Nicaragua is one of many countries around the world that produces amazing coffee (and a lot of it) and yet suffers from high levels of poverty and underemployment. It’s hard to imagine when paying $5 for a cup of coffee that anybody in coffee business supply chain would be living in extreme poverty, but we all know the unfortunate truth.
When we set out to discover and empower the talented people of Masatepe, Nicaragua, we knew that artisanship was at the core of the local culture. Masatepe boasts a flourishing furniture industry and many large textile companies, so most people know a craft and are very talented working with their hands.
We once heard a Nicaraguan describe their culture in just these few words, “we are entrepreneurial and industrious”. Due to oppression and poverty, they’ve learned over generations how to create value out of what resources they have available around them.
Don Beto represented the archetypal character of who we had sought out to empower in Masatepe.
Industrious, others-focused, a family man, and a man of strong faith, Don Beto became the namesake of the coffee business, but also a key partner in the non-profit work ITeams is engaged in Masatepe.
By creating endeavors and organizations that value people above profits, we allow ourselves the opportunity to discover these lost stories and uncover this hidden talent.
Our artisan business was born out of a coffee shop. A pile of used burlap coffee sacks sitting in the back of our shop caused us to ask the question, “what could be done with these to upcycle them into something more valuable while retaining the cool-factor considering they are authentic coffee sacks?” Come to think of it, burlap is a widely-used material in both apparel and home-decor, so the options were many.
In Nicaragua, coffee is the #1 export commodity, and therefore coffee sacks are abundant. Given the nature of the export process, thousands of sacks get printed at a time, with information such as the coffee company’s name and the lot information for the coffee that will go in them, but at the end of that specific lot there are inevitably unused sacks that are leftover. Since they have information printed on them for a specific lot, they can no longer be used for future shipments. We discovered that these sacks, if left in storage, will mold and rot due to the humidity of the Nicaraguan climate. So most companies are forced to toss them, burn them, or use them for alternative uses such as trash sacks.
Waste products from any industry often drive up costs or drive down profits. Finding value along that supply chain is beneficial to everyone.
It’s important that as consumers we acknowledge the impact that our consumption has on the environment around us, all the way up and down the supply chain. We often don’t think about the full process, or maybe we don’t understand every step of a product’s creation, but once we do become aware of it, we have a social responsibility in how we respond. The brands we buy reflect the causes we believe in.
For those of us who love coffee and who genuinely care about the environment and social impact, sourcing waste products from the coffee industry and crafting them into valuable products is an opportunity to model our priorities to the world.
The Weidmans set out to discover the hidden talent and resources in Masatepe that the world needed to know about, and happened to find them in the form of Don Beto and used burlap coffee sacks, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Since founding ITeams Nicaragua and Beto’s Coffee Co, the organization has grown to more than 40 people. The hybrid model of for-profit and non-profit work seems to be the secret blend that allows them to honor and empower people while striving for progress and transformation. It’s a model that many people have been encouraged by and many locals have been inspired by.