By Mel Lee, with Bri from Kua Coffee
Kua is a social enterprise that launched in 2019, with the aim of enabling businesses to embed impact into their every day. Each cup of their coffee fights climate change, diverts waste from landfill and enhances farmer wellbeing.”
Brody and Darcy first visited Uganda with UNSW in 2017. While on a produce farm in northern Uganda the two met Dan, a Ugandan student who had grown up in the thriving coffee-growing region in the east of the country. As they started discussing cultures around coffee in both Australia and Uganda, they realised that there was a huge disconnect from farm to flat white. As a result, Brody and Darcy returned from that first trip with a big bag of green coffee beans. They tested it out with some of Sydney’s best “coffee nerds”, and found out that it was really high quality specialty coffee.
The following year they took a second trip to Uganda to set up the Kua supply chain, and when they returned, Bri got involved. We knew Bri from her experience with us back in 2016, and have loved watching on as Kua Coffee has grown.
Image Source & Credit: Kua Coffee
The following interview is with Bri – Director and Head of Impact at Kua
Bri: “I had been studying international development and was really interested in the social enterprise space. I actually went overseas with PEV in 2016 on the first trip to Malawi, and it was an experience that really contributed to my interest in social entrepreneurship. I remember sitting with Brody on the library lawn of UNSW after they had returned from their second trip and he explained the idea of providing coffee in a way that was closed loop.
I remember leaving that chat and reading up on the coffee industry. I hadn’t really ever thought about it.. I knew from my undergrad studies and various experiences overseas that a lot of the agricultural produce we enjoy was imported from the developing world but I don’t think I realised how prolific coffee was as a commodity. Coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks and it is also one of the most traded commodities in the world. For a country like Uganda, it represents around a quarter of their exports. But I saw that there was a problem when we drink it in Australia, we often have no idea where it comes from which perpetuates inequality in supply chains and a myriad of other issues.
I never thought of myself as a social entrepreneur until Kua. I was always interested in the space but never thought that I would join and start a business.”
PEV: First off, given that Kua is all about delicious coffee that promotes well being and climate resilience so I would love to know what your go-to coffee order is?
Depending on the cafe, if they are a really nice cafe with good coffee, I will get a long-black. But mostly just a flat white.
What was your first job? What did you learn from it?
I grew up in a small country town called Cooma, around 4.5 hours south of Sydney. I got my first job when I was 15 in a fashion boutique called Birdnest. When I worked there over ten years ago it was a small country boutique and now it is one of the biggest online retailers in Australia.
I learned a lot about taking risks from the leader of the business, Jane, who is an amazing woman. She was a very courageous businesswoman and was really driven by purpose. She wanted to create a fashion brand and online store that would spark joy for women of all different shapes and sizes. Another thing that I learned from her was the power of community, I worked with lots of incredible women.
“Coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks and it is also one of the most traded commodities in the world. For a country like Uganda, it represents around a quarter of their exports.”
How does Kua Coffee measure impact?
We are in the process of developing this now. Traditionally, it has been very metrics based but our theory of change has been evolving. We have been working with a program developed by MIT and Harvard called the Net Positive Project (or SHINE Program). We serendipitously met the director of the program, Greg Norris, and started working with them. They use a methodology called Handprinting and Footprinting. It is a holistic approach to measuring and evaluating the social and environmental impact of your business and its products. It isn’t as negatively-geared as other measurement tools, as it considers harm but also benefits of certain operations, something that is super important to us – balancing realism with positivity.
That actually reminds me of a really great podcast called Outrage and Optimism which is about balancing the 2 different mindsets (both positive and negative) in dealing with climate change.
What have been the biggest wins and lows in running Kua Coffee?
The nature of being in a start-up means that there are constantly highs and lows!The biggest win was finishing 2019 with 30 amazing corporate clients in Sydney. We went a bit start-up crazy and all six of us moved into a house together and committed to volunteering for a year to get Kua up and running. After working for free for a year, it was awesome to pay all of our staff moving into 2020.
The biggest low has for sure been COVID-19 like it has been for many other small businesses. Our core business is supplying coffee to workplaces which was obviously disrupted by lockdown and WFH. We had to pivot our whole business model to be able to sustain our business and we are still working really hard to recoup all of the lost revenue.
So in the same vein, how did Kua pivot amidst the craziness of 2020 (that feels like it’s never ending)?
Kua never really had a B2C platform so we started selling to our customer base at home. We also created WFH packs which are distributed through our workplaces, meaning our business customers can actually purchase individual bags of coffee and send them to their staff as a way to create connection with everyone working from home.
We also started looking into new B2B markets: cafes, hotels and wholefoods stores that align with our values on sustainability and ethical supply chains, but still have that high consumption rate that workplaces do.
Image Source & Credit: Kua Coffee
What are your favourite books that have taught you something that’s stuck with you over the years?
The first one would be Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling It goes into the different traps we fall into, and really relates to development, specifically how we talk about development.
Another book that I read earlier this year is called the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. He talks about trees as very human things, and the processes of life and death and regeneration. It made me think about the environment in a very different way and gave me a greater appreciation for nature and the complex systems that exist within the environment. We often say in Kua “you need to fall in love with nature” in order to take care of it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and how have you used that in your work and career?
The first thing that comes to mind is something that I heard just the other day, to “Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can”. Particularly in entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, and young people in general, we put this immense pressure on ourselves to excel and be the best at everything.
My philosophy is to “Ask the Question”. Having constant curiosity, having a very ever-evolving mindset, and questioning your biases. That plays into every facet of my life, in that asking questions is relevant to relationships, mentorship and all aspects of life.
If you could turn back the clock 10 years and talk to your 15-year old self, what would you tell them?
I would say go with your gut, don’t be so hard on yourself, and realise that the world is so much bigger than the little place you grew up in. I would also tell my 15-year-old self to keep my eyes wide open because there is so much out there. Also, to stop treating learning as something that is about good grades and academics, treat learning as something that will bring richness to your life. Learn for life, not for school.
“Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can”. Particularly in entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, and young people in general, we put this immense pressure on ourselves to excel and be the best at everything.”
Lastly, where do you see Kua Coffee in 5 years?
It’s interesting since we are trying to get better at thinking long-term. The way that our strategy runs, we plan quarterly and we often pivot and change what we do. Currently, we have 3 years in mind. We want to build a solid customer base in Sydney about double the size. We want to continue to grow our home subscription base online.
The core goal for us is to build climate resilience programs in Uganda, hopefully in five years, to regenerate hundreds of thousands of acres. We are also really interested in the idea of open-sourcing our model, allowing other young entrepreneurs to replicate what we are doing. Imagine people in Germany could partner with coffee growers in Bolivia, New Zealand with Indonesia, Japan with Papua New Guinea.
Want to get Kua Coffee in your home or workplace (or both!)? Find out more about what the team is up to, how they’re measuring their impact and their climate resilience programs, and get involved on their website.