The Power of Listening
Kula Project: A Non-Profit Changing the Business of Coffee
This may be an obvious point for some of you. But entrepreneurship truly starts with listening. Actively listening to the needs of others. And understanding the problems they face.
These days I come across a lot of entrepreneurs as a function of what I do. Many who are founding businesses for the first time. And I’ve noticed two things: 1) There is no shortage of enthusiasm, but more importantly 2) founders often tout solutions to problems they have yet to validate against actual customers.
I was reminded of this while reading about The Kula Project, a non-profit organization and coffee company based in Rwanda. That was founded by Sarah Buchanan-Sasson in 2012.
It started with an earnest desire to help farmers. After graduating from college, Sarah went to countries in Africa like Kenya and Swaziland to see what she could do to help. But she arrived in these countries with her own preconceived notions of how this could be accomplished – via hydroponics, clean water initiatives, etc.
She eventually discovered that these solutions didn’t work. And that there were many obstacles – bureaucratic and regulatory. As well as a lack of clarity in her process. Which resulted in her scraping by in the first couple of years.
Things changed when Sarah decided to visit Rwanda for vacation. Just wanting to learn and experience the country for herself.
There she was connected to a coffee farming community and found a genuine pull. She decided to start asking what the farmers needed. And learned that they simply needed better training and resources for their seedlings.
She listened. Then began initiating small-scale seedling distribution projects. And eventually got involved in building a coffee washing station, and planting over 60,000 trees by 2016.
The sheer acceleration of these efforts and milestones reached by the organization since Sarah’s pivot are noteworthy. In the same year that the washing station was built, Kula launched its vocational program which would eventually pave the way for the Kula Fellowship.
Started in 2018, the fellowship provides industry training, business investment, and leadership skills for Rwandan women. To unlock their personal agency and potential to spur entrepreneurship in the country.
The program is set to graduate its fifth cohort this Fall. Which would total nearly 1,200 entrepreneurs produced since its inception.
It’s difficult to sum up the impact the organization has had on the ground in the span of this short profile. But what’s worth noting here is that Kula is also a coffee company that buys green coffee directly from the farmers it supports. Which is then sold to both consumers and wholesale partners here in the U.S.
I asked Executive Director Nic Lauten, who joined the organization back in 2017, about their decision to launch this venture and how this came about.
“At first, people in our communities, our donors, on Instagram, saw that we were working in coffee, and they would ask: Where do I buy your coffee? People were interested in the work we were doing, but we weren’t offering them the actual coffee. So there was an opportunity for us to connect people to a tangible product,” explains Nic.
In other words, the idea came from listening and responding.
When it comes to sales, Kula has seen the most traction among roasters who are aligned with their values. Roasters who want to communicate these values to their own customers. The green coffee to roaster landscape also happens to be the most relationally driven, as Nic notes.
At the same time, Kula is continuing to invest in all channels for funding in order to sustain its mission. Understanding well that diversifying funding streams is a healthy strategy for any non-profit to adopt. Especially during times of recession and uncertainty.
Nic states, “Across the board, we want to make sure that the end-goal is the impact of farmers’ lives improving. Whether it’s sales or donations or grants, working with foundation partners, [Kula] has the same mission of bringing more income to coffee farmers.”
Today, we're honored to support Kula’s mission by offering a trio of Rwandan coffees on our marketplace. Our first coffees sourced from this dynamic and fast-developing nation.
Of Land & Women Blend – This unique blend is the collaborative product of women farmers across the Gakenke, Kayonza and Nyamasheke districts.
Each bag sold funds 10 trees for a female coffee farmer in Rwanda through Kula's initiative to plant 1 million trees by 2025.
Nyamasheke – A single origin sourced exclusively from the Nyamasheke community in the Western Province of Rwanda. Light to medium roast.
Kayonza – A single origin for those who favor medium to dark roasts. Sourced from the the Kayonza district, an Eastern part of Rwanda known for producing coffees with earthy inflections.
Kula Coffee roasts on Tuesdays and ships within 2 business days. Coffees are roasted at Prevail Coffee Roasters in Montgomery, Alabama.
Shipping: $5 Flat Rate for all coffees from Kula
We have a new offering from DC-based Others Coffee!
Tolima, Colombia Medium Roast is their second coffee on our marketplace. And it’s a single origin with a mildly sweet taste and a smooth finish.
Notes of mango, peach, and milk chocolate 🥭 🍑 🍫 may remind you of dapples of sunlight prancing through the leaves of spring. A subtle awakening.
Sourced from Café del Macizo, a small group of farmers based in Tolima. With a lifetime of experience growing specialty coffee.
You can check out our past newsletter on Others Coffee here.
Rev Coffee Roasters, 1680-B Spring Rd, Smyrna, GA
Thursday, May 11 (7pm)
Belux Coffee Roasters, 5430 McGinnis Ferry Rd #101B Alpharetta, GA
Saturday, May 13 (1:30 - 3pm)
Rev Coffee Roasters, 1680-B Spring Rd, Smyrna, GA
Thursday, May 18 (7pm)
BUZZ Coffee and Winehouse, 2315 Cascade Road
Friday, May 19 (8am - 12pm)
Empire Stores, 55 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday and Sunday, May 13 + 14 (11am - 6pm)
Octopus Records, 204 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, May 20 (2 - 4pm)
Coffee Cupping with Nikolai - Part III (free; donations encouraged)
Principles GI Coffee House, 139 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, May 21 (11am - 12:30pm)
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Tastings, latte art throwdowns, coffee shop openings. And other events that promote specialty coffee and provide opportunities for learning.
Would love to help all of you connect with each other through future newsletters. So reach out and let me know what you're working on!
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