In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.
But what about the other 250 sacks along that back wall? Where did that come from and how did it pass defect inspection? And where was it going? Who had produced it, who had sold it? Who had purchased it and who had financed it? This was on my mind as we hit the road to Gumutindo’s dry mill, and it would play an important role in the days to come.
These mystery sacks of zero defect, 17 screen (large bean size) ready for export coffee were a sharp contrast to the coffee in parchment set aside for Thanksgiving Coffee’s shipment. Where did they come from? We asked the Board and the General Manager. It was as if we had caught a thief . They could not account for the purchases . There was no record of this coffee being purchased by the cooperative from its members.
Then, as the pressure built for disclosure ( I threatened to dissolve our relationship of 10 years) JJ, the cooperative’s founder revealed that the coffee was for Coexist, a Washington DC based charity with whom Thanksgiving Coffee had developed a relationship a year before.
Coexist had found the Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative through Thanksgiving Coffee’s website and since it was compatible with their mission, they contacted us to ask if we would help them create a Coexist Package to sell Mirembe Kawomera coop coffee to help raise funds for the Interfaith school that the coop members sent their children to in Mbale. We saw this as a win for the Interfaith Community and for Thanksgiving Coffee. We were going to sell more of the this coffee, and share it’s story with a wider audience!
We spent much of the fall of 2013 creating a Coexist package. It should only have taken a couple of weeks but the Coexist people just kept leaving Thanksgiving Coffee’s decade of work out of the story both on their package and on their web site. We finally came to a set of compromises which enabled the bag printers to get the packaging complete and we began to fill their orders and although our story was not all over their web and package, we looked forward to their selling the cooperative’s coffee.
Now, this organization was going around Thanksgiving Coffee, buying directly from the Cooperative. I was shocked and angry. It is one thing to not represent us in the development of the story and how we brought this incredible Interfaith story to the world (and the reason Coexist executives were able to discover them), but it is quite another thing to disrupt a business relationship based on a decade of trust and mutual inspiration.
That is enough reading for today. In my next post I will tell you how we handled this situation, how it changed our plans for the next three days of our trip and caused Nick and I to re-route out flight back thru Washington DC to meet with Coexist’s Executives.
I took this photo of a local artists interpretation of a street market. Total Chaos! The picture was hanging in our Hotel Lobby.