This September, my boyfriend, Tyson Adams, and I are moving to a remote village in Laos to build Jhai Coffee House.
We believe that the traditional charity model is broken, as it remains perpetually dependent on donations. Our solution? A social business inspired by microfinance concept founder Muhammad Yunus in Laos. Jhai will be the world’s first completely philanthropic coffee roaster and café located at the source. All profits will be invested into sanitation education and clean water projects in the local Laos coffee growing community.
Muhammad Yunus says, “A charity dollar has only one life, but a social business dollar can be recycled many times.” We plan to do that, and here's why.
As a part of its efforts during the Vietnam War, the U.S dropped a planeload of cluster bombs on Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine straight years. This makes Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita, in the world. A third of these bombs did not explode and still remain littered throughout the country, waiting for unsuspecting victims (40 percent of them children). Laos has spent the last 40 years rebuilding, effectively leading to a clean water and sanitation crisis.
Only half of the rural population of Laos has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, resulting in diarrheal disease marked as the second biggest killer of children under the age of five. We believe clean water and sanitation are fundamental human rights, not a privilege. Our goal is to help bring improved sanitation and clean water to the 1400 families in 58 villages within the Jhai Coffee Farmer's Cooperative (JCFC) on the Bolaven Plateau—by the end of 2014.
We’re partnering with Green Discovery, the largest adventure travel and ecotourism company in Laos to offer our coffee tour package to their many clients. We'll offer a hands-on plantation tour amidst a dramatic landscape and showcase Laos coffee at our roaster, with coffee cupping and a beautiful, Asian fusion meal. As true Seattleites, we love coffee. Not only does it hold tremendous global value, but it's also the means to our mission. The JCFC is already established in this region in Laos and they are eager to learn how to better and more sustainably cultivate their lifeblood crop.
Most coffee growing regions in the world have never even tasted their own coffee, including Laos. By roasting coffee at the source, we open up the opportunity for farmers to try high-quality roasted coffee. Over time, this will increase the quality of coffee, as we’ll be able to identify and incentivize the villages that produce the best beans so that better growing and cultivation practices are adopted throughout the region. Additionally, allowing the community to try their own coffee carries the scale of this project full circle, resulting in greater pride and higher quality coffee. Exceptional coffee will create more demand globally.
With giving comes great responsibility. For this reason, we require that each village co-invest 15 percent of the costs into the clean water and sanitation projects in their village. This creates a sense of empowerment and ownership in their journey to overcoming their problems. The way of administering aid responsibly is evolving. If a nonprofit doesn't provide social impact metrics, they shouldn't be funded. Our donors, investors, partners and the community at large deserve the right to know how our projects are making a measurable impact in the community and we will therefore always strive for transparency.
By creating a sustainable philanthropic entity, we will measure our success not by the amount of money our coffee business brings in, but by the number of people who gain access to clean water sources and better sanitation. We hope to create an opportunity for better health and wellness for the beautiful people of Laos so that they can shift their focus from survival to education and improved livelihoods.
This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.