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The Brewing Change Team – Heroes in the Battle for Social Justice.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being in my forties is that I find enjoyment in the everyday of life. I enjoy hearing the birds chirp in the morning, watching the grass grow, the leaves change from green to brown to eventually falling from the trees, children playing, the sun rising in the morning, the rain hitting my window pain, and simply reflecting on how blessed I am to be healthy and alive.  I quite literally find joy in the everyday of life.  And it is with this mindset in which I approach my day. My daily goal is to think positive thoughts and I make the conscious decision to only connect with others who are positive thinkers.  The Brewing Change Team is a team of positive thinkers who are committed to bringing forth social justice and I am proud to be a member.

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When you have a company that specializes in building and managing social networks connecting with positive thinking people, it is not only preferred, it is extremely beneficial.  I live my life according to the principle that a positive mental attitude and definiteness of purpose is the starting point toward all worthwhile achievement. It is within that context that I created my company King Connections a business-consulting firm that specializes in building and managing social networks and leveraging them into connected-engaged communities. As a Benefits Corporation and Conscious Capitalist I choose to work only with socially responsible businesses, CEOs, and non-profits organizations whose mission is to serve others in a positive-measurable impactful process. My personal standard that I set for myself is that my I am not finished until my smile bring forth smiles on the faces of others and this can only be accomplished by ensuring that my clients and their stakeholders benefit. Being a member of the Brewing Change Team allows me to work with 15 other likeminded individuals who believe in that same standard.

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  There is nothing more gratifying than working with clients and projects that are aligned with my values, particularly those that connect with me spiritually and elevate my consciousness to the next level. The Brewing Change crowd funding campaign is just such a project.  The Brewing Change crowd funding campaign is created for two primary purposes.  The first is to raise $500,000 for my client Blessed Coffee who will use the money as a down payment on a community-coffee café in Takoma Park, MD.  The second is to implement the founders of Blessed Coffee Tebabu’s and Sara’s socially conscious business model Virtuous Exchange.  This quest has assembled the most diverse team of individuals that I have ever had the privilege of working with.

 Starting with its founders and creators, Tebabu Assefa and Sara Mussie, two paragons of virtue that I feel blessed to know their acquaintance.  Their compassion and desire to destroy a horrible injustice that they have witnessed perpetrated on coffee farmers in their home country of Ethiopia has inspired policy makers, community leaders, business associations, friends, colleagues, universities, non-profit organizations and family members to join their noble cause.  What I find to be most extraordinary is the diversity of cultures, races, religions, genders, and ethnic backgrounds in Tebabu’s and Sara’s social network. 

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We have consistently gathered bi-weekly for the past 11 weeks and before each meeting begins this diverse team of individuals sit down to a delicious, healthy, and beautifully prepared meal.  I personally believe that the love and attention that Tebabu and Sara put into making the food sets the framework for an evening filled with spirited discussions of which each member is actively and passionately engaged.

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After the delightful and always colorful meal we begin each meeting with a check-in.  In which each team member is giving the opportunity to share what is happening in their life while the others empathically listen.   Tebabu always surprises the team by inviting guests to each meeting consisting of State Senator Jamie Raskin, Takoma Park City Council members Terry Seamens, Seth Grimes, and Jarred Smith and occasionally we are fortunate to have a guest from overseas such as Tadesse Meskela the founder and general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union and the inspiration behind Blessed Coffee.  Each meeting concludes with a check-out, which is usually a one word description of how each team member is currently feeling.  Words such as elated, inspired, moved, excited, and passionate are what you typically hear.  Out of all the business meetings that I attend the Brewing Change Team’s are the most spiritually uplifting and personally heartwarming.

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Being a part of the Brewing Change Team has impacted my life in a positive way and has truly taught me the true significance behind the Stephen R. Covey poem

“I sought my God, and my God I could not find/I sought my soul, and my soul eluded me/I sought to serve my brother in his need, and I found all three/My God, my soul, and thee.”

