The Microfinance Summit… Bean There, Dunn That

The International Microfinance Summit on Saturday, Sept 17, was nothing short of great.  It was a day packed with information and discoveries and networking.

I arrived at a somewhat brutal 6:45 am to set up the Cuppa Change booth in the Summit’s Micro Marketplace, where micro-enterprises were given a chance to show their wares and share their story with Summit attendees.

Allstream Centre, CNE Grounds, Toronto ON

Kevin Walters from Alternative Grounds  staffed our Cuppa Change booth, selling coffee, talking to people about fair trade and the issues affecting fair trade workers.

Kevin Walters of Alternative Grounds at the Cuppa Change booth

I learned a lot from just listening to Kevin speak to customers.  Green coffee is generally shipped by container, in 250-bag lots.  That’s too much coffee to order for one roaster.  But Alternative Grounds is a member of Cooperative Coffees, a network of fair trade roasters.  So, each year, together, they are able, as a cooperative, to import 100 cases of fair trade coffee from 12 countries around the world.  In accordance with fair trade principles, Alternative Grounds and its partners make a partial pre-payment to the farmers when they buy coffee, to enable the farmers to live in the long period between when their coffee is harvested, processed, shipped, and when it arrives at its final destination.  Traditional purchasing of coffee doesn’t include this partial pre-payment.  So this is one way in which Alternative Grounds, our coffee supplier for Cuppa Change, makes a significant difference in the lives of people around the world.  Thank you, Alternative Grounds.

While Kevin took care of our booth, I rushed around, attending several very interesting sessions before my own session in the afternoon.

The first was about local microfinancing models.  Access Community Capital Fund  is a local charity helping people access microfinance loans here in Canada.  One woman, Buchi Onakufe, was an inspiring speaker.  She arrived in Canada from Nigeria in 2000 with a university certificate in microbiology – but could not find a job.  So she started looking for a business she could run that would fill a need and stand out.  She asked herself, what can I do that no one else is doing?  She realized that one of the main staples in Nigeria is tomato paste – but also knew that tomatoes do not grow well in Nigeria.  She had an idea: why not become an exporter of tomatoes to Nigeria?  She received a loan from Access Community Capital Fund and went through their training to develop her business plan, market research, skills and strategy.  Now Buchi is the CEO of Oluchi Group Canada, the sole Canadian exporter of Primo tomato paste to Nigeria.  She said that Access was like ‘a bank with a conscience.’  High praise.

Another session introduced the audience to microfinance initiatives in Latin America.  Katie Marney is in charge of External Affairs for Wasiymi Wasiki and told us about their Conectados (Connected) project, which installs sustainable computer lab centres in disadvantaged Peruvian schools.  The goal is to improve education and social issues through increased access to information and people.

Katie talked about Wasiymi Wasiki’s efforts to get one school in Peru connected.  Her team realized that the villagers could not afford an internet connection without cutting back on food – an untenable proposition.  So the new question became, how to create a sustainable situation for this school, so it could earn enough to get and stay connected?  Guinea pigs are a traditional
food of the Incas, and so the community decided to build a guinea pig farm at
the school.  There is a notion of ‘Afina’ in Peru – a community work day where everyone drops his or her own agenda and works together on a common project – and so the whole village came out to make adobe bricks and build the stables for the guinea pigs.  Now, through the sale of guinea pigs, the whole community has a sustainable business that benefits everyone.  Go to
for more on this story.

After lunch, I spoke about Cuppa Change on a panel called ‘Social Enterprises: Transforming Lives By Linking Markets’.  Julie McDowell, President of TARIS
Incorporated and Founder of ClearlySo Canada was our moderator.

There were three of us on the panel, covering the spectrum of social enterprises.  Angie Draskovic, founder & CEO of ZOË Alliance Inc.  sells promotional items made in micro-enterprises in several countries.  Visit ZOË Alliance’s website if your company is looking for a different kind of corporate gift – one that can connect you to your clients while also doing a lot of good, too.  Angie challenges companies here who purchase gifts for their clients or employees to spend 10% on fair trade goods – or even to just choose one corporate event a year where they give away fair trade goods.  It’s a great idea.

Tal Dehtiar is founder of Oliberté Footwear, the first premium footwear company to make its product in Africa. Oliberté shoes and boots are beautiful and Tal’s making a difference in Africa by doing business there.

And I told the story of Cuppa Change: how we came to be, what we’ve done so far, and where we hope to go.  I was asked a very interesting question about Cuppa Change’s coffee supply and what impact it had on the environment.  Here is the answer:

First of all, Alternative Grounds’ coffee bags are paper and compostable; everything except for the tin tie, which can be ripped off prior to composting.  On top of being able to compost and bio-recycle their new coffee paper bags, you can also re-use your bag and get ten cents off each time you purchase coffee at the café.  New this year are 5-lb paper valve bags, replacing the plastic 5-lb valve bags.  In fact, all of Alternative Grounds’ take-out ware at its Roncesvalles store is compostable – even the coffee lids and the straws.  And you get a discount when you bring your own re-usable food containers.

Secondly, the “shade-grown” initiative by the Smithsonian, which everyone has heard so much about, was targeted at large scale, full-sun plantations, not small farms and cooperatives.  Fair trade coffee producers are only responsible for 1-2% of coffee production, and they generally cannot afford the pesticides and fertilizers required in full sun cultivation.  Most fair trade coffee producers have always grown organically – fertilizers and pesticides are things companies from developed countries have tended to try and sell to them.  In terms of other eco-impact, Alternative Grounds feels that paying farmers properly and supporting them in their sustainable practices help keep folks on the land and keep communities healthy, rather than uprooting families who migrate to the cities and shantytowns where there is little opportunity.

All in all, The International Microfinance Summit was a great day where I talked to a lot of people about Cuppa Change.  We’re looking forward to more organizations and schools taking on Cuppa Change as an initiative to sell fair trade coffee and effect social change with the proceeds.


One response to “The Microfinance Summit… Bean There, Dunn That

  1. I found this by chance today. It was nice meeting you all from Cuppa Change… I hope the work is going well and to see you all again

    Katie Marney

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