February 13, 2011 / Praxis
An interview between TOJ Editor-in-Chief Chris Keller and the author of GENERATION EX-CHRISTIAN, Drew Dyck.
The mission of Pura Vida (www.puravidacoffee.com) is to harness the power of business to create good and serve the poor. We believe that, together, consumers and business leaders can join to promote a new type of capitalism – one that changes the way we think about business.
In his sermon “The Strength to Love,” Martin Luther King Jr. urged his audience to examine the words of Matthew 10:16, when Jesus advises his followers to, “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,” (KJV) or “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (NIV) At Pura Vida, where our employees see faith as an engine for action, we take this message to heart. As a company, we live in the tension of opposites as we blend the tough-mindedness of capitalism with the tender-heartedness of philanthropy to create a viable alternative to business as usual.
The traditional view of capitalism is survival of the fittest – the company that offers the best program at the best price and makes the most profit for its shareholders wins. At Pura Vida, however, we redefine the ideas of “profit” and “shareholders” as we use all our resources to better the lives of at-risk children and families in the countries where our products originate. While providing quality products at competitive prices, Pura Vida uses capitalism as a foundation for philanthropy; we believe capitalism can be driven by a desire to create good rather than greed. Our mission has four distinct pillars that guide us on this journey: we aim to empower producers, motivate consumers, inspire business leaders, and ultimately to serve the poor.
This re-visioning of charity and capitalism stemmed from a frustration on the part of Pura Vida co-founders John Sage and Chris Dearnley about the volatile funding base most non-profit organizations cope with on a regular basis. These groups are often completely dependent on the generosity of their donors, a condition which can result in scraping by month-to-month and difficulty in planning for the long term. The radical idea behind Pura Vida is that our company exists to be a funding engine for charitable programs. If our products continue to be of high quality, our prices remain competitive and our service stays superb, our charitable partners can then reasonably assume that our funding stream is steady and bankable. Freed from the pressures of living month-to-month, our non-profit organization is able to cast a longer-term vision for the future and to address the underlying needs and root causes of issues in the countries where our farmers work and live.
To this end, Pura Vida has entered the capitalistic North American marketplace on a mission to Create GoodTM, both at home and abroad. As a company, we embrace one of capitalism’s most fundamental principles: competition. The three distinct dimensions on which companies compete are product quality, value, and service. When an industry player debuts a new product, competitors rush to seize that idea, improve upon it, and produce an updated model to win a larger market share. This cycle, which by no means is limited to the specialty coffee industry, is what makes innovation happen with astonishing regularity. But cutting-edge products alone are not enough to guarantee financial success in the market. If a company is weak in products, value, or service, the business will not be sustainable over the long term.
As a for-profit company, Pura Vida cannot grow by relying on the “warm, fuzzy feeling” our customers receive from purchasing a product that benefits the producer and funds charitable work with at-risk children. While most individual consumers are looking for products that they can feel good about purchasing, any company or charity that has a noble goal can only attain so much before another good cause appears and consumers’ dollars are swept along with that new tide. Instead of becoming complacent, Pura Vida actively participates in the specialty beverage industry where we work to provide consumers with the best products and programs available. We constantly observe what industry leaders offer, what our customers seek, and what our producers need to create a system that maximizes the benefits to all parties. Pura Vida is competitive with other leading specialty coffee companies in each of the three areas, but we also add a fourth variable to the equation: a re-creation of the emotional link that has historically existed between producers and consumers.
As trade has moved beyond the small-town market, the distance between producers and consumers has grown from knowing the producer literally next door to not knowing which country it came from. In previous centuries, a merchant was immediately accountable to his clientele for the quality of his wares. If the butcher sold spoiled meat, he would hear about it from his customers after church on Sunday. Over time, however, the butcher gave way to the supermarket meat case, and the beef case might be stocked with steaks from Argentina on one shelf and Wyoming on the next. Distance creates a disconnect between a product and its impact on the world around it.
Pura Vida works to close this gap, both through the stories we’re able to tell about our farmers and the way we run our company. Every bag of Pura Vida coffee contains 100% certified Fair Trade, organic, shade-grown coffee. The Fair Trade movement has done a great deal to close the gap between producer and consumer, as its founding principles include direct trade and the elimination of “middle men,” especially in the coffee market. Furthermore, we believe that the earth itself is our greatest production line and that the better we take care of it, the more it will provide. Our commitment to organic, sustainable production carries across our product line and even into our earth-friendly approach to marketing materials. We know that when consumers have a face or environment to associate with a product, their accountability for the producer’s livelihood and environment increases. By restoring human and ecological value to the goods we consume, Pura Vida is changing the traditional economic outcome of capitalism to one that benefits our producers, our consumers, and our shareholders (at-risk children).
In this sense, Pura Vida operates beyond the borders of traditional economics, throwing out the notion that an organization must exist either to earn profit for its shareholders OR to garner donations from the public to serve needs that business and government do not meet. Through our experience, we have found that consumers do not view these daily activities as discrete events: buying goods here, making donations there, and never blending the two. In fact, we use the coffee-business side of Pura Vida as a means of attracting people to our mission through the simple act of purchasing coffee. Our charitable programs benefit greatly from the increased exposure the coffee company provides, as many customers cross over to become donors as well! We invite our customers to partner with us in this redefinition of what it means to be a philanthropic, capitalistic organization. You can purchase a great-tasting cup of coffee AND help those in need at the same time. When consumers and business leaders join together, we can promote a new type of capitalism that has the power to change the way we think about business and its role in society.
 According to a 2002 study on corporate citizenship commissioned by Cone/Roper, 91% of consumers will switch brands to support a better corporate citizen.
Pura Vida Coffee
Pura Vida Coffee is a non-profit organization that believes "in a different approach to business. One driven by good rather than greed. One that sees capitalism as an agent for compassion and faith as an engine for action."