CSR Spotlight: Excelso's Story
Water for Cambodia
Josie Evans, twenty four year old general manager of Excelso Coffee, Tauranga.
“Me as a person? I think I’m definitely still trying to figure that one out. I’ve gone from every kind of job - working in a family business, working in restaurants overseas, to then working for the rich on superyachts and seeing a whole other side of life that I never want anything to do with."
When Jim from Good Trust approached Excelso coffee two years ago, it had only ever been part of a small dream to give back. They had an idea to help people in Cambodia access clean water, by using what they earned in their recruitment business to build wells and help make a difference. As they told more people about what they were doing, more people wanted to be a part of it. Soon the small dream had become a movement, and Good Trust was formed.
It was a case of cutting through blissful ignorance. People who got involved did so because Jim and Andrew, by way of Good Trust, were leading by example, and it made other people want to be doing something good too. That’s originally what happened with Excelso Coffee and Good Trust, in the beginning. They saw the problem of water in Cambodia for what it really was – dire – and could no longer live ignoring it.
The Good Trust team started with simple avenues to raise money; music, events, and coffee. The cool part? For Excelso to contribute, the cost was negligible compared to the impact they were able to have. $2 from a bag of coffee gave someone in Cambodia the clean water they needed for about five years. Quite often Josie realised, it’s easy to forget that all that’s needed is a well.
"Clean water for ten years is so possible. We forget - often all that's needed is a well."
In their first Christmas partnership with Good Trust, Excelso sold about 300 ‘good coffee boxes’ as gift packages to help raise funds. The success of the boxes was ‘not planned at all - especially in the busy season’. This first drive was the time the Excelso team realised how easy it was to get people involved without them necessarily realising the scale of their contribution. They chose to sell everything at cost, and then added $5 on for Good Trust, which still made the boxes cheaper than they normally would be – but also a really great, meaningful gift.
"I don’t necessarily agree with asking people to just give money. It’s really hard. But especially continuously - if they can’t see where it’s going or what it’s doing. Not everyone can go over and see it. When you haven’t seen it, and you don’t know what it’s doing? Once or twice, maybe. But in buying habits – that’s possible. That's where you can change things - it becomes natural to do good with good purchasing."
When someone can't see the benefit for themselves of their long term donation, it sits funny with Josie. She admits not everyone can go over to the wells like her and her Mum Carrie did in April, which is why she believes that changing the buying culture subtly is the secret to sustainable fundraising. Especially if you're a business - it's the social enterprise model. But to do that - to make 'good business' prevalent, you first have to change the business culture. And with that - ultimately the underlying belief that people living in Cambodia are “not our people”.
From what Josie's observed, it’s too easy to not think about people living in places where there’s nothing. But the second you do? You see everything.
“It’s hard to see. Educating people, and putting it out there – and making people understand how bad it is everywhere else. I don’t know how you do that anymore. We’re desensitised. Over there it’s okay to have a child die of thirst. Yet, if it was in New Zealand – there would be outcry. There would be outrage. Someone would be in prison, and we’d all be giving to help the child.”
But they’re not our people. That’s the crux of the barrier, something likely only ever felt out loud behind closed doors. Deep within us, we're the land faraway and maybe it's not our problem to deal with.
‘The belief is that they’re not the same people as us and so we’re so much happier to let it go. That’s the hardest thing for me to comprehend. I’ve always had the mindset that people are people. No matter what your skin colour or where you’re from – we are all people, and it is so luck of the draw where you’re born.
I don’t think it’s right to be so content with having a really really easy happy lifestyle when other people can’t even eat one day, or two days or three. We’re happy to complain about our lifestyles and the things we don’t have, when really, we have more than we could ever need.”
After returning back from Cambodia only two weeks ago, Josie is still struggling to put her time away into words. There was a lot she saw that she didn't think she would.
"I thought I knew. I mean, I knew it was hard for them to get clean drinking water. But I never really understood the full picture. You could never understand. Even the last few times Jim and Andrew went over, they went in the wet season. So they saw it when it was lush, and while there was still a need for drinking water - there was water everywhere.
When we went over in the drought, everything was brown. You don’t see it in the tourist cities, but the second you go rural – it's all dry. Still, there are these crazy contrasts, because the houses are on stilts and you know how bad the flooding must be.
