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a small section of the world

Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund: Empowering Women & Saving Lives

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Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund: Empowering Women & Saving Lives

Words by Marcel Reyes, SDCN Blog Senior Editor. 

Women in Business (WIB) in association with the International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA) invite you to attend “A Night of Conscious Coffee” at the San Diego Central Library located at 330 Park Boulevard on Mar. 10, 2016, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

The evening will begin with a tour of the Library, progress to a tour of coffee vendors, roasters, and businesses to learn about coffee from farm to cup. Pastry and coffee tasting flights will be available. The event will close with "A Small Section of the World" documentary film and a panel discussion with special guests Martin Diedrich of Kean Coffee and Lisa Lindgren, human-trafficking expert. 

Martin Diedrich of Kean Coffee

Martin Diedrich of Kean Coffee

“A Small Section of the World,” is an inspiring documentary about the Asomobi women’s coffee association in Costa Rica who manage to create a sustainable living through coffee against all odds. Following the screening, a panel discussion will speak to the synergy that entrepreneurship has with not only improving economic stations, but also better positioning women to be safe in their domestic situations.

In September 2015, when Karen Cebreros, Co-Founder of the IWCA, toured the Central Library in downtown San Diego, she was just looking for a little space to host a special joint meeting between the IWCA and her colleagues in Women in Business. She was hoping the rental cost would fit the meeting budget.
They toured the massive 350-seat auditorium with adult programming and special events coordinator, Erwin Magbanua, and discussed “A Small Section of the World,” a film they planned to watch together, as a milestone for joining forces toward the empowerment of women at origin worldwide. Magbanua was moved, asked if the public could possibly attend, and waived the considerable rental fee. Cebreros’s special meeting was upgraded to a special event.

The Women of Coffee Micro-finance Fund will do more than stimulate families economically. It will save women’s lives. “The issue of Women in Coffee is connected directly to the issue of human trafficking and abuse,” Cebreros reflects on the mission behind the mission. “Until this March 10th event, we’ve never really had the right venue to explore it.”

Karen Cebreros of Women of Coffee Micro-Finance Fund and Co-Founder of the IWCA. Photo by  Julie Rings .

Karen Cebreros of Women of Coffee Micro-Finance Fund and Co-Founder of the IWCA. Photo by Julie Rings.

Last year, “A Small Section of the World” was screened at the Museum of Photographic Arts as a “Women in Coffee Film Event”, where it made $7,000 for the Women Of Coffee Micro-finance Fund, in one night, through the generosity of 141 people. That night impacted the growth of the Mexican micro-finance bank and opened the Colombian micro-finance bank. This past January 2016 saw more momentum when the IWCA closed a global grant with Rotary in the Southern California district for $50,000 to go to the Guatemalan micro-finance bank.

“97% of women pay back their micro-finance loans no matter what country or social strata,” Cebreros explains. “When you put money in women’s hands, it is paid back.” 

Measurable empowerment is key because, explains Cebreros, without tangible value, these women become vulnerable to abuse: “We found out that 65% of women are abused in Costa Rica, in the cities. It’s even worse in the country, at 85%.” With microcredit, cottage industries start adding revenue streams that flow into every area of life. “It stimulates the local economies. And more importantly, men tend to stop beating women when they view them as a better asset. Sadly, some see their wives as no different from goats and coffee.” When a woman demonstrates hard cash value, she stands a better chance of being saved.

From left to right: Mansi Chokshi, SCAA Director of Membership; Martin Diedrich, Kean Coffee; Karen Cebreros, Women of Coffee Micro-finance Fund and Co-founder of the IWCA. Photo by  Julie Rings .

From left to right: Mansi Chokshi, SCAA Director of Membership; Martin Diedrich, Kean Coffee; Karen Cebreros, Women of Coffee Micro-finance Fund and Co-founder of the IWCA. Photo by Julie Rings.

“Organic was born in San Diego. Fair trade was born in San Diego,” Karen asserts establishing San Diego as the origin, and corner of "Conscious Coffee" in the US. “But, for a long time, nothing was changing for women at origin. Women In Coffee is born [as part of the mission of the IWCA]. We adopt the same bylaws of WIB [Women in Business]. Fast forward—we reach even more women today. In April, at the Annual Specialty Coffee Association Show, we’re signing our 20th chapter, in Cameroon.”

The San Diego coffee community of professionals and enthusiasts are invited to this free, social, and educational event at the beautiful San Diego Central Library. 

Photo by  Julie Rings . 

Photo by Julie Rings

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A Passion for Consciousness: Karen Cebreros

Karen Cebreros of Earth's Choice Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund.

Karen Cebreros of Earth's Choice Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund.

Article by SDCN Assistant Editor, Pablo Lara. Photos by SDCN Staff Photographer, Julie Ring.

On a typically sunny San Diego afternoon palm trees danced to the slow breeze along a 
desolate Park Boulevard, with few cars on the road. This day brought me together with 
Karen Cebreros, full-time advocate of sustainability in the coffee sector; she is a wealth of 
knowledge and source of inspiration. 

Karen Cebreros at Hessian Global Goods on Park Blvd., San Diego, CA.

Karen Cebreros at Hessian Global Goods on Park Blvd., San Diego, CA.

