Q&A: The coffee that’s changing the world for the better

This week we chat to Simone Dowding who heads up Change Coffee, World Vision Australia’s first social enterprise. Simone has previously founded a national coffee distribution company and owned a café, but is most passionate about the effect conscious capitalism can have on improving the planet.

ISB: World Vision is known around the world as a charity – what was the inspiration behind branching out into social enterprise?

SD: World Vision Australia views social enterprise as an alternative commercial income stream that can direct profits back into our life-changing programs overseas. World Vision is adopting a purpose driven business model and feels that in order to stay progressive and relevant, social enterprises are a necessary part of that model. These enterprises have been proven to be profitable and can have a huge social impact. Change Coffee recognises that charities can’t solve all the problems the world faces and neither can governments, but we believe businesses can fill the gap.

ISB: And why base your first venture in this space on coffee?

SD: Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day. This level of demand provides an opportunity for coffee drinkers to effect change by simply swapping coffee brands. The beauty of Change Coffee lies in its simplicity – if you want to make a difference and help fight poverty, it’s as easy as having a cup of coffee!

ISB: What was the biggest challenge in getting the enterprise off the ground??

SD: I think the biggest challenge was understanding the coffee industry and consumer market. Coffee is a competitive industry so gaining market share was challenging. Studies show 70 per cent of millennials choose to support products with a cause. This sets Change apart from other brands and is a point of difference for cafes and corporate clients. Another challenge was convincing clients that World Vision Australia could actually make great coffee, but the coffee speaks for itself.

ISB: All profits of Change Coffee go to World Vision’s anti-poverty programs for women: why is it important to you to empower women economically?

SD: When women have access to meaningful work opportunities that are fairly paid, it has a multiplier effect. Which

means that not only do women benefit, but also their families and communities. Empowering women and girls is one of the most effective ways to achieve higher economic growth and better living standards for millions of people in developing countries.

ISB: How do you ensure your products are sourced from growers who adhere to Fairtrade practices?

SD: We are 100 per cent Fairtrade certified. That means our coffee has been produced by small-scale farmers or plantations that meet internationally agreed Fairtrade standards. The standards include protection of workers’ rights, protection of children, preservation of the environment, payment of a Fairtrade minimum price and an additional Fairtrade premium to invest in initiatives which support local communities or business developments. We are continuously audited from crop to cup to ensure these standards are met and adhered to.

ISB: How has the reception to Change Coffee been so far and where do you see the business developing in the next couple of years?

SD: We have been warmly received into the Australian coffee market. We’re a young company but the growth of Change Coffee has proven that people are voting with their dollar and purchasing products with a cause. At a local level our coffee is a really nice fit for cafes and restaurants who want to make a difference. On a larger scale, our sales strategy is focused on corporates wanting to do good and regulate their procurement practices. We are looking to sell 1.5 tonnes of coffee in the next two years which will translate into millions of dollars for our life-changing programs.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start a social enterprise?

JH: Don’t give up! Have a solid strategic underpinning to your brand. Know your “why” and your roadmap to “how”. Refine your offerings in line with consumer expectations. Adapt your brand as it evolves in the market. Have a sound financial model and understand your limitations and capabilities to scale. Most importantly, know who you are serving and believe in what you do. That’s what really gives you the juice you need when things get tough!

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