“Every bean, a story.” With this slogan Kenyan Vava Angwenyi shows the world the power of small-scale, fair-trade entrepreneurship. With her company Vava Coffee she is one of the twelve finalists in the BBC World Challenge 2011.
Vava grew up in Nairobi, far from the coffee plantations and left as a young girl to Canada to be educated. After her Bachelor’s she studied International Finance and Management in Groningen, Uppsala and Florida. “Groningen is a pleasant student town, even though it was hard for me to get used to cycling everywhere, even in midwinter!”
The Canadian coffee culture gave her the idea to get involved in the coffee industry. “I wondered why don’t we have a great Kenyan coffee brand? Why is it that coffee farmers get such a small part of the profit made on coffee?” After her graduation she returned to Kenya and started her own business. Her company follows the fair-trade principles. “I started with a small group of farmers, who I pay a stable price for their beans, no matter the fluctuating international coffee price. We also help them to increase and improve their crop by giving them advice and, if necessary a loan.
I would like to switch to organic farming, but that is something you can’t do overnight.”
Vava is a real entrepreneur and emphasises that her company needs to make a profit. “We are also big on quality.” But that is not all. Vava: “I want to improve the community by doing my own small thing. For my packaging of the coffee beans I pay women with HIV and rehabilitated street children, so they can support themselves. Improving the lives of people and helping the community with my business is what really inspires me.”
Her approach has led to a higher yield and beans of better quality. Vava: “Everything counts: farming, harvesting, roasting and packaging. We sell several African blends now. I also promote coffee as a special product by encouraging coffee tasting sessions. Like wine, coffee is a complex product with a great many flavours.” Her coffee blends are exported to other African countries and she is looking into the opportunities in Italy and Spain. Vava Coffee is also for sale in the Netherlands: at the Smaakhuis in Lisse.
Becoming one of the twelve finalists of the BBC World Challenge is a great boost for her: “It is a great way to spread our message over the world.” Now she is ready for the next step. “I am looking for a partner who wants to invest in my company, but who also understands that we are a social business. Profit is not the only thing that counts.” She is convinced there is a great future for small companies. “People like to buy special products with a story. That is what we sell: coffee blends that are accompanied by beautiful stories of all those people involved in the supply chain from farmer to consumer. That explains my slogan: Every bean, a story.”
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