It was at a gathering organized by the American Sustainable Business Council in early 2013 where I had my first encounter with Tebabu Assefa, the charismatic and outspoken Founder and Chief Story Teller of Blessed Coffee. True to his title, Tebabu took the floor towards the end of the meeting to tell the story of Blessed Coffee and the company’s mission to right injustices in the coffee industry where coffee farmers struggle to meet the needs of their families on the small amount of money they earn from the sale of coffee beans and consumers in the United States pay a high markup for a final product, which allows middlemen to generate higher profits at both ends of the value chain. Although I was intrigued by Tebabu’s remarks, it wasn’t until a few months later at another event for socially responsible businesses where our paths crossed again and a connection was forged around our mutual interest in international development.
Soon afterwards, Tebabu and I met to discuss his plans for launching a crowdfunding campaign that would take fair trade to the next level by sharing a greater portion of profits with coffee producers, supporting environmentally sustainable practices through the cultivation of premium organic coffee, and strengthening cultural and economic ties between Africa and the United States. Although the initial intent was to generate a community-based fundraising campaign for opening a café in Takoma Park, Maryland that would invest in both coffee producing and consuming communities, the larger goal was to demonstrate a model for other social entrepreneurs seeking to transform an unjust status quo through the power of business, known as Virtuous Exchange. Excited by the opportunity to support a new approach to doing business with the potential to grow beyond Ethiopian coffee to include other products, I signed Shifting Patterns up with a group of community activists and socially responsible businesses that Tebabu and Sara, his wife and business partner, were forming to launch the Brewing Change Campaign.
From our first meeting there was a high level of enthusiasm and excitement among Campaign members to contribute our special talents to a movement that we were committed to taking from a concept to reality. While our connection to Blessed Coffee served as a common bond between us, we needed to transition from a group of individuals who had never worked together before to an effective team. To begin with, the 16 Campaign members brought different skill sets to the table, including art, law, organization development, communications, technology, community activism, and real estate. To facilitate this transition, Shifting Patterns took on the role of providing backbone support to the Campaign, which included facilitating meetings, establishing a project timeline, monitoring the achievement of tasks, and creating the space for interpersonal and sub-group interactions. Soon after the group was formed, it became clear that a team charter was needed to clarify our goal and team member roles as well as set expectations for how we would work together. Shifting Patterns facilitated the development of this charter and secured a commitment from each team member to abide by it.
After several months of hard work that included developing a Brewing Change web site, creating a crowdfunding page on Indiegogo, producing a video, reaching out to hundreds of contacts to enlist their support, and promoting the Campaign at local festivals, the Brewing Change Campaign was officially launched on October 23rd at an Ethiopian restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland. While the main purpose was to introduce Brewing Change to Blessed Coffee friends and supporters and begin raising funds, this event also served as a community gathering where members came together to share a meal, participate in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and listen to a singing group.
With the Brewing Change Campaign well underway, the team paused to capture lessons learned, such as: the importance of establishing a clearly defined and achievable goal, clarifying team member roles and responsibilities, modeling open communication, having an accountability mechanism in place for completion of assigned tasks, balancing the need for structure with self-direction, and establishing a support system for the team as a whole and individual members. Beyond the experience of participating in the transformation from a group of individuals with different backgrounds and talents into a collaborative team, I’ve also benefitted from getting to know an amazing group of people and participating in a movement that has the potential transform the way in which we engage in economic transactions.
Thanks to Blessed Coffee, we have the opportunity to shift our perspective from passive consumers to active participants in a virtuous exchange where the relationships we create are as equally important as the dollars we spend. To learn more about the Brewing Change Campaign or make a contribution, visit http://www.brewingchange.us/brewing-change/.
Shifting Patterns is a socially responsible consulting firm that facilitates social change by working alongside social enterprises to mobilize resources for addressing today's most pressing challenges while developing the internal support systems needed for longer-term sustainability. Kimberley Jutze is the firm's Chief Change Architect. To learn more, visit their website at www.shifting-patterns.com.