Last month I traveled to Amsterdam, a city brimming with bicycles, breathtaking canals, and stylish residents, to speak at a conference hosted by the Progreso Foundation.
The Progreso Foundation, a Root Capital partner providing critical technical assistance support to smallholder coffee and cocoa farmers across the equatorial band, had convened a group of commodity traders, coffee roasters and chocolatiers, multinational retailers, finance professionals, policy-makers, donors, and investors to share relevant insights and inspiration for collaborative impact in value chains.
We were greeted with a single guiding objective: to devise action-oriented ways to achieve results towards restorative value chains.
We focused our conversations on four main areas:
- The intersection of consumers and sustainability;
- Practicing shared value to restore and preserve fragile ecosystems;
- Innovations in finance to rebuild stronger supply chains; and
- Gathering and measuring impact to better understand the results of our collective efforts.
In the session I led, I talked about Root Capital’s efforts to address the coffee leaf rust, or la roya, outbreak that is devastating coffee farms from southern Mexico to the central valleys of Peru. At Root Capital, we have spent the better part of 2013 designing the Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative, a replicable and scalable model to confront the underlying issues that la roya has uncovered while staying keenly aware that it is the first of many seismic shifts that will affect smallholder farmers today and into the future. We strongly believe that a durable and vibrant supply chain that is good for business and consumers is only truly resilient if the farmer who starts the process is able to provide a better future for his/her children and leave the ecosystem enriched and nourished.
In keeping with the larger objective of the conference, my main goal in presenting the Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative was to offer the audience actionable opportunities to invest, support, seed ideas, and even catalyze similar models to achieve long-term resilience for farmers, communities, the industry, and the Earth. As I finished, I was almost disappointed when the crowd didn’t stand up, cheer and make grandiose commitments (apparently the comportment of a rabble-rouser from the United States is quite different than an active listener from The Netherlands), but the crowd graciously asked many questions and provided thoughtful reflections. Over the coming days, they vigorously followed up through emails, LinkedIn, and phone calls stating their interest to participate, become thought partners, and further develop our ideas. Inquiries and commitments came from those looking to invest in the fund, supply chain partners interested in adding resilience to their cost of goods, and NGOs seeking opportunities to collaborate and launch holistic supply chain innovations. To me, these conversations signaled that others are just as excited about collaboration as we are at Root Capital.
By the end of the conference, we had all come to better understand that working in ‘pathological collaboration’ for a common good benefits everyone from farmers, to communities, to competitors and even those we have yet to meet. It only makes sense that Amsterdam, a city deeply rooted in trade and sustainability, was a springboard for this conversation. Now, it’s time we all jump in and build the interdisciplinary, pre-competitive partnerships necessary to bring lasting change and grow rural prosperity. While the challenge is great, it’s also an exciting, catalytic and necessary opportunity.
Check out this video recap of Let's Talk Coffee, another collaborative, action-oriented conference hosted by Sustainable Harvest in late 2013: