IWCA Leadership Training for Women in Coffee Project

“Think big, consider what you can do not only in your country but outside of your country as well.”  The International Women’s Coffee Alliance Leadership Training Program challenged African women leaders in coffee to think big, thrive in their current roles as leaders, and consider opportunities for advancement, both personally and professionally. This report summarizes the IWCA Leadership Training Program, the goals we committed to achieve and opportunities for further advancements.

African women leaders in coffee learned effective communication skills and  how to achieve their goals working with a broad range of leadership styles.  Participants learned the value in always being prepared in order to capitalize on an unexpected opportunity when given a window of thirty seconds to discuss their business.  With silver cupping spoon in hand, each woman was challenged with moving away from the idea that coffee grown in their country tastes great simply because of where it is grown.  They gained a better understanding of the competitiveness of the global coffee market and how coffee is evaluated by buyers. 

The program achieved its goals in providing participants with skills and tools to enable what we call a “ripple effect” – the dissemination of knowledge and information to a broad range of people.   This is evident by 11 out of 12 countries identified using program materials within the next six months as part of their action plans. 

These African women leaders completed the week by offering candid ideas to The African Fine Coffees Association (AFCA) on ways to consider opportunities for women in coffee as apart of its overall strategic plan.  It is our hope that AFCA can benefit from the IWCA country chapters in building a strong network of women in coffee who can help direct their organization, thus benefiting both men and women in coffee.

All countries represented in the training program expressed interest and saw value in organizing women in their countries to form IWCA chapters.  Experiences shared by our instructor from IWCA-Guatemala gave examples of what is possible through national partnerships.  Newly formed chapters, such as Burundi shared its success in reaching a short term goal, competing in that country’s first Cup of Excellence competition with coffees from chapter members and placing in the top 30 in the national competition.

As we look back at the progress made over the past three years, participants viewed the 2012 training quite differently from our first meeting in Kampala back in 2009, when most participants had never heard of IWCA.  The continued support and visibility that the IWCA/ITC Women in Coffee Program has gained over the past few years has peaked a strong interest globally in organizing women to gain necessary skills for advancement.  One very important topic that has always been on the table for discussion for women in coffee is “how do I find a good market for my coffee?”

Future work must continue empow women with technical skills, such as leadership training and cupping to place women in a more competitive environment.  We must look to engage buyers through partnerships to help empower and advance women in coffee.  We must make this an intricate part of purchasing decisions.  Women throughout the supply chain including producers, exporters, quality managers and others must realize the value in building strength in this global network of women in coffee by understanding each other’s needs.  

In closing, one of the most profound statements came from Nellie Msiska from Malawi, “This is my first time to stand in front of people and talk about my business, I am ready to tell the whole world what I do…and I will communicate it very effectively.”  Women in coffee are ready to advance, and take on leadership roles within the global coffee community and now is the time.  IWCA is gracious for this opportunity to continue to advance our mission in empowering women in coffee from seed to cup.