Specialty coffee, a fertile ground for social entrepreneurship
Jean-Guy Charron, Michel Charron and Martin Brière, the three partners of Café éveil, decided to invest in social entrepreneurship following their respective successful careers in distribution and marketing. Passionate about travel, cultural encounters and exploration, the three adventuresome social entrepreneurs decided to tackle the coffee industry value chain with its on-going lack of transparency, abuse of children, erosion of social structure, inequity and malnutrition.
This new value chain is based on the partnership between the different players. We called it « Sharetrade »: which is the result of a new vision of trade relations.
Benefits that are not distributed equitably
Consumption of Specialty coffee in Canada and the United States has seen extraordinary growth, yet little of the profits return to the producing countries. The situation has improved in recent decades due, in part, to “Fairtrade.” Fairtrade can set a fair purchase price for coffee farmers, but the vast majority of the profits from coffee sales remain in Western countries. This is one of the key findings that led Jean-Guy Charron, Michel Charron and Martin Brière to become social entrepreneurs in the field of coffee.
“Fairtrade” to “Sharetrade”: a new form of social entrepreneurship
It is at the level of profit-sharing that the approach of Café éveil goes much further: giving 100% of the profits to local communities by funding community projects and getting involved with all the stakeholders – from the producer to the retailers. The current value chain is replaced by a new chain that is truly more equitable.
This new value chain is based on the partnership between the different players. We called it « Sharetrade »: which is the result of a new vision of trade relations. And we hope to inspire other social entrepreneurs to adopt it because much remains to be accomplished, especially in Guatemala. explains Martin Brière.
The original idea: create a Specialty coffee for an exceptional cause
Returning from a trip to Laos, Michel Charron brought back green coffee beans and proposed that he and his brother Jean-Guy get into the coffee business. Jean-Guy, who was lucky to retire early thanks to his computer business, was looking for a social entrepreneurship project.
It was an idea that I had been nurturing for some time. I wanted to help poor communities develop their full autonomy, he says. Martin Brière, a friend of the family, immediately embraced the idea and joined the project. This is how three entrepreneurs brought together their capital and skills to launch Café éveil.
Café éveil launches its first social entrepreneurship project in Guatemala
An exceptional cause benefits a community that produces exceptional coffee. Since the coffee from Asia did not meet the requirements of a so-called third-wave Specialty coffee in terms of taste and quality, the three partners turned to Central America. Famous for producing excellent Arabica coffees, their choice settled on Guatemala, a country that produces coffee beans highly prized for their quality and whose economic and social situation is worrisome: for example, it is the country that employs the most children in Latin America. It is estimated that approximately 850,000 children¹, between five and fourteen years of age, work in order to support their families, and almost half of them are out of school. The literacy rate is among the lowest in the Americas and only a third of the children continue their studies beyond primary school.
It is a country where one can easily become involved, as our exploratory trips confirmed, explains Jean-Guy Charron.
On a road trip to visit several coffee plantations, accompanied by a friend who happens to be a micro-roasting expert, Jean-Guy met Teodoro, the owner of a coffee farm, whose ethical values match those of Café éveil. He has become a crucial partner.
Projects financed by the founders’ personal capital
The original social entrepreneurship objective was to focus on education, but the reality in the community of Santa Rosa, Guatemala, prompted the three entrepreneurs to abide by the recommendations of partners on-site, thus proper nutrition, education and equity had to be tackled head on.
Thanks to their personal capital, the three partners of Café éveil funded the projects in the coffee-producing community. Jean-Guy invested capital from his company, while Michel and Martin invested their retirement savings. In this region where 50% of the inhabitants are malnourished and only 15% of children continue their studies beyond primary school, it is urgent to act on many fronts.
The social entrepreneurship approach sustains the projects and provides autonomy to the community. We are committed to demonstrating that the « Sharetrade » model is viable and can be replicated in other communities, says Michel Charron.
¹ Selon l’Organisation Internationale du Travail