Since founding Kohana Coffee, I’ve learned that women entrepreneurs asking for money often get turned down. That’s no surprise—the deck has historically been stacked against us. But I was surprised to learn that it’s not because we ask for too much. Women typically are turned down for funding because they’ve asked for too little.
The people we’re pitching often don’t think we’ve requested enough to get the job done. Why do we underbid ourselves? As women, we’re trained from a young age to only ever ask for what we need to get by on rather than ask for what we need to succeed. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for everything we want, to dream big and suggest an amount to match. It’s that kind of audacity that gets attention—and the check.
1. If you want to help others, understand who you're helping. So many companies are launching social good campaigns and/or charitable initiatives as a marketing tactic vs. a platform for measured and impactful change. At Kohana, we are extremely passionate about supporting women in coffee growing regions around the world. But in order to really support them, we need to get to know them, meet with them, hear their stories and daily struggles, and understand what they need to succeed. I did this, and came to the realization that these women are JUST LIKE ME.
When we can see one another as the same, we find the human commonality of our condition. We find the simple solutions that have the biggest impact. We put faces and names on statistics, and as a result, we feel closer as a human family with the power to make a profound difference in the world.
2. Demonstrate by example. Building on advice #2, it’s completely possible for a for-profit enterprise to do maximum good for all of their stakeholders. By treating our supply partners as equal businesswomen, Kohana’s new sourcing project seeks to create a working business exchange that enhances our own financial bottom line, generates profitability throughout our supply chain, and generates dramatic forward momentum in the gender equality movement. It’s business—and sensible business strategy—as a force for good. It’s my hope that others will see the boost to the bottom line and replicate our business model.
3. Take the time to understand the greater impact of your business actions. Measure what matters is a mantra at business school. And in order to strive for gender equality in coffee (or any industry!), it's crucial that we step back and measure how that will positively impact the entire system in which it functions. The imbalance