Bloomberg’s African investment
Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested millions of dollars into building the capacity of female coffee farmers in East Africa, with some exceptional results.
The Rwandan coffee industry is one of the shining examples of the positive impact that the embrace of specialty coffee can have on producer nations that have faced challenging political and civil situations.
In 1994, Rwanda was torn apart by a devastating conflict that pitted the majority Hutu people against their Tutsi compatriots.
Now, just over two decades later, Rwanda’s economy has recovered strongly, powered in large part by its agricultural sector, of which coffee is an important and fast-growing component.
But at the heart of the Rwandan coffee industry’s success is the role that is played by women. It is enhancing this role that has been the focus of the Relationship Coffee Institute, a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies and Sustainable Harvest to bring economic development to low-income rural women based in Rwanda.
“An investment in women is an investment in the community, in the country and in the world,” Verna Eggleston, Director of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Women’s Economic Development program in Africa, tells Global Coffee Report.
World Bank data shows that 90 per cent of a woman’s income goes into the family, whereas a male counterpart would reinvest only 40 to 60 per cent of their income.
“By increasing women’s economic opportunities in the region our programs are assisting women and their families in becoming full economic citizens,” Eggleston says.
It is this belief in the power of women as agents of economic development that was behind Bloomberg Philanthropies’ announcement in September 2016, to invest US$10 million to expand the organisation’s women’s economic development program in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The funding announcement marks the continuation of a program dedicated to helping improve the livelihoods of female coffee farmers in the region that has been active since 2013.
“We partnered with Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers in 2013, when both the government of Rwanda and Congo were seeking partners to assist them in moving small farm holders’ products, into the larger international marketplace as a way to create economic opportunities for the families, communities and the country,” Eggleston says.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has embraced Sustainable Harvest’s economic Relationship Model of development for low-income rural farmers in East Africa and Latin America, which utilises direct trade and fosters a closer connection between farmers and consumers.
The initial phase of this partnership succeeded in training 4001 female coffee growers in Rwanda to increase the harvest and bring to the market high quality coffee from crop to cup. In just one year, the participants’ yield increased by 73 per cent and, despite falling coffee prices on the international market, the farmers’ incomes increased by 71 per cent, Eggleston says.
“Together, we created the Relationship Coffee Institute (RCI), which works with women farmers to cultivate sustainable agriculture techniques that improve the quality and increase the production of coffee,” she says.
The Institute teaches women how to produce specialty-grade coffee through hands-on training, as well as introducing women to roasters from around the world and helping them learn from other farmers across the globe through Sustainable Harvest’s Let’s Talk Coffee platform.
“In Rwanda, our program is providing life-changing education and technical training that help women – all of whom have survived the hardships of conflict and war – move from being survivors to active citizens contributing to the country’s economic development,” Eggleston tells GCR.
So far, Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded the training and education of more than 150,000 women with vocational skills such as hospitality, artisan crafts making and coffee farming and exporting. It has also increased the income of women participating by 111 per cent, which, according to Bloomberg’s reporting, has positively impacted close to a half million of their children and family members.
“We just recently announced a partnership with Marriott International’s first hotel in Rwanda to provide the hotel with locally grown coffee from women participating in the business training program, who are now contributing to Rwanda’s growing hospitality, crafts and agriculture industry on a larger scale,” she adds.
This newest round of funding will allow the institute to reach an additional 25,000 women, with the aim of giving them the occupational training and opportunity to better their quality of life.
Eggleston says that Bloomberg Philanthropies chose to work with Sustainable Harvest due to their innovative economic Relationship Model of development.
“They taught farmers not only how to increase productivity and quality of their crop, but how to process and market their coffee to compete in a global market,” she says. “In order to build the Rwandan domestic coffee market for the women’s coffee, Relationship Coffee Institute created a new coffee brand, Question Coffee, and opened a retail café and a wholesale business.”
As well as Sustainable Harvest, the Rwandan Government has been an active supporter of this work.
“Government involvement and political will is core to everything that Bloomberg Philanthropies does, as it ensures the success and helps bring effective programs to scale,” Eggleston tells GCR. “Relationship Coffee Institute would not be successful without government involvement. The Rwandan government made a decision to focus on coffee production and tourism and in doing so has helped to develop a sustainable infrastructure so that this program can flourish. In order to have the deepest impact and affect the most lives, you must partner with government so that programs can be fully realised and brought to scale.”
Eggleston tells GCR that much of the success of this program is due to the strong emphasis the Rwandan government has placed on the role of women in the nation’s coffee industry.
“The government has enhanced the effort by its very intentional focus on elevating the visibility of the women in the value chain,” she says. “These women are eager to work and provide for their communities and the Rwandan government is focused on building agriculture as a core business. It is also the model; it’s not just about growing coffee it’s about educating the women about the coffee industry by providing emphasis on quality, relationships, transparency, and sustainability throughout the supply chain.”
As part of this recently announced funding, Bloomberg Philanthropies also intends to expand its premium share program. This is an award program that gives farmers points when they have learned and applied a technique. They can trade the points and buy household, farming and personal items from the premium share catalogue. Currently the premium share program is completely funded by the coffee purchased by Bloomberg corporate offices and is set to be rolled out to other corporate customers in the near future.
The organisation also plans to work with the government to create a national standard for coffee producers, as well as expanding the Question Coffee brand.
“It has a story on each bag about the region where the coffee is grown,” Eggleston says. “Question Coffee is a model encouraging consumers to ‘Question Everything’, about where your products are coming from and how they have been grown or made.”
While these are all plans for the future, there is plenty of evidence in the present that the project is making a difference, Eggleston says.
“We have already seen the secondary impact this initiative has had on [the womens’] children and families. Since the start of our investment, more than 105,000 of our participants’ children have enrolled in school now that the family can afford school fees and uniforms. In an impact study completed by KPMG, women who participated in Bloomberg-funded initiatives are completing births in hospitals, growing community gardens, eating healthier and have expanded their social support groups. They are moving from being survivors to active citizens contributing to their country’s growing economy.” GCR