Robert Rudnick is co-founder and executive director of Coffee Circle, which aims to modernize and change the coffee trade. Coffee is the world's second most valuable traded commodity, behind only petroleum.
Coffee Circle believes that "the world doesn't need another coffee brand, or another charity".
Therefore Coffee Circle believes in direct, personal trade that benefits everyone involved, especially Ethiopian coffee farmers. Digital technology plays a leading role in adding transparency for consumers and educating them to a point at which they increase their willingness to pay.
Coffee Circle personally sources its coffees from smallholder growers in Ethiopia, roasts them in Berlin and sells them through its website coffeecircle.com to mostly private, but also corporate customers.
For the excellent product quality, Coffee Circle pays several times the world market price. This preserves traditional smallholding structures in growing and harvesting coffee, which in turn determines the exceptional coffee quality.
Most importantly, a fixed share of Coffee Circle’s revenue goes back to the communities in Ethiopia, where it is invested to improve living conditions of the farmers and their families. There are five major differences to the status quo of development aid:
- First, Coffee Circle gives 1 EUR per kilogram of sold coffee back to the coffee farmers. This is three times more than other established systems of fair trade coffee.
- Second, project work is not an act of giving. Instead, coffee farmers earn a development project by producing and selling their high-quality coffee to Coffee Circle.
- Third, Coffee Circle clients decide for themselves which project they wish to support with their purchase. The progress of the projects is regularly and transparently documented and communicated.
- Fourth, when implementing the project, local communities and the local government have to actively help through work or resources. This guarantees local buy-in and identification with the project, e.g. a new school.
- And fifth, Coffee Circle measures the impact of its projects years after their completion. This then influences project selection and resource allocation for future projects.
Coffee Circle’s main goal is maximizing social impact in the areas of health, education and agricultural training. The core believe is that social entrepreneurship is a key driver of future economic and social development.
Rudnick is an exceptional innovator and entrepreneur. He has produced an outstanding positive impact on more than 38,000 coffee farmers so far. These come from regions in which people live far below the poverty line. Coffee Circle has also managed to soften the importance of price in the purchase decision and to increase the importance of social implications. Rudnick is convinced that this model can be transferred to many similar product categories and industries.