I have been writing here in recent months about industry approaches to reinvestment at origin and advocating for more industry spending at source. So I was pleasantly surprised on Monday when I received — along with every other member of the SCAA, I presume — a link to the SCAA’s Philanthropic Activity Survey. I don’t know whether ours is one of the non-profits the SCAA says is generating “demand for more support,” but it is encouraging that the industry is beginning a broader dialogue within its membership about spending at origin, and seeking more information about on-the-ground partnerships in the coffeelands that work. I look forward to reading the summary of the results. Meantime, an observation about the survey’s language.
The survey refers throughout to philanthropy — voluntary giving that is not required or somehow separate from the core coffee activities of the donors. While the giving that qualifies as philanthropy may not have the same kind of direct and measurable impact on bottom line indicators as investments to increase cup quality, it is unmistakably an investment — investment in reducing the vulnerability of the people who grow our coffee. And while the route that links cause and effect in the case of social investments may be long and winding, “soft” investments can generate “hard” returns for the companies that make them. Especially when social investment is not seen as a one-off activity, but an integral element of a company’s value proposition.
The SCAA was correct to write that, “As an industry, coffee companies are very generous.” No doubt. Specialty coffee will only widen its lead over other sectors of the economy in terms of sustainability as coffee companies create new business models that move away from philanthropy that trails profit toward investment that drives it.