People-Centered Development Programs in the Coffeelands

Our People-Centered Development program is our innovative approach to creating and directly 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. We adhere to a philosophy and practice called People-Centered Development.

People Centered Development starts with the People


People-Centered Development is an approach to international development that focuses on the express needs of local communities for the necessities of life - clean water, health care, income generation - that are often disrupted by conventional development assistance. 

We 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, empowering the farming communities and individuals we work with to manage and maintain projects on their own is the most powerful thing we can do. 

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.


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.

We listen, and listen, and listen.

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 if they can provide a 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. 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.

Working directly with farmers in ColombiaWORKING DIRECTLY WITH FARMERS IN COLOMBIA


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. We don’t do much advertising and don’t have an extensive sales or marketing department. 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).


Over the years, the developmental assistance identified by the farmers has generally fallen into the following categories:


  • Increased income: Consistently purchasing coffee well above Fair Trade prices can increase the income of small farmers and give them a needed competitive advantage over larger coffee estates.
  • Increased market access: Introducing our farmers to our competitors to increase the farmers’ sales.
  • Improved coffee quality and productivity: leading to more money in the pockets of farmers, and better quality coffee for you!
  • Business efficiency: Financial literacy and business skills training, 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 crop diversification.


  • 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.

Social Change:

  • 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.

 Reforestation means nurseries, seedlings and thousands of replantings.


We are a small team here, with giant ideas. We can always use help along the way! There's a number of ways you can help further our People-Centered Development and bring positive change to the world!

  • Drink GREAT Coffee. Yeah, it would be great if you drank our high-quality coffee, but it doesn't necessarily have to be! Seek out organic, Fair Trade, and Bird Friendly coffees. Make sure you purchase from a company who does more than just roast coffee that tastes good. Are they committed to the farmers where they source their beans? Do they ask how the can reduce or offset their environmental impact? Do they take care of their people - employees, farmers, consumers, and everyone else seed to cup?
  • Tell the world about us! We don't have a huge marketing budget (we'd much prefer to give that money directly to the farmers), so word of mouth is crucial! If you love our mission and our coffee, tell your friends. Drink it in the office. Slap a sticker on your car! 
  • Start a Fundraiser. We have a robust Fundraising program that's a real Win-Win-Win for everyone. You earn money for your school/church/field trip, etc. We dedicate our proceeds to our People-Centered Development programs. And your people get delicious, organic coffee, which everyone loves!
  • Become a Wholesale PartnerAsk about carrying our coffee and products in your cafe, office, church, grocery store or other business.
  • Apply for an Internship. We are always looking for interns to help us with special projects, travel and engage directly with our farmer partners, or even help us here in our US-based office. Read more about internships here.
  • Ask us to speak in your local community. A crucial piece of this work is public education. We have tons of experience with giving lectures and talks, and would love to come to speak to your group, school, institution or event!
Please follow us on social media for all the updates from our farmers and projects in the coffeelands!


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