The Cup That Counts is an innovation that saves up to 20c from every cup purchased by customers and sends this money to partnerships to better both the local community and international suppliers of coffee beans. It aims to pay better, build real relationships and share risk with suppliers of coffee to allow them to thrive. While acting as a form of charity that similar models exist, it differs in that there is no opt-in or opt-out by customers, rather it is built into the business model to support a coffee-growing industry in Uganda that they can then purchase high-quality coffee from.
The Cup That Counts supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by promoting sustainable economic growth, productive employment, and decent work for all (SDG 8) and contributes to ‘ending poverty in all its forms everywhere (SDG 1) through the provision of good jobs on a living wage. TCTC also aims to build resilient infrastructure and foster innovation (SDG 9) as well as supporting ‘equitable and good education’ (SDG 4). (United Nations, 2015)
The aim was to “provide sustainable jobs, but also the infrastructure and international network of trade and commerce and elevate communities that not only produce the product but also have second and tertiary businesses in and around that industry” – real ‘pie in the sky’ ambitions they had believed. All money donated goes directly to the community partners who are able to invest it in the respective local communities, both in Uganda and locally on the Mornington Peninsula.
For General Manager Sam Keck, TCTC “stems from personal values of the people” involved in setting up Commonfolk and supports their “most at risk collaborators” in the coffee business. Commonfolk are ‘invested in the Earth’, and built into the consciousness of Commonfolk is an attitude to “not leave it in a worse place”.
Sam tells how TCTC began: “At first, we donated arbitrarily to at-risk suppliers; initially 10% of all profits were donated to charities that support ethical coffee production. Then we thought if we don’t turn over a profit, is it that fair we take money from a charity to make up the losses?” The concept then evolved to a fixed contribution of 20c donated per cup of coffee purchased, where funds were sent to a community development organization in Uganda.
A ‘high point’ for Commonfolk came in their visit in 2019, where they saw ‘expansion all over the mountain’ and an entire independently owned processing facility that had been set up in the township. “We could really see the secondary and tertiary impacts. A subcontractor employed to build the drying beds for the coffee used that money to build a café where he buys Zukuka Bora coffee and sells it back to the community.” It is a business totally funded by his job working with Zukuka Bora, which was contributed to in the first instance by the people of Mornington buying their morning cup of coffee.
Far from just a charitable cause, The Cup That Counts makes Commonfolk more profitable and benefits its business case. “There is a sense of enjoyment that [customers] have been involved in something greater than themselves”. Sam believes, but admits he doesn’t think there is a “true understanding of how significant buying ”The Cup That Counts coffee from Commonfolk is compared to buying one from fast food and beverage outlets. “Not just because of the ethics of buying the coffee, but also the impact that each cup of coffee has. It’s our job to keep communicating that.”
“The obvious other benefit is the quality of coffee available for purchase now commercially” and Commonfolk ensures they pay a market rate for the Zukuka Bora product, approaching them “like any other buyer”. On the quality of the coffee available to purchase, Sam states that “it has got to the point now where not only is it exceptional coffee, it’s better than most of the coffee we purchase already.”
In 2014 Commonfolk established the Zukuka Bora Coffee Company, a collective that works alongside coffee farmers in Uganda, increasing farmers’ capacity to produce and export the highest quality coffee’, and get paid a fair price to do so.
Commonfolk also aim to have a positive impact on the local community to erase inequality and provide people with good jobs. In 2017 Commonfolk partnered with the Tanti Park Social Enterprises establishing a youth training café known as HomeGround, aiming to support a Mornington Peninsula population with one of the highest unemployment rates, and connect some of them to the 200 unfilled full-time positions in the hospitality sector in the area. (Commonfolk, 2020)
Commonfolk. (2020). Commonfolk | Coffee Roaster - Mornington Peninsula. Retrieved from https://www.commonfolkcoffee.com.au
United Nations. (2015). Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html#:%7E:text=The%20Sustainable%20Development%20Goals%20(SDGs,peace%20and%20prosperity%20by%202030.
Sam Keck, General Manager
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Mornington, Victoria, AU
Business Website: https://www.commonfolkcoffee.com.au
Year Founded: 2013
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
Commonfolk Coffee is a for-profit wholesaler, café, and restaurant that operates in Mornington, Victoria, with a social mission to ‘prepare quality and sustainable’ produce through fair purchasing and a community focus.