I remember we got to a place where they had one of our wells in, and they’re using the water to work their farm. You step into this green oasis of fresh fruit and vegetables – and it wasn’t about drinking water at all. It was about water when they couldn’t have it. Even now two weeks on they still haven’t had rain. It’s about 42 degrees everyday. It’s the worst drought they’ve had in well over a hundred years.
I mean – we (she laughs) – our idea of climate change is ridiculous. We see the minor sides of it – and they’re living it. Everyday. It’s just not fair."
She gets to talk to customers in the coffee shop about the world, but finds that’s hard too when it comes back to talking about people around the world. There's this underlying feeling of fear that stops us from doing more.
“I have conversations here sometimes with people who don’t want to bring in refugees – because what if bad people come in to? What if it makes us a target? I just think 'Yeah. Because it would be so horrible for us to live one day the way they live their entire lives'."
She knows education helps. Once you know about how bad it gets, the next question is; how can we let people to continue to live in that when we can do something to help?
The solution seems to lie in buyer behaviour. As long as you do your bit, and the businesses you support do theirs, then it’s something. The biggest hurdle is in getting people to understand. Josie only knows what she does of Cambodia now because she was shown herself. The best part about their business setup now is that if Excelso does well, then Good Trust does too. If Josie puts her energies into growing her business, then in time, the good will take care of itself.
Excelso is starting by switching to 'Good coffee' in all of their machines in house, which means each cup of coffee will contribute to about a week of water for a family in Cambodia. The cost per coffee to give this much water is only about 2 cents per cup. The majority of people who’ll buy their morning flat white with Excelso will be none the wiser to how much good they’re really doing.
After years of watching Excelso “change and grow, to fall, and then change and grow”, it’s nice for Josie to see that doing good business is now doing good for Excelso. The company has reduced their marketing spend right down, instead focusing on delivering on quality coffee, training their retailers, and funding Good Trust in the process. The question now is; how do we get more people involved without simply asking for money?
"We’ve always tried to do good and be good to people –which sometimes resulted in customers who don’t pay, or staff that take advantage – but at the same time, we’ve never compromised our morals, or who we are. I think that’s important.”
For Excelso, it means carrying on. But on a macro scale, it’s an answer hidden in changing our culture at large. It's making it easier for businesses to feel like a 'good business' model is an option (without committing to being a full blown social enterprise or being guilt tripped for not being charitable enough), and that education drives a sense of 'they are our people' much more than what it currently does for New Zealanders. It's time to look beyond our fences. Because 'they are our people'. And we can do so much more to help them.
1. Ownership of the problem – Jim from Good Trust approached Excelso with the problem of Water in Cambodia. After seeing what good events were doing to help, and how easy it was to make a difference with wells, Excelso joined in.
2. Small Avenues to Give – Josie realised how difficult it is to ask people for money, but also saw that everybody had choices. Rather than focus on harnessing donations, Josie looked for ways to help their customers make good choices easily. By switching coffee in their machines and offering good coffee to their customers, they’ve been able to slowly change the way their community contributes to Good Trust and Cambodia. “When you haven’t seen it, and you don’t know what it’s doing? Once or twice, maybe you donate. But in buying habits – that’s possible. It becomes natural to do good with good purchasing.”
3. Challenge the belief; ‘They’re not our people’ – It’s hard to go up against a belief nobody wants to admit they hold. But as a culture, it’s important to think about our perceptions. Do we see South East Asia as a culture who needs us, a holiday destination, or not our problem?
4. Understand the difference you're making - When Josie first went to Cambodia, she knew it was hard for the people there to get clean drinking water. But she never really understood the full picture. ‘I never realised. It was about having water when they couldn’t have it.’
5. Do Good Business – Sometimes Josie finds it hard to balance her time between managing the growth of Excelso and getting caught up with her work with Good Trust. ‘I could easily talk about Cambodia for five hours. But I have to structure my time – I realised what’s good for Excelso is good for Good Trust. I can’t do one without the other anymore, so I put my time into Excelso and know that Good Trust benefits from that as a result’.
6. Water for Cambodia - “What a lot of people don’t realise is that clean water for ten years is so possible.” It only takes a well.