A trip to Guatemala led three Michigan State alumni to create a coffee trade business called Radical Coffee Project, helping Guatemalan coffee growers living in poverty earn fair prices for their labor.
The 2018 graduates are part of the Spartan Global Development Fund, or SGDF, an initiative made up of a registered student organization and a non-profit organization. SGDF works toward “raising funds locally in order to offer interest-free microloans to aspiring entrepreneurs throughout developing regions of world.”
“For me, what really got the wheels turning in terms of moving from lending to starting the Radical Coffee Project was (a) realization,” former SGDF president Scott Lyman, one of the alumni who helped launch the project, said. “We were in the position to support these rural farmers in a sustainable way, not just a temporary fix.”
Radical Coffee Project — which purchases coffee beans directly from the Chacaya Coffee Cooperative in Guatemala — gives $4.25 per pound to the farmers, a larger amount of profit than they would have gotten in their own market.
“What I also think is really awesome is it comes full circle,” Kathryn Smith, one of the three on the project, said. “So all our proceeds from the Radical Coffee Project go back into the Spartan Global (Development) Fund and helps fund small, interest-free loans to those entrepreneurs and small business owners in impoverished regions to help fund opportunity even further.”
Occasionally, SGDF and the Radical Coffee Project trio head to Guatemala to disperse funds to recipients. One of the biggest challenges they face is communication.
“Day to day, there are always little struggles, but I think the one thing that we are really trying to be better at is communicating with our audience and capturing a larger audience as well,” Morgan Burns, the third member of Radical Coffee Project, said. “We have this idea of what we’re doing, and we’re really excited about it, but we want to bring other people, other consumers into the equation as well. We’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to do that.”
Balancing their post-grad jobs and Radical Coffee Project is another challenge.
“It’s difficult even to communicate with each other because we’re not all in the same time zone,” Smith said.
Smith recalled how the three used to be able to work together in East Lansing when they were students in the Eli Broad College of Business. Now, she said they only communicate through phone calls and email.
“It has been a difficult transition for sure, but one of the things that makes it so much easier is that it is something we are passionate about,” Smith said. “It doesn’t really feel like work all of the time and it’s something we definitely all enjoy doing.”
Radical Coffee Project has a partnership with Rust Belt Roastery, and its coffee can be bought online or in person at the Old Town General Store in Lansing.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated on March 18 at 10:51 a.m. to indicate that the group's trip to Guatemala was not associated with MSU study abroad, and that Scott Lyman is the former, not current, president of SGDF.
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