Last month, our venture received a lot of attention, thanks in part to being recognized as the Emma Watson Gender Equality Scholar. Our sales went up, and we were able to gain more social media hype. This inspired our team and the farmers to continue our work. However, we have been asked frequently about our scalability ideas to increase the number of farmers that we work with. We currently only work with seven smallholder farmers, four of whom are presented on our website. Why such few farmers? How is a venture that aims to democratize the coffee industry only start with such a small number of farmers? How are we likely to receive attention from possible investors, and potential customers with such a low number of ‘impact audience’?
One of my entrepreneurial gurus, Gary Vaynerchuk, often talks about the importance of establishing deeper relationships with customers instead of focusing on the width of networks. If you have 50 customers, but you build a personal relationship with each of them, that is more likely to reward you in the long term than having a few hundred customers who receive no personal service. In the entrepreneurial world, a term that is often thrown around is ‘scalability’. Everyone is talking about the scalability and growth strategy of a venture. How many people do you plan to engage in five years? Ten years? It all seems to be about the number of people your venture is able to reach. Yet, in the social entrepreneurship sphere, the buck does not stop with customers. The focus should really be on the key stakeholders because of whom a venture actually exists. Let me explain with an example of Bean Voyage.
At Bean Voyage, we believe in developing a strong relationship of trust with our farmers, their families and the communities that we aim to serve. We believe in the depth of these relationships to ensure that their quality of lives can be improved as a result of our program, instead of searching for hundreds of farmers around the world who receive basic services, but not the kind of personal relationship that we strive to master. Every month, a member of our team on the ground visits the farmers, and receives updates which are then relayed through newsletters and social media to our customers. When we say we believe in a relationship, we also include the customers who become a key part of the industry, learning about where their coffee is sourced from, and their role in community development.
Numbers are effective in garnering support and raising awareness of the work done by social ventures. However, we need to be focused on the qualitative aspects of these relationships and make sure that we stick to our social goals of raising the revenue of women coffee farmers by up to 300%, while creating a positive environment for women to thrive as entrepreneurs. As Marc J. Epstein from Rice University says, “Big data analytics is often not very relevant to determining the social impact of most social purpose organizations because the scope of work is usually small and local”. Therefore, for ventures working towards social impact measurement to raise awareness or customer consciousness, what truly matters is proactive storytelling to ensure that your customers and potential investors learn of the stories of the individuals that you work with and that they receive fair representation. In our case, the farmers are not just a marketing tool used to increase sympathy and sales, but the most important individuals that we should serve to the best of our abilities. A venture is truly social when the key stakeholders are able to express themselves through the platform that we are able to provide with the use of our skills and networks.
By Abhinav Khanal, Co-Founder & CSO