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.
It was revealed that the “mystery coffee” was scheduled to be shipped to Newark, New Jersey. The buyer was The Coexist Foundation, a British charity with offices in Washington DC.
This knowledge thoroughly pissed me off…I was about as angry as a wasp being chased by a Zebra! But what good was anger? It was good for motivation to confront the duplicity while still in Uganda. And that is what we did.
We asked for a second meeting with the Cooperative Board to discuss the matter of the 250 sacks…being sold directly to one of Thanksgiving’s wholesale coffee accounts. That “customer” had become aware Mirembe Kawomera through the media’s reports on my company’s decade-long collaboration with Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative.
So, that was my beef. Why did the cooperative not see this end-around? Why did this important customer go around the roaster who they came to for a proposed collaboration?
There are always many stories in a screenplay, such as the one Nick and I found us in. And, we were in Uganda, about to be in a semi-barren second floor meeting room, just chairs and walls not yet painted.
We sat together for three hours with the board and I expressed my surprise to learn that we had different ideas about our relationship and by open discussion, with many pointed questions (“where are the payment records for those coffees?”) and much talk about Transparency. Everybody knew something was wrong. There were those that were in on the deal and those who knew for the first time that “a deal went down” and they were not a part of it. There was a lot of discovery but nothing was revealed. No one got hurt in the scuffle. There were no indelible scars that would hinder future Trust developing.
Five concrete measures were decided on as a result of the conversations and cross conversations:
- A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Thanksgiving Coffee Company and The Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative is needed so as to define the authorities and responsibilities, and the quantifiable goals and objectives of each Business.
- That the Cooperative members could produce four containers yearly and to be successful, it needed to have the financing to be able to purchase cherry or parchment from their members.
- The Washing Station needed to be expanded from being able to process one container to two containers by August 2014.
- Solar Driers needed to be installed to handle the increased volume of washed coffee.
- Thanksgiving Coffee had not expanded the roasted retail market in The USA to meet the needs of the cooperatives members. If Thanksgiving Coffee was to keep its exclusive relationship with the PK Cooperative, it was going to have to find homes for the three containers it did not purchase.
It was late afternoon and the heat of mid day was just a sweet memory. The sun was low and there was an orange tint to the air and everything solid and in the sunlight’s way. The meeting disbursed in a flurry of people going off in different directions amid the “good nights” and “see you tomorrows”. We covered a lot of ground during that meeting. It was a workout but through it I learned about the people I was going to be working with. We had discovered a “problem of ethics” and came to terms with no blame placed, and no sermons either. The room was filled with people who knew “when to leave well enough alone”. We all got it, so we moved on.
And so the long day ended at our very fancy hotel where JB and Juma joined us at the pool. JB is the Cooperatives GM and Juma is the Special Projects Director. They are payed by the cooperative to run the coop’s operations.
Sorry for the long delay, the next part of this ongoing story will be posted soon.
Here are links to the first 7 parts of this ongoing story:
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery