Positive Leadership in a Tumultuous World


Last week, we were generously invited by the UPeace Center for Executive Education to present our story and work at Bean Voyage to an inspiring group of educators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in other fields. The theme of the workshop was Positive Leadership, and as the website described, it was focused on,

“A human paradigm of leadership — the ability to connect with people you work with, to see how things look from their perspective, to engage and motivate them appealing to their strengths and passions. Today’s ‘positive’ leader is able to unleash the potential of each individual in the organization.”

Co-founders, Abhinav and Sunghee presenting the story of Bean Voyage

This was an interesting reflective opportunity for us. Living in a tumultuous world, plighted by numerous challenges, it seems to appear that everyone is out to fend for themselves. However, upon deeper thought, we came to the conclusion that there hasn’t been a more opportune time in our lives to focus on positive leadership. We’ve been slapped by the challenges of environmental degradation (our team in the ground facing the wrath of Nate), political division (need we say more) and continued violence around the world. We’ve seen a similar situation within the coffee industry as well — last week, the Daily Coffee News released a story about the shocking reality within the coffee industry, with a case study of Uganda.

As the 2nd largest producer of coffee in Africa, Uganda is heavily dependent on coffee to generate sustainable income for its citizens. Yet, only $0.10 of the revenue from every $1 that we spend on coffee actually reaches the hands of the farmers. The situation is quite dire, and not only because farmers are not earning a fair revenue — this has deep consequences on the livelihoods of their children, family, community and the economy of developing countries like Uganda who need the constant trade for their continued development.

Photo: Unsplash

That’s where positive leadership comes in — we need more efforts within the coffee industry that is focused on ensuring a human-centered solution to the challenges within the coffee industry. Prior to our presentation at UPeace, the participants were discussing design thinking and watched this video about IDEO’s work on the human-centered design. What is interesting in the video is how the first step in their process of re-inventing the shopping cart meant going to ask the shoppers first. That is how many companies have learned to make products that people will actually use. We believe that a similar concept has to be utilized within social entrepreneurship to devise solutions that will work with the key stakeholders — in our case, women coffee farmers.

When we started Bean Voyage, our first goal wasn’t to conduct customer validation. We knew that the demand was present within the coffee industry. Our first goal was to travel to the communities where we identified the challenges, and conduct design thinking workshops with the farmers. We had already worked to understand the challenges they were facing as coffee producers in our first trip, but this was an opportunity for us to ideate and brainstorm ideas that would work for both the customers and producers. Through this process, we were made aware of the need for a more effective training model on the ground and have developed a structure for the venture. Having said that, we have had to make changes throughout the process to our model as we have to balance between the ideas of the producers and the feedback of the consumers. But that constant feedback loop has meant that we have been able to establish a more effective supply chain for the farmers while ensuring an effective market presence in the U.S.

We, at Bean Voyage, haven’t reached the right balance of leadership in our own efforts to ensure sustainable revenue for women coffee producers yet. However, we have understood that our efforts are truly community-led as the farmers are not just one of our stakeholders, but the most important stakeholders. As long as we put their interests ahead of ours, we will be able to ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods and that of their communities.

Co-founders, Abhinav and Sunghee with our dear mentor, Mohit Mukherjee

Finally, we wanted to send our words of gratitude to the staff at UPeace (Julia, Mohit, and Hannah) for inviting us, and for allowing us to reflect on our own mission and efforts! For all the leaders in different fields, we truly suggest reflecting on ways in which you can positively lead your teams, stakeholders, and communities towards a more sustainable future.



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