We decided to enjoy a cup of coffee at Hessian Global Goods (Prounounced "Hess-si-an"), the perfect setting to discuss Karen’s upcoming projects, which are always resonating with global awareness. Coffee, the second largest commodity in the world, possesses the immense possibility of creating lasting impact on environmental and social fronts due to its large chain from farm to cup. The numerous opportunities to intersect environmentalism and humanitarianism in our industry are pivotal for its future. This is why we must take action. Karen has devoted the last twenty-years of her life shedding light and finding solutions to help the buttress of our industry: Women in farming communities. 

While drinking my coffee, its aromatics transported me to the narratives of Karen’s spoken 
words. Recounting her first visits to origin in the early nineties, before the advent of social 
consciousness in coffee, she witnessed firsthand the harsh reality of coffee farmers. She 
specifically noted the distressing situation women of these farming regions found 
themselves in. Cyclical poverty and abuse were the social norm. Cebreros quickly 
concluded that their realities were a direct result of the economic dependence on their 
husbands. Facilitating access to micro-loans for women at origin is an initiative Karen has 
been working on through the Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund, and the results are eminent. 

Karen truly believes that women are motivated by the necessities of their family, making them the best candidates for loans like these. Loan recipients have proved to be successful entrepreneurs, opening eateries and workshops that diversify family income. The inception of this initiative took place in Guatemala, and Karen hopes to extend the program to other coffee growing regions, such as Africa. 

To my excitement, Karen is launching her most innovative project yet: an automated café that will serve beverages made using coffee sourced from women-led co-ops.  The coffee will be roasted by Daymar Coffee Roasters; a company that has been an active supporter of Karen’s women forward initiatives. This partnership is possible thanks to the technological component of this project. Technology, coffee and consciousness merge into one machine, linking Karen’s green coffee sourcing and origin initiatives directly with the mainstream pool of consumers. 

“This is the culmination of twenty-five years of work,” said Cebreros. 

For many years now she has been waiting for the right technology that will best represent 
these coffees. The machine has a screen component with the potential to play images from the farm that day’s coffee selection originates, or perhaps the story of a woman farmer from 
that co-op your cup comes from. While this this closes the gap between conscious sourcing and market, will it accomplish this without compromising quality? 

I’m not going to lie; at first I was skeptical about the quality aspect of this project. And as a 
barista I don’t quite agree with the automation of our craft. Indeed, I had some questions 
pertaining to the brewing technology of these machines, which were answered by the creator, Howard Heller of The--CoffeeHouse.com representative. Heller is the maker of the machine for Earth's Choice, custom labelled "The Organic Coffee House."

How will water be filtered in order to ensure beverage quality and to prevent mineral build up, for instance? A reverse osmosis filtering system is used to ensure machine longevity 
and drink standards. What sort of grinder is employed and how will it stand the high 
volume projected? “This was in fact the hardest problem to solve,” said a representative of the Creator, and if you are 
familiar with coffee extraction, you know how challenging grind consistency is. When the 
purchase contract is signed, if you choose to only serve Daymar’s Women’s Co-op 
coffees, burs will continually be replaced under the guarantee. High quality conical 
burrs will be replaced by regional technicians along with filtering systems. Interestingly 
enough, the quality control gurus at Daymar Coffee tested the machine and were quite 
pleased with the results. Roy Gallegos, owner of Daymar coffee stated, “We were able to 
play with grind size, and frankly we had never seen a shot with such great crema and flavor 
through a fully automatic machine.” 

We will all have the opportunity to enjoy cups made by the automated café at A Small Section of The World: Women in Coffee Film Event on May 20. The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) will host our screening of A Small Section of the World. From the award winning producer of Waiting for Superman, comes an inspiring story of a community of women in Costa Rica that against the odds sought out coffee as a way of bringing prosperity and sustainability to their community. The event is a fundraiser for the microfinance initiative discussed above. In fact, $5 of every ticket sold, will go to the Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund. The intimacy of the Museum of Photographic Arts will allow attendees to ask further questions directly to Karen Cebreros, Daymar and special guests that will be part of the Q&A panel.

The documentary film, "A Small Section of the World," is an inspirational story about a group of women from a remote farming region of Costa Rica whose ideas sparked a revolution in the coffee growing world.

I lastly want to emphasize the huge impact that the auto-café will have. The mainstream market still consumes coffees dictated by C Market pricing, unlike the third-wave industry, which buys green coffee at an elevated price. C Market prices and their fragility create pressing realities for farmers; higher prices paid by Cebreros’ sourcing will translate directly to the women co-ops. We hope the initiative succeeds, and if it does, it will reach a market far 
greater than that of the third-wave coffee shop.

Karen walked out of Hessian with a lovely vintage Tintin poster for her grandson. It reminded her of origin trips to the jungles of Peru. Certainly this kid won’t grow up with a provincial point of view!

Thank you Karen Cebreros not only for being such a pillar of inspiration in our local and global community, but also for supporting the mission of the San Diego Coffee Network in word and deed. Karen is a long standing member of the   Specialty Coffee Association of America   and a Founding Member of the   International Women's Coffee Alliance  . A native of San Diego, Cebreros, along with many of the early pioneers of sustainability and conscious coffee sourcing, have helped to bolster San Diego's reputation as the Conscious Corner of Coffee in the U.S.

Thank you Karen Cebreros not only for being such a pillar of inspiration in our local and global community, but also for supporting the mission of the San Diego Coffee Network in word and deed. Karen is a long standing member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America and a Founding Member of the International Women's Coffee Alliance. A native of San Diego, Cebreros, along with many of the early pioneers of sustainability and conscious coffee sourcing, have helped to bolster San Diego's reputation as the Conscious Corner of Coffee in the U.S.

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