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Age-Old Ethiopian Spices, Offered in a New Way

 

Tebabu, Sara, Dawit, Stefanos

 

Where can you find some of the DC Metro Area’s most interesting and innovative young entrepreneurs?  If it’s a weekday evening in Takoma Park, probably at a Brewing Change campaign team meeting. 

The Brewing Change campaign team has been convening throughout the summer, meeting every other Wednesday in Sara and Tebabu’s living room.  The team will continue to meet regularly through the campaign launch date of September 22nd.    

Meetings are energetic gatherings full of ideas, planning, compromising, organizing and lots of good food and guests! Meetings are open to the public and all who are interested in learning about Blessed Coffee, the campaign, and Virtuous Exchange are invited to attend. 

Stefanos  Ghebrehawariat and Dawit Kahsai were among the guests at the team’s most recent meeting.  By day, Stefanos is a technology consultant and Dawit works on policy issues for AARP.  But the two are also aspiring entrepreneurs—hoping to bring high quality, traditional Ethiopian spices to the American market.

Stefanos and Dawit were drawn to the campaign team meeting as a result of an earlier conversation with Tebabu.  After learning about Blessed Coffee, they’d sought him out for a bit of sage advice on business start-up.  But, after an hour and a half meeting with him, they realized that they were getting a whole lot more. “We started off the meeting wanting advice on how to launch a business, but we walked away with a vision,” confided Stefanos. 

First, their business idea:  Stefanos and Dawit plan to sell high quality Berbere and Shiro (two Ethiopian spices) online in the US.  Berbere is a spice blend of red chili and garlic.  Ethiopian celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson calls Berbere, “the most essential spice blend used in Ethiopian cuisine.” Shiro is also a blend and has as its main ingredient dried chickpeas. 

According to Stefanos, it’s very difficult to get good Berbere and Shiro in the US because manufacturers are focused on the bottom line, not using high quality ingredients and processing with care.  The Berbere that they will be selling uses Stefanos’ mom’s recipe. 

Now, here’s their vision:  The guys will connect gifted women spice producers in Ethiopia directly to hungry consumers in the US.  Using the Virtuous Exchange model, Stefanos and Dawit are moving from what was formerly a brokerage relationship with the women spice makers to a partnership with more benefit sharing. 

“At first, we just thought it was enough to meet demand.  But, the Virtuous Exchange model tells us that’s not enough.  We have to genuinely serve each of these communities–producers and consumers,” remarked Stefanos.  Stefanos went on to say that he and Dawit are still figuring out how to bring consumers into the process in a meaningful way, but added that just thinking about it has been a rewarding exercise. 

Others will soon have an opportunity to meet Stefanos and Dawit and learn more about Berbere and Shiro than any resident of the DMV has a right to know.  They will have a tent at the 3rd Annual Ethiopian Festival in downtown Silver Spring on September 15th.  Join them and help celebrate the launch of their new new e-commerce website, happening that day!

Interested in attending a Brewing Change campaign team meeting?  Please contact Tebabu at tebabu@blessedcoffee.us.

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Virtuous Exchange Goes Beyond Fair Trade

Over the past four decades, the work of socially conscious entrepreneurs and consumers has helped to turn the phrase “Fair Trade” into a household name.  More than ever, consumers are paying attention to the producers of the goods that they purchase—wanting to ensure that they are working in safe conditions, receiving fair pay, and have opportunities for growth.  Undoubtedly, efforts rooted in the principles of Fair Trade have resulted in improved lives for many small-scale producers in developing countries. 

But, some would argue that it is time to grow beyond Fair Trade in our efforts to provide equity in the global marketplace.    

In a recent article from IRIN (the news and analysis website for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Abdullah Bagersh of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange had this to say:   "Despite farmers' praise, some remain concerned that fair trade represents another form of charity that does not enable self-sufficiency.  . . . Farmers must adhere to strict [fair trade] practices or risk losing the market they have committed to and become dependent on. Others argue the system splits communities along the lines of farmers who qualify for fair trade premiums and those that do not."

Blessed Coffee aspires to take that next step–improving upon Fair Trade by embracing what's best about it (fair prices, ethical treatment, sustainable practices), and then adding in the relationship building, mutual benefit and empowerment that have been missing. Blessed Coffee calls this next step Virtuous Exchange.    

