February 9, 2009

Pura Vida: Making Change

"As co-founder and CEO of Pura Vida, John Sage has helped Fair Trade coffee – coffee purchased at a price that is fair to farmers – become a regular at U.S. breakfast tables and cafes. At the same time, he has helped better the lives of people in coffee-growing regions. In this talk, Sage discusses how Pura Vida uses every aspect of its products, processes, and profits for social good. He also outlines how the company works to improve the health, educational opportunities, and psychological outlooks of children and families in coffee-growing countries. Sage talks more broadly, as well, about how a new generation of socially minded organizations is producing meaningful, sustainable, and lasting improvements to our world."
~ From Stanford's Social Innovation Conversations website


I listened to John's talk recently and was inspired by his story. After leaving business school, he went to the Pacific Northwest to work for a tiny software company named Microsoft. He went on to other consulting gigs at places like Starbucks. Throughout his career, he kept up his friendship with Chris, a business school friend who went back to Costa Rica after graduation to work in the field that would become social entrepreneurship. It is through this friendship, John's success is the corporate world, and Chris's connection to the poor in Costa Rica, that the idea of Pura Vida was brought to life.


During the conversation, John tells a story about a woman who came from Costa Rica to Seattle University to tell her story. She, her husband, and her children had only known a life of picking coffee. Her children didn't go to school - the family needed them to work so the family could survive. With the fair price that Pura Vida pays for the coffee on the plantation where they work, she and her husband could earn enough money to support the family, allowing her children to go to school. She had a wish for them to continue their education and perhaps to have the opportunity for college that all of the students in the audience at Seattle University have. Prior to Pura Vida, this dream was not even conceivable, much less possible.


The cost for this kind of dramatic change in a child's life is an extra buck on our cups of coffee. On my Con Edison bill, I give an extra dollar a month to go toward a fund that helps people who struggle to pay their own electric bills. My dollar alone doesn't help much, but together with thousands of other people it makes an enormous difference. When I go to Barnes & Noble to buy a birthday card, I have the opportunity to purchase a UNICEF greeting card so that a portion of the sale goes to UNICEF. The same can be said of hundreds of other products we purchase regularly. Our tiny purchases in this country have huge implications around the world. And we make most of these purchases without thinking, without even acknowledging that we have an opportunity every day to choose and create social change. With this kind of widespread collective impact, these small decisions are worthy of more of our attention.


This post was written by Christa Avampato, a product developer in the financial services industry. In the future, she would like to parlay her product and service development experience into the world of social entrepreneurship. She is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy 'n' Poverty Project and publishes her own blog on creativity at http://www.christainnewyork.blogspot.com. Please leave your comments or email christa.avampato[@]gmail.com with your questions.

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