This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a reality show celebrity. For not just one, but two seasons, you’ve had TV cameras documenting your search for true love. You nearly broke the Internet when you got down on one knee to propose, and now millions of fans are waiting for you to announce a wedding date.
But then real life sets in, the relationship goes south, and the Internet blows up again when you announce that the wedding is off. As the haters rage online, you try to unplug, recenter, and figure out your next move, which turns out to be …
A coffee company.
Not just any coffee company, but one that’s built around a lifestyle of generosity and a business model of giving back 100% of profits to worthy causes. So of course, you put the mission right in the name: Generous Coffee Co.
Not every coffee brand has a backstory that’s a little bit soap opera and a little bit Stanford Social Innovation Review. But that’s what happens when the company is co-founded by Ben Higgins, star of Season 20 of ABC’s The Bachelor plus the spin-off series Ben and Lauren: Happily Ever After?
Ben says he “fell into coffee” during a driving tour of Honduras shortly after his Bachelor stint. It was a place he knew already from serving on the board of Humanity & Hope United, a nonprofit that seeks to build more sustainable, resilient communities among the working poor of Honduras.
Earlier, when he mentioned the organization on TV, “our fundraising skyrocketed,” Ben recalls. “It connected a whole new group of people with the organization.” After the show and his subsequent breakup, the driving tour was a chance to reconnect with a country that had “broken my heart but also called my heart,” he says.
As they drove across Honduras, Ben and his friend Riley Fuller, the founder of Humanity & Hope, discussed what might happen if donations dried up without the fundraising platform of a popular TV show.
“We started talking about ways to build a sustainable fundraising model, and one of those ideas was to create a company that was solely focused on giving back,” Ben says. If the company’s owners had “other gigs” that would allow them to give their time without any financial return, then “every bit of profit would be donated back to the cause and we would have something really special.”
Purpose Over Profit
What they needed was a product, and Honduras just happens to be one of the world’s top five coffee producing countries. But despite more than $1 billion in annual exports, most coffee farmers live in deep poverty due to boom-and-bust growing cycles, unscrupulous buyers, and international futures traders who profit from a declining price for beans.
Ben saw that the farmers had been “completely destroyed,” and the injustice of the situation only added to the urgency of finding a successful “for-purpose” business model. So, Ben says he started “figuring out coffee” – without, perhaps, fully appreciating the challenge that lay ahead.
“I guess maybe my ego got in the way here,” he laughs, “but I went back to the States and said, ‘I think we could actually find our space in the market.’ I mean, coffee is a saturated market, but I thought we could find a way to successfully tell the story that yes, we’re supplying the best coffee out there, and at the same time, we’re donating all of our profits away. I thought people could jump on that.”
Three years on, Generous is proving that there’s room for a company built for purpose rather than profit. Last year, despite the pandemic, the company gave back more than $25,000 to its major nonprofit partners: Humanity & Hope, Loveland Foundation, and Prison Fellowship.
Ben says partners are chosen annually on a range of criteria: people focused, sustainable business model, and proven track record, for starters. Generous also looks for partners that will listen to the people they’re trying to serve rather than “trying to come in as saviors.”
He cites the example of Humanity & Hope United, which recently was working in an impoverished Honduran village that lacked clean drinking water. Naturally, the organization planned to invest its resources in a water tank, but the villagers said, “No, no, no, we need jobs for women before clean water because that brings more income into the household and [creates] an equal partnership in helping the family move forward.”
Ben says the initial reaction at Humanity & Hope was, “That’s a terrible idea,” but they followed the villagers’ lead and funded a chicken-raising business that quickly became successful, creating jobs for dozens of women. With the additional family income, the community was able to purchase its own water tank – and more chicken coops are now being built in other villages.
What’s In a Name?
It’s telling that the company’s website address is generousmovement.com rather than generouscoffee.com. Ben says coffee may be “the gasoline that powers the engine,” but the larger goal has always been to create connections among people who desire to lead a life of purpose.
Connection and purpose are two things Ben searched for all his life, according to his memoir Alone In Plain Sight, which made its debut on Feb. 2. It’s an introspective and wide-ranging book that discusses faith and fame, doubt and determination, television and testicles. (How’s that for a teaser?) There’s a lot to take in, but the book’s central message seems to be this: “Life is short and we are mortal, and we must make the most of every single day we have on this earth.”
If that sums up the book, it might also describe the Generous customer.
“Our customer is somebody that is willing to use their life for the benefit of others,” Ben says. “We believe there are people out there who really desire to do that [but] maybe don’t know how or don’t know what space they can enter into to do that.”
With those people in mind, Generous created an Ambassadors program designed to offer more structured opportunities to help and encourage others. “They’re advocating for a lifestyle of generosity and we’re giving them an excuse to do that” through organized monthly campaigns on behalf of teachers, frontline workers, and more, Ben says.
Ambassadors also are encouraged to use Generous as a platform to launch their own give-back projects. Lauren Daae, for instance, used her artistic talents to paint coffee rainbows that adorn Generous sweatshirts. She also did a series of coffee-colored paintings that were auctioned on Facebook, helping to raise nearly $2,000 for hurricane relief efforts in Honduras.
“This is more about the people than it ever will be about the product,” Ben says. “We’re mobilizing people to show that … maybe what you’re drinking every day or wearing every day can actually be used for something greater than any of us.”
Spend for good: Generous offers eight of the highest quality coffee blends from Honduras, Ethiopia, and more. All beans are sourced ethically, and farmers are paid 80% more than the local price. Coffee-related apparel and accessories also help to advance the mission. Ben Higgins’s book, Alone In Plain Sight, is now available from Thomas Nelson Publishers. (Spoiler alert: The search for love has a happy ending – Ben is now engaged to fellow social entrepreneur Jess Clarke.)
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