Kimberly Easson and Karen Cebreros
Cofounders, International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA)
They launched a nonprofit that helps women in coffee-growing countries through training and financial aid. Women do the majority of coffee planting and harvesting, but most own no land and earn little. The IWCA aims to get them a fair share.
Cebreros, 59, founder of Elan Organic Coffees, began taking Americans in the coffee business to Central America in 1992. She wanted them to understand organic cultivation and see the harsh conditions in countries of origin: “The first trips were all men. They’d say, ‘The poverty is terrible!’ but nothing changed.” She discussed it with Easson, now 47, president of Java Ventures, which organizes educational tours for industry professionals. “Kim and I thought women would act,” Cebreros says. In 2003 they made the trip with 17 other women.
The big jolt
“We visited a women-led cooperative in Nicaragua, where they were organizing despite poverty and domestic violence,” Easson recalls. “They’d built a one-room schoolhouse that had walls but no roof. They told us, ‘We’re just like you—we want to do business with dignity and feed our families.’ That was the real connection.”
Later on, the visitors passed a hat and raised $500 to finish the school. Then Easson, Cebreros and four other industry women created the IWCA (womenincoffee.org). Funded by businesses, foundations and individuals, it will have 23 chapters next year.
IWCA training has helped more than 500 women. In Uganda, for example, 40 small farmers, most single moms or widows, formed the Chebonet Women Coffee Development Association and upped their income. A new Women’s Harvest brand in Costa Rica has increased revenues for 25 growers; some of the profits are used to support the education of girls. Cebreros now works with the German-based Neumann Foundation, which is partnering with the IWCA, among others, to train families in sustainable agriculture and gender equity.
“When you visit women in remote areas, sit on a dirt floor, share a meal and conversation, you really get that you’re the same,” Easson says. “For these women to feel that there’s someone on the other side of the planet who’s their partner and friend is the best part.”
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