower partners. This is why our model is so radical, and why even after more than two decades in the biz we are still the only company that does this.
So how do we do it?
First of all, we only do projects when asked and invited in by the community, not by the government or some large foreign aid agency. When we visit, we listen and listen, then we talk to the farmers, women's groups and others about what is holding the community back from reaching its self-identified development goals. Then we talk priorities - theirs, not ours. It's amazing how in a small village three groups can have such different priorities. In San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, for example, one group of women wanted clean water, another wanted income-generating projects and a third wanted health care training. We then work directly with the community to design a project that will address their expressed priorities. We try not to bring in outside (or even local) organizations if the people themselves can manage the project, although we will fund trainers to provide any needed skill set to the community. In this way we don't duplicate the hierarchy and control that these folks have constantly experienced from governments, large landowners, multinationals, and ...big development organizations (gotta be honest here). The project belongs to the community; they manage it and have a great sense of ownership in it. That is the secret to successful, long term projects, not how much money and expertise you throw at an issue.
So where does the money come from? It's all from our sales at Dean's Beans – and occasionally from Dean’s home equity loan (hey, I am really committed to this!). We don't look for grants from churches, nonprofits or USAID (did you know they gave Starbucks half a million to build washing stations in Costa Rica? How outrageous to give our tax dollars to one of the wealthiest companies on the planet!). We don’t do much advertising and we don’t have an extensive sales or marketing department (just Katherine and Chrissy!). It's amazing how far your coffee dollars can go when put directly into the hands of the people who are going to use them to improve their own lives ... with a little help from their friends!
We are also in contact with our farmers by skype, email and visits year round. This way, we can offer advice and strategic planning on all sorts of important issues (including baseball). What areas do we work in? Over the years, the developmental assistance identified by the farmers has generally fallen into the following categories:
- Increased income: Purchasing coffee consistently well above even fair trade prices can increase the income of small farmers and give them a needed competitive advantage over larger coffee estates. We also work on increased market access, introducing our farmers to our competitors to increase the farmers’ sales.
- Improved coffee quality and productivity: Improved quality and productivity can mean more money in the pockets of farmers, and better quality coffee for you!
- Business efficiency: Financial literacy and business skills training are often requested by farmer cooperatives.
- Diversified income: Nobody ever got rich growing coffee, so it is essential for farmers to supplement their income. We work on identifying local economic opportunities and creating small businesses and alternative crop.
- Reforestation: The farmers identify appropriate species; we fund seed purchase, nursery creation and technical assistance.
- Organic Farming: Technical assistance on best practices, composting, farmer to farmer exchanges, funding and helping with international organic certification.
- Climate change: We work on education, abatement strategies and farmer exchanges.
- Advocacy and Activism: Community organizing and education, legal assistance concerning mining, oil and gas development, dams and other destructive “development” projects that will impact our farming partners.
- Gender equity: We only work with coops committed to strong women’s leadership and participation, and we create and support women’s projects (such as income generation, daycare and empowerment).
- Youth opportunity and leadership development: School building and materials, youth empowerment programs, leadership and entrepreneurship training.
- Health promotion: Funding health clinics and trainings, latrine and improved kitchen designs, wells and clean water distribution.
Some Real-Life Examples of Our Work
Unlike many large scale organizations we don’t have a cookie-cutter, one size fits all approach. Each of our projects is unique. Most of our projects are incredibly successful, some flop. Here is a sampling of what we do, along with some interesting lessons learned along the way that may be useful to anybody looking to do meaningful work in lesser developed communities around the world:
Sumatra - Paman Dean Eco-Management Program
Over beer and food, the farmers came up with a great way to address labor shortages on their farms in northern Sumatra, as well as the lack of and high cost of organic fertilizer. They figured that water buffalo could provide the fertilizer while keeping the weeds down. Thus was born the Paman (“Uncle”) Dean project. We provided the water buffalo, built its housing and the farmers monitored its “output” and its effect on the plants in a controlled manner. The project was really successful and we supplied five additional buffalo through donations from other Cooperative Coffee members.
Current status – The water buffalo eco-management project continues in a self-sustaining manner (meaning that the buffalos are breeding and creating their own little Paman Deans for the future). We have been asked to expand the program in 2015.
Lessons learned – This is a great example of how the farmers can figure out creative solutions to problems. No outside technical experts, no governments, no NGO’s because the farmers already had the skill base for successful animal husbandry and farm management.
Peru - Restoring the Sacred
The Ashaninkas indigenous coffee growers of Pangoa Cooperative rely on their sacred lands, which provide food, medicines and sacred objects and sites to this tribe. Yet the lands have been severely degraded (clear-cut or heavily logged) by illegal loggers since the 1970's - as part of an earlier "development project". We created a successful reforestation with the farmers. They chose the types of trees to plant (“grandfathers” to anchor the ecosystem), created nurseries, we bought the seed and paid for the labor of nursery management and replanting. The money comes from sales of our NoCO2 coffee, the same coffee these farmers grow. In this way we feel that the sale of the coffee is not only replanting the land but mitigating the carbon generated by the shipping, roasting and brewing of the coffee here at home.
Current status – Over ten thousand native hardwood trees have been planted so far, and nearby communities are looking to replicate the program.
Lessons learned – Rather than relying on quick growing pines or eucalyptus, the favorites of the carbon offset crowd, the farmers picked trees they knew would restore the native ecology, attract animals, and provide wood, food and medicine in the future (Esperanza called it “our social security”).
Papua New Guinea - Connecting to the World
With few roads from the interior to the processing plants and shipping on the coast, coffee farmers in the highlands have to rely on lots of middlemen to get their coffee out, which means hardly any money for the farmers. In the Central Highlands there are fourteen airstrips where the farmers bring their coffee, wait for the missionary airplanes to arrive, offload their preachers and bibles, and take the coffee down to the processors – at a fee equal to most of the profit of the farmers. When there is a thick cloud cover the planes don’t fly, and the coffee can rot while the farmers wait. We came up with a simple solution, inexpensive hand depulping machines at each airstrip, that allow the farmers to begin processing the coffee and slowing the fermentation rate (means better quality) as well as dropping eighty-five percent of the weight of the beans (less money for transportation). The result is higher quality beans with less overhead, meaning the farmer keeps more of the profit.
Current status – the machines keep on cranking, although getting information out from the highlands is difficult, at best.
Lessons learned – Inexpensive, low-tech solutions are often the best, yet are often overlooked by the experts.
Ethiopia - Miriam's Well
Everywhere we go in Ethiopia, the communities identify access to clean water as their top priority, followed by education. For most of our farmers, getting water means having to walk about a mile downhill to a stream polluted by agricultural runoff (chemicals, farm animal waste) and carrying fifty pounds or so of water back up the hill for the day’s water. This is done by the women or by the children (who often miss school). We created a program called Miriam’s Well to address these issues. We granted ten thousand dollars to the Oromia Cooperative to fund the program. The farmers of each sub-coop are required to form water management committees and present a plan on how they will manage the fund and the ultimate water source to insure free and equal access to water for all community members. A coop borrows the money to build the well and distribution system and then pays back the money to Oromia at a penny per pound of coffee sold at the next coming harvests (it may take two years of coffee sales to repay the loan). Once replenished, the loan then rotates to the next coop, which builds its well and repays and so on.
In this manner the fund should keep finding water in the desert, just like the biblical prophetess Miriam (respected by Christian and Muslim farmers alike – a nice piece of branding!).
Current status – As of June, 2012, two wells and distribution systems have been built in Haro and Negele Gorbitu. In the former, the farmers hand dug a trench from the water source to the village square (a mile) through the forest and at times nine feet deep, to lay and protect the piping.
Lessons learned – Because the government is responsible for well building (even though they never get around to doing it), there was some resistance from farmers in having to pay back the revolving loan. They felt that since the government should do it, they shouldn’t have to pay for it, even though for a penny a pound they would actually get clean water. This is an on-going issue with the project. Also, it took almost three years to get the water committees up and running due to a lack of outside technical support on how to manage water. We should have brought in help on this earlier in the process.
Nicaragua - Café Ben Linder
Landmines are everywhere in Nicaragua as a result of the terrible war during the 1970’s. Many were planted in coffee fields because the soldiers would help their families and communities during the harvest, and also as a way of terrorizing the populace from harvesting their only source of income. Even now, farmers still step on mines, and schoolchildren lose limbs to mines that have migrated during floods and landslides into walking paths. There are two major problems in this. First, it is difficult to get good prosthetics and therapy in Nicaragua (or most places), and the donated limbs and other prosthetics from well-meaning Americans don’t often fit well, thereby exacerbating the physical problems of the victims. Second, landmine victims are generally unable to continue farming, and may not have other means to support their families.
To address these issues, we partnered with the Polus Center to create a café/roasterie in Leon, owned and operated by a prosthetics clinic that gives free limbs and therapy to landmine victims and the poor. All profits from the café go to the clinic, and any adult who receives treatment and therapy and wants to stay in Leon can work in the café in a good paying job with high visibility (important for normalization of disabilities). We have had many talented employees (a one armed coffee roaster and a wheelchair bound barista) who have re-entered the workforce at the café and then moved on successfully.
Current status – The café ran successfully for about seven years before closing down in 2010. Given that 75% of all new restaurants in America close before the third year, this was a good run. The coffee roasting equipment was given to a veterans group who roasted and sold coffee to support their social programs. The prosthetics clinic is operating successfully, run by Nicaraguan staff who make all the prosthetics on site (they are still using my old router!).
Lessons learned – The café closed due to poor management. Although we sent people down from time to time to work on menus, meal prep training, signage and marketing, the work never stuck much past the visits. The café staff needed much more training and oversight.
Does all of this really get you going? You can join us as an Intern or a Javatrekker and bring positive change to the world!