Story by Jessica P. Hansen, photos by Brandon Smith
This story is part of Kiva’s International Women’s Day Campaign. Through March 8th, we’ll be sharing inspiring stories of women borrowers. You can back a woman entrepreneur today by visiting kiva.org.
Vava, founder of the Kenyan social enterprise Vava Coffee, is truly a woman on fire. She exudes passion and entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with a calm, steady resolve and a thick skin that allows her to succeed, defying society’s traditional expectations for a woman in the male-dominated coffee industry.
“This is not a get rich scheme, this is my life, my everything…”
Her business links smallholder coffee farmers, who produce specialty grade micro-lot coffee that’s Fair Trade-certified, to markets that are willing to pay fair, premium prices for a quality product that’s ethically and sustainably made. “This is not a get rich scheme, this is my life, my everything…It’s something that I started purely out of passion and the need to create positive change for the Kenyan coffee farmer and coffee farmers in Africa,” said Vava.
Driven by the realization that these coffee farmers earn less than 35% of the international market value on their high-quality coffee because of their lack of access to better markets and limited knowledge of the quality of their product, Vava set out to change things. “Let’s go back home and let’s create solutions,” she decided. “Let’s create jobs. Let’s find a way to have farmers get fair wages, and let’s create a business.“
Kenyan coffee farmers who traditionally earn an average of $250 per year (less than a dollar a day), are now earning 16x that amount as a part of Vava Coffee. Since 2009, she’s worked with 30,000 farmers and paid them 57% more than market prices. When her Kiva loan was fully funded by 1,441 lenders, she exclaimed, “Oh my god. We did it!” Her loan provides her the security to ensure farmers higher wages upfront, especially leading into the busiest coffee seasons. By 2018, she’s aiming to impact 130,000 farmers, and wants to help not only Kenyans but farmers throughout East Africa as well. “It’s also opened up a whole new market for us with some of the people that lent on Kiva. We’ve actually received a few emails from some of the people that lent who want coffee. There’s 1,441 new [Vava Coffee] customers created out of Kiva.”
Each bag of Vava Coffee is thoughtfully crafted, featuring stunning photos or wrapped in a boldly printed local fabric, with a small informative card attached. Vava explains, “No one does branding like we do. We’ve taken coffee to the next level, which is like wine. We give you the tasting notes. We give you the story behind the coffee. We tell you where the coffee is from.”
“…at the end of the day you’re not helping any farmer if you’re just training them and not finding them a market for their coffee.”
With a vision to empower farmers and others along the coffee production chain, Vava has begun to radically transform the coffee industry in Kenya. When describing her hope for what Vava Coffee will achieve, she sees them working with farmers in every stage, from training to production to helping them be competitive in the marketplace because, as she explained, “at the end of the day you’re not helping any farmer if you’re just training them and not finding them a market for their coffee.”
She found a way to problem solve, while creating jobs and becoming a significant driver of local economic development. In her own words, she was inspired by 3 things: “love for my country, love for coffee and love for creating change.” Her innovation, passion and willingness to take risks will hopefully inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, especially women and girls, to take a leap of faith and fight to make their dreams a reality.
For more information about Vava Coffee, visit vavacoffee.com. To support other inspiring, entrepreneurial women from around the world on Kiva in celebration of International Women’s Day, visit kiva.org.