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About Blessed Coffee

Blessed Coffee (BC) is based on the philosophy, "from the farmer to your cup" and is established as a socially responsible business and trade geared towards development in coffee growing regions as well as in communities in the US where coffee is sold.


The Nation’s second Benefit Corporation
The significance and common good of the founding philosophy was recently confirmed through the enactment of the "Benefit Corporation," a new legislation signed into law in April 2010 in the state of Maryland. The first of its kind in the nation it is a hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit models that aims for community benefits as well as profits. BC is the second company to be registered under the Benefit Corporation law. BC's model is more than compelling; it resonates at multiple levels: the desire for the very best, the appeal of culture as well as the aspiration to produce common good for farmers in Ethiopia and communities in the US.

By working with Ethiopian coffee cooperatives and directly with 180,000 small farmers that have a stake in BC's success, BC brings light to the rich Ethiopian coffee tradition and introduces premium grade, shade grown, organic Ethiopian coffees. Getting the coffee directly from the farmers and bypassing several middle agents provides a bigger profit margin (US$2.50 per pound to US$13.00) for coffee growers.

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High value profit sharing arrangements and BC's long standing association with the small coffee growers secures its access to the highest grade of beans in regions renowned for producing the world's finest coffees. The same arrangements guarantee that quality is maintained in each step of the logistics chain – including 18 quality control checks during the crucial sorting and washing processes. The result is a branded product with a discernable difference in both taste and consistency.

As BC grows and expands its market share and variety of supply, small coffee farmers from other cooperative unions in Ethiopia and other African countries will establish a business relationship with other small coffee farmers in Ethiopia and other African coffee growing countries. Support and endorsement of BC's business concept has been received from Congressman Mike Honda, Chair of the US Congressional Ethiopian Caucus; the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC; Governor of Maryland and the Governor's Commission for African affairs. BC has also been awarded a Congratulatory Citation is from the General Assembly of the State of Maryland.

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Virtuous Exchange

What is Virtuous Exchange?

VE is a business model that facilitates businesses in:

• Directly connecting producers and consumers.

• Providing access to active investment and significant benefit sharing to the producers, consumers, and other stakeholders involved in every transaction.

• Developing engagement, production, transaction, and marketing processes that are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.

• Adding value to the lives of others, while building community.

How is Virtuous Exchange different from Fair Trade?

While Virtuous Exchange embraces Fair Trade’s principles of helping producers in developing countries obtain fair prices, be treated ethically, and implement environmentally sustainable practices, VE goes beyond Fair Trade to:

• Provide producers with significantly higher benefit—sharing up to 50% of profits.

• Offer producers attainable investment opportunity—making possible an ownership stake in the business.

• Recognize and appreciate the human element inherent in trade. Producers become more than commodities. Their cultural and social traditions are honored and shared in every transaction.

• Set a higher bar for socially conscious businesses. Rather than simply meeting a set of standards, VE asks businesses to be in real relationship with producers and consumers and uniquely connect them in ways that have the best interests of both, and our world, at heart.

How is Blessed Coffee implementing the Virtuous Exchange model?

• Blessed Coffee connects consumers and coffee growers by purchasing coffee directly from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Union which represents more than 240,000 small coffee growers.

• Ultimately, Blessed Coffee will offer farmers a 50% investment opportunity in Blessed Coffee and provide 50% equal benefit sharing of the profit from the wholesale revenue stream. Blessed Coffee will also offer 50% of the profit from the retail business (Blessed Coffee Café) to local nonprofits that provide vital public good. Lastly, Blessed Coffee offers community investment opportunity to small investors from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

• Blessed Coffee will pay employees a living wage. Additionally, Blessed Coffee will continue to use community organizations and networks for marketing and as sales agents, forgoing expensive advertising campaigns and instead leveraging community support to raise visibility.

• Blessed Coffee will create a social and cultural hub, the Blessed Coffee Café, for communities to forge relationships and exchange cultural and artistic reflections.