As she travels through Nicaraguan communities where coffee farmers are focused on the annual coffee crop, Rosa Rivas thinks years ahead. The harvest she contemplates extends beyond the region's essential crop to include more and more schools populated by growing numbers of healthy and proficient students.
Rivas is executive director of the Seeds for Progress Foundation in Nicaragua, a non-profit that concentrates on education, health and infrastructure. Seeds for Progress was established in 2013 as a social-responsibility offshoot of the Mercon Coffee Group, a leading coffee trading company with a strong commitment to the farming communities it serves.
As part of its deep commitment to coffee-producing communities, the Starbucks Foundation is contributing $300,000 over a three-year period to support Seeds for Progress’ Digital Seeds program. The funds are directed to eight schools to improve reading, writing and math skills for 2,700 students through the use of technology and innovative academic practices. Seeds for Progress also operates the Healthy Seeds Program, which provides health-care services to remote Nicaraguan regions.
‘We don’t want to just build a classroom. We want to build capacities and leadership’
“Starbucks has a long history of supporting pathways to opportunity for young people in the global communities we serve,” said Corey duBrowa, Starbucks senior vice president of Global Communications.
DuBrowa, who spent a week volunteering at a local comprehensive school in Las Colinas earlier this year, met with Rivas and many students.
“Starbucks has been sourcing coffee from Nicaragua for more than a decade. It’s gratifying to see firsthand our investments in these coffee communities supporting farmers and their families to ensure they can thrive for generations to come,” he said. “The work that Seeds for Progress is doing in Nicaragua is vital to this effort. We are proud to partner with leaders like Rosa, who are working so tirelessly for the children and their parents.”
Rivas is also mindful of future generations.
“We have some communities where we have been working for 10 or 12 years in the same school. It’s a long-term commitment,” she said. “We don’t want to just build a classroom. We want to build capacities and leadership in the communities. You can see economic returns in coffee production during the harvest. But in terms of education, we need at least five years of investment in a community to really see the difference.”
‘Education is fundamental for the coffee industry’
Bringing together non-government organizations with the public and private sectors to address the needs of the Nicaraguan people has been Rivas’s focus since she finished school. Raised in Managua, her nation’s capital and largest city, she credits her Jesuit education there with shaping an enduring social conscience. After studying business administration and marketing in college, Rivas married and moved north to the central northern mountain city of Matagalpa. She joined the Mercon Coffee Group as a coordinator in its Corporate Social Responsibility department in 2005.
“Back then, this was one of the first foundations promoting this type of partnership between the public sector and the private sector,” she said.
Rivas splits her time between Managua, Matagalpa and far-flung villages where she checks in with facilitators who work with teachers, parents and students on a day-to-day basis. The travel can be demanding, but there’s no question the work she and her cohorts engage in is critical to the communities they serve.
“Coffee is one of the main sources of income, not only for the coffee regions, but for the country. We see now, in terms of the coffee industry, there are a lot of challenges related to climate change and the weather, and related to the educational level of the producers,” Rivas said. “We still have farmers who don’t write or read, so they rely on their families or kids who are now in school. Education is fundamental for the coffee industry. We need producers with better education to produce coffee in a more sustainable way. It’s important to the challenges that we’re facing today.”
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