I first met Christian Kar, CEO of the One Cup Project, back in November at a local church conference. I was there with the World Vision Micro team, and Christian was there with his team. One Cup was a new World Vision corporate partner choosing to use its business to fuel hope in other countries — by making donations from every coffee sale to support our work in Zambia. Together, we were representing the power that donations and personal purchases have on social and economic change in other countries.
I’ve met with Christian and his team many times since then. Our work together makes us “business partners,” but our common goal to help others make us friends. I can vouch that he and his team embody every bit of brilliance and kindness you feel from their emails. They represent the spirit of an entrepreneur with the compassion of a humanitarian. They make One Cup’s mission — to tell a different story about business — personal, believable, and contagious. It makes you want to join their team in their pursuit to change people’s purchasing choices, one cup at a time.
Lindsey (L): Where does your coffee story begin?
Christian (C): I’ve been intensely focused on building a coffee enterprise since I was 19. You could say I didn’t choose coffee — it chose me. I was sort of at the right place at the right time, and while I didn’t set out to be in coffee, I loved the people side of the business and grew to love coffee as well. The coffee business brought me out of my shell. I started with retail, then began roasting, and the business grew steadily year over year. Success seemed to come easy.
L: At the height of your coffee enterprise success, what was “game-changer” in dreaming up the One Cup Project?
C: My wife and I both surrendered our lives to Christ shortly after the 9/11 attacks. We both knew in our souls that all was not right in the world. As my faith began to mature over the next few years, I asked myself, “Is this it? Am I just going to be the coffee guy for 20 more years?” Then God planted the “seed” for the One Cup Project. In 2007, I went on a short-term missions trip to Kenya. God had laid Africa on my heart for reasons I can’t understand. I went, and my eyes were opened.
L: After visiting Africa, what plans did you pursue to grow the One Cup “seed”?
C: When I got back from Africa, the busyness of life set in. As much as I was moved by what I had experienced, and wanted to continue the work, two years went by without any further action. Then, a pastor gave me a copy of The Hole in Our Gospel. I read it cover to cover — devoured it, really. It brought me right back to Kenya and all the things I had seen firsthand. I vowed not to let another two years slip by without doing something. So I picked up the phone and called World Vision.
L: As a growing company, how has your humanitarian mission developed over time?
C: Our mission was always to love Christ by loving our neighbors (Luke 10:27), and to be comforters to the oppressed (Ecclesiastes 4:1). The effects of extreme poverty are devastating, and we Westerners can only begin to understand the struggles of the poor. Our lives are so intensely focused on ourselves, we have a hard time seeing someone else’s struggles, especially when they are in another part of the world.
But as part of our mission, we wanted people to know that our purchases have power. Just imagine if every product you purchased helped create lasting change for the world’s poorest. That’s exactly what One Cup does — it fuses the power of our purchases with social and economic change in Zambia, where some of the poorest of the poor live. James says that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Our mission is now also about providing people with a simple way to act on what they believe.
L: You have another “mission,” too, right? To inspire other companies to use their resources to help the poor?
C: As the idea for the One Cup Project was coming together, I had an overwhelming sense that we could be an example to other companies. Surely there must be others out there “stuck” like I was.
As I was learning that profit and social change are not mutually exclusive concepts, I started to see One Cup as a champion for the “more-than-profit” business movement. I’d love nothing more than to help inspire a new generation of companies to care for those at the bottom while they also care for their bottom line.
In honor of today’s World Fair Trade Day, use your purchasing power to buy your morning cup o’ joe fair-trade. One Cup purchases all of its coffees above the fair-trade minimum prices guaranteed to farmers, and offers fair-trade and direct-trade coffees to its customers.
And don’t miss One Cup’s special offer just for World Vision supporters: Get a FREE 12-ounce bag of One Cup’s award-winning House Blend added to any order placed by June 15, 2011! Use promo code “coffee4africa” during checkout at www.onecup.org.