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Salomé PuentesIt is very common to hear about individuals and companies developing projects at origin, with many of these projects focused on equality and sustainability. However, there are various steps that should be considered when we talk about creating such projects. Here I present the most important ones so we can all work together towards making a fairer industry for everyone.
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1. Look at yourself: To begin with, examine your company’s principles. This will guide how you approach the project. In what way do you hope to have an impact? Next, define how the support you want to offer will be provided. Are you going to contribute with knowledge, with promotion, or with monetary incentives? Are you going to increase prices or are you going to fund a farm-level investment?
2. Choose a Partner: Many roasters buy from exporters that have operations at origin. Are you familiar with your exporting partner’s principles? Their working structure must be crystal clear. Are you sure you understand how they work and how you can potentially grow together? Do you have a draft or structural idea of how your project will be built? Is it possible for your partner to help build this structure? What will be the implementation costs?
3. Country structure checkup: Are you well-acquainted with the market structure of the country/region where you want to work? In what form is coffee bought? As dry parchment? Cherries? Wet parchment? How do the prices work, and what is the traditional purchasing model? Will you need to adjust to it, and if so, are you able to? Ensuring that you’re thoroughly familiar with this background information will help contextualize your project, and assist with the following steps.
4. Project Planning: At this stage you have an idea about what you hope to achieve and how you want to offer your support. You now also need to create a budget and fixed plan to guide your partners. This stage is quite intensive, as the workflow and general structure must be created. Your partner will be able to help determine with the associated costs for what needs to be achieved. The following are the areas where you will have to work alongside partner:
- Usually, your ideas need a bit of reality check. Project ideas in general are never perfect or simple to carry out. An entire community cannot be changed over the course of a few days; projects are about consistency and medium- to long-term results. We all need to remember that coffee is a long-term agricultural product, so change takes time.
- Are you sure you understand the cultural background of the people that you will be working with? You don’t want to implement something that is not achievable, or something that the people you will be working with aren’t comfortable doing. It is common for people at origin to accept and say yes to almost everything we propose but then in reality, part of the project or idea wasn’t possible from the outset, and we end up in a disappointing situation.
- Establishing responsibilities: Who will be doing what and when, and what are the commitments of each part?
- A timeline for building, execution, and measurements need to be created with input from your origin partners.
- Presenting the project: If you want to build a project, it’s critical to effectively explain it. What are the objectives/goals? How will success be measured? What are the expectations? How long will it take to implement, and how long is it designed to last? What’s the scope of your proposal?
- If you are planning to invest money, you need to be very clear regarding your limitations. Budgets are important! This will be the backbone of the project and will directly influence how results are perceived.
5. Implementation: Perhaps the most exciting part, because you will watch your project grow and develop. This stage will be very educational; remember that process re-engineering will be part of this and will help smooth things over and ultimately make everything more efficient.
6. Promotion and Marketing: This will help you raise awareness and increase community and end-consumer support. Project marketing is part of the process, just remember: HOW you market it is very important. Be respectful of the community you are working with and understand that transparency goes both ways. It's one thing to promote a project, but another thing to say you’re executing something that hasn’t even started yet. Your consumers might not notice, but your partners at origin almost certainly will. This can profoundly damage relationships and erode any trust that has been created between you and your community partners.
7. Measurements and results: As previously noted, establishing ground rules and establishing consensus regarding progress measurements are crucial tasks, and will yield dividends. It’s a great feeling to witness the results of a well-executed project, but remember, everything is dynamic; if we don’t adapt to change, the project will be destined to fail.
The above are important steps to consider when building projects at origin, but the last and most important one: be discerning in the projects you choose to pursue. Over the years I’ve seen people have bad experiences and have also seen people being mistreated. Producers have sometimes found themselves in difficult situations as the result of “special projects” involving new varieties of coffee or processing techniques, and there are roasters that have felt hard done by when a project outcome did not live up to expectations. It is easy to exploit someone or be exploited in a situation when there is already a perceived sense of inequality.
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