The Coffee Community Connection

Nicaragua trip takes a closer look at the coffee-growing community.

By Michelle Valigursky

Story Photo

Goizueta Business School Professor Peter Roberts smiles amid the bags of coffee beans ready for shipping.

Coffee is the can’t-do-without beverage of choice for millions of people around the world. It also equates to big business, and one program within Emory’s Social Enterprise @ Goizueta (SE@G) is focusing on improving the livelihood for farmers of this favored drink.

SE@G has been involved with communities and organizations in Nicaragua since taking its first group of MBA students there in 2010. Building on the strong working relationships the center has developed over the years, SE@G is creating business models to positively impact impoverished Nicaraguan communities.

“With our Farmers to 40 Coffee Project, we are encouraging economic development in Nicaragua by returning 40% of the retail sale price of our custom-roasted coffee to the farmers who grow the beans,” explains Goizueta Professor of Organization and Management Peter Roberts.


For Nicaraguan coffee farmers like Byron Corrales, Farmers to 40 ensures he is adequately compensated for producing the highest quality beans.

Roberts is also SE@G’s academic director. “The project will fully launch this fall, and we will share information soon on how to buy these excellent coffees that are grown by two of the farms and farmers we visit with students on our Nicaragua travel modules.”

“We are implementing an innovative coffee model that supports coffee-growing communities in Nicaragua by encouraging farmers to grow beans of the highest quality and then adequately compensating them for their time, skill, and effort,” Roberts explains.

Sparked by students interested in health within impoverished communities, Roberts is also working on a project called Nicaragua Community Health Connection (NCHC). “With our partner and the residents of Los Robles, the small community that neighbors Finca El Peten, we are designing a model to connect local residents with supportive external networks to build and operate a health clinic,” Roberts explains. The newly constructed clinic is nearly completed and will deliver the health services the community has only been able to access by walking an hour and a half each way to obtain basic care.

“Our involvement in Nicaragua began with our travel modules, which are designed to expose students to the many challenges communities in developing countries like Nicaragua face,” says Ellen Williams, manager of programs and partnership development for SE@G. “Now we are inviting alumni and others in our network to share the experience and to learn about the people and processes behind the coffee we drink.”

November 13-17, 2013 Roberts will lead a special Coffee Community Connection trip to Nicaragua for alumni and SE@G friends. With a relatively low trip cost, the opportunity represents a chance to experience firsthand the lifestyle of Nicaragua’s farm communities. There are still spaces available and it’s not too late to register. No Spanish is required since a translator will be available to the small group at all times. To register, please email


The lush beauty of the Nicaraguan landscape at Finca El Peten.

The Nicaraguan Coffee Experience

“Finca El Peten, a 250-acre organic coffee farm in northern Nicaragua, is our home base.” Williams explains, “From here, we offer a variety of opportunities to learn more about coffee and to engage with people who produce it. We visit three different farms, meeting farmers and learning about the many steps involved in coffee bean production, and we participate in a cupping session with the expert Q-raters from SOPPEXCCA.”

Alicia Philipp 75C is looking forward to taking part in the November trip. “I jumped at the chance to see Emory’s work in Nicaragua with the coffee growers and health care. There is so much to be learned and experienced in other cultures and innovative ways of addressing economic development,” she says. For Roberts, returning to Nicaragua this November will allow him to continue important conversations about building communities that work.

Editor’s Note: The focus of Social Enterprise @ Goizueta (SE@G) is that of applying business acumen and market-based solutions to achieve meaningful and enduring societal impacts. By actively working across the spectrum of for-profit, nonprofit, and hybrid organizations, our faculty and students become participants in important conversations and debates that are taking place in business schools around the world. Visit here for more information.

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Michelle Valigursky