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With the vision of championing local farmers and advocating for sustainability, a group of changemakers from De La Salle University created a social enterprise known as The Amigo Coffee.
During the height of the COVID -19 pandemic, Robin Lim, Bettina Calubaquib, and Lara Jomalesa realized how the agriculture sector was heavily affected. So they decided to establish The Amigo Coffee to provide a platform to Filipino farmers where they can sell their products and, at the same time, promote sustainability initiatives.
“We believe that we need to think less of ourselves and provide more platforms and avenues for this sector to reach its full potential,” the group said. Their advocacy is why they make sure to source its main product, coffee beans, from small-scale farmers who urgently need help.
Aside from establishing a platform for local farmers, the group also provides proper education and training to farmers about good harvesting practices. In this way, they ensure that the coffee beans they sell are produced through sustainable farming.
The young changemakers see that their advocacy is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, more specifically: No Poverty, Good Health And Well - Being, Decent Work And Economic Growth and Responsible Consumption And Production.
“I really do believe that the purpose of The Amigo Coffee is to help solve different social issues that we face today, especially with the different sectors involved," says Lara Jomalesa
The sustainable concept that brought about "The Amigo Coffee" is the bridging between local coffee producers to their consumers. The owners, Robin, Bettina, and Lara, aimed to pave the way for these farmers to flourish.
“If you didn’t know, the Philippines is a part of the coffee belt, so that you could find a lot of the kinds of beans of coffee here in the Philippines. However, other countries such as Ethiopia, Brazil are thriving. What we want to do with The Amigo Coffee is to reach that level by giving avenues for our farmers to reach their fullest potential,” says Robin Lim.
With their knowledge from research and the inspiration of creating advocacy, the owners developed this social enterprise. While considering the state of the Philippines, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proprietors felt a sense of urgency to impact the lives of their stakeholders.
As university students, each of them possesses their own niche. Robin has a background in operations, finance, and logistics; Bettina handles marketing and external relations; and lastly, Lara manages the business's social aspect connecting the three to their beneficiaries.
Through the assistance of their mentor, Mr. Mel, and coffee professionals, the trio pushed for their goals and aspirations, enabling them to have a sense of mission and responsibility as it is their ambition to become changemakers of society.
Anything and everything can serve as an inspiration for a person who gladly seeks out to find it. For The Amigo Coffee, inspiration came from the owners’ desire to align a project with their goals directly. It all started with Robin and Bettina talking about building a non-government organization (NGO). Establishing an NGO was their ultimate dream, and they knew they had to invite one of their friends, Lara. Lara had the same values as Robin and Bettina and was more than happy to actualize her plans and advocacies through this project.
After serious talks, they had decided that their project was either an NGO or a social enterprise. The two ideas were up-and-coming, and in determining which one to pursue, the three consulted different people. One of those they consulted was a professor at De La Salle University who has quite an extensive knowledge of coffee.
After the consultations, they decided to have a social enterprise because they felt it in their guts that this would benefit society more, especially in this pandemic. By choosing to have a social enterprise, they were supporting sustainability, which the group strongly advocates. Furthermore, they wanted something that lasts and is not heavily reliant on volunteers. With that said, a social enterprise seemed to be the logical choice for them to actualize their ideas and the purpose they wanted to serve.
The inspiration for selling coffee in their social enterprise came partly from the professor they consulted and their observation that the agricultural sector was badly affected during this pandemic. And the farmers who rely on their crops for a living needed attention.
They also noticed how other countries could boast about having the best coffee, and the Philippines cannot, despite belonging in the coffee belt region. The simple facts alone regarding the state of coffee in the country gave them the vision of helping address the situation. And this is where the concept of The Amigo Coffee came about.
“Our farmers needed more attention during the Covid-19 and it what more on the reality that; ‘Bakit sa other countries mas maganda yung coffee nila?’ Why can they champion their coffee the way that we can’t?” says Robin Lim.
The business owners are not only after the profit; they are also after the impact that the social enterprise can bring to communities who are yet to know about the stories of farmers in the Philippines and the farmers whose means of livelihood are dependent on coffee sold in local markets.
In creating an impact in the owners’ communities and beyond, the owners ensured they had a plan supported by research and industry experts. This plan focuses on empowerment and education. They started putting into action when they thought about creating a movement by collaborating with ambassadors who can help increase their brand awareness and join The Amigo Coffee to make a change from the ground up.
One of their significant contributions is sharing the stories of farmers on their social media pages to inform more people about their condition and show that The Amigo Coffee is not merely for profit. The Amigo Coffee is dedicated to empowering, educating, and making a path for people to know about the coffee industry in the country and possibly start supporting local farmers.
This dedication is due to the potential of local farmers one day championing the coffee industry in our country. And this all begins with the customers and how the business makes them aware of how much help they are giving when they purchase coffee.
“One of the things that we did in The Amigo Coffee is we created a movement. We tapped a lot of ambassadors, and then we were able to inform more people about the stories of farmers”, says Robin Lim.
Moreover, the sales generated from the business fund the day-to-day operations, such as expanding product lines and partnering with third parties to distribute to more channels. Most of the profit goes to the partner cooperatives to help them or aid them in continuing their business and helping their community thrive.
The team behind The Amigo Coffee only pays themselves Php 42.00 (a little less than US$1) each month. “We want the profit to go to the farmers. We know that Php1.00 goes a long way in helping our projects and funding our business operations,” Robin Lim explained.
The team believes that every penny counts, so as much as possible, they want to use the profit to improve the business and to support their advocacies.
As the name suggests, the ‘social innovation’ of bridging local consumers to small cooperatives by The Amigo Coffee benefits society and the environment. The Amigo Coffee prides itself on not using plastic by being environmentally conscious with its biodegradable packaging. On the other hand, the social benefits are given to the local farmers who collaborate and partner with the BaTaFaMa tribal members in Mt. Apo.
The Bagobo Tagabawa Farmers Association (BaTaFaMa) is an organized farmers association composed of tribal members in Mt. Apo, Manga, Bansalan, Davao Del Sur, Philippines. A tribe in the Philippines consists of several mountain people and lowland indigenous ethnolinguistic groups living in the country. These ethnic groups maintained a degree of isolation or independence throughout the colonial era. Generally, their far-flung areas are not easily accessible with urban equipment and formal education.
BaTaFaMa members live in an area of 10,000 hectares of ancestral domain land, home to 50 plus active coffee farmers established in 2018, under the leadership of Kapwa Foundation NGO. Their goal in forming this farmers association is to build tribal bonds with sustainable farming practices to reforest and provide livelihoods to the native tribal ancestors of that community. The community has the land area and coffee plant bushes, but often the beans would be left to rot due to lack of drying or processing facilities. Local coffee businesses, including The Amigo Coffee, saw an opportunity to help teach, educate, and provide proper equipment to these farming communities at the same time, including them as essential stakeholders of the company.
The Amigo Coffee makes sure that the business's profit goes to these communities and farmers. In return, the farmers share their stories to help reach the customers so that every cup serves a greater purpose. The profit goes to their cooperatives to aid in buying equipment, livelihood bags, and spend for their financial literacy classes. The co-founders of The Amigo Coffee are serious in the venture of their social enterprise by only paying themselves Php 500 ($10) a year. A symbolic commitment and contribution to actualize their mission.
Another partner cooperative is the farmers from the Cordillera Region, which help fund their small business by buying their coffee produce and reselling it through The Amigo Coffee’s online store reach. The profit from this operation goes mainly to the farmers, making The Amigo Coffee the bridge that connects these humble and hardworking local farmers to profit from consumers all over the country.
Advocating for sustainability and championing local farmers matter now more than ever. With the long-lasting effects of the pandemic, it only fits for the next generation to take action and empower local farmers and society. The Amigo Coffee may have already been operating for over a year, but they’re only getting started. They understand that more enterprises should create more social innovations to target issues from the roots and raise solutions from the ground up.
Robin Gabrielle Lim, Co-founder
Lara Beatrice Jomalesa, Co-founder
The Amigo Coffee is the brainchild of young changemakers from De La Salle University. The inspiration behind The Amigo Coffee has always been the thought of creating sustainable change in society, specifically the agricultural sector. It was also more on the reality that Philippine local farmers needed more attention, especially at the height of the COVID-19. The founders believe it's time to think less of ourselves and provide more platforms and avenues for this sector to reach its full potential.