April 2012

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Revitalizing an Industry in Haiti Why Molly Nicaise sees coffee beans as an answer to providing jobs and rebuilding rural communities Walking into Molly Nicaise's lakefront home in Monona, it doesn't take long to figure out what line of work she's in: Cof- fee. The aroma floats in the air as she pours herself a cup. "It has a really smooth flavor," she says, a proud smile splashed across her face. She isn't serving your run-of-the-mill grocery store brand. This is an artisan blend she's played her own part in creat- ing. Nicaise is a coffee seller—at least on the surface. The co-founder of Singing Rooster, a nonprofit distributing Haitian coffee, she's become a bit of an expert in the coffee world. But dig a little deeper and you realize she's offering more than just a good brew. "We're not a coffee business. We're a humanitarian business," she explains. It is coffee with a cause. Grown in Haiti but roasted in Madison, 100 percent of the profits are funneled back into the farming communities from which they came—a field-to-coffee cup exchange that puts more money in Haitian farmers' pockets, many of whom live on less than $2 a day. Though an industry that once boomed on number of nonprofits in Haiti hover around 10,000. Many, especially after the devastating earthquake in 2010, come to build. Roads, clinics, schools—you name it, Haiti needs it. Yet, as good as the intentions are, Nicaise get back on their feet—a few pounds of coffee. The beans sold quickly at a lo- cal fundraiser, and she began weighing the possibility of doing more. Not only enticed by continuing meaningful work in the region, Nicaise loved the idea of venturing into a territory that played to her strengths—marketing, advertising and building an enterprise from the ground up. The decision to launch Singing Rooster felt right. Nicaise started with the basics, finding realized that infrastructure projects of- ten do little to address other fundamental issues. For example, while schools boost education in rural areas, with no jobs nearby it's an education that often leads nowhere. "We're graduating people with skills, but nothing to do," she explains. In 2008, Nicaise returned from another volunteer trip carrying what she discovered could be the key to helping some Haitians Haitian coffee growers to buy from. And just like that, she and her husband opened their own wallets and bought their first 10,000 pounds of beans. "After we brought that coffee back to the U.S. to sell, I sat up in the middle of the night shaking and said, 'What have we done?'" she recalls with a laugh. "But we knew people love coffee … it's a product that sold itself." Since that first purchase, Singing Roost- er's sales have doubled annually. By selling both individual bags of coffee and filling wholesale orders, they've pumped more than $100,000 into the communities of Haitian farmers. But the couple empha- the tiny island nation, decades ago hard- ship, corruption, bad politics and crime all did their parts to provoke a decline in cof- fee production. Which is why getting this kind of operation going doesn't just take a solid business strategy; it takes guts. "Part of what motivates me is [doubt]. roundabout journey. A savvy marketing pro who's run her own agency since 1995, Nicaise has made a career out of giving wings to new businesses. Yet it was while volunteering—an activity that has kept Nicaise and her husband busy for years in their off hours—that the idea for Singing Rooster was hatched. It started about nine years ago on an out- Go ahead and tell me I can't," she says. "That just [makes it] more exciting." Her venture into the coffee world was a reach trip to Haiti. Nicaise was with a group raising funds for a variety of causes—from boosting the supply of clean water to spon- soring health care workers—when she no- ticed a pattern among many nonprofits in the area. "Haiti is full of infrastructure devel- opers," Nicaise says. Estimates for the 46 BRAVA Magazine April 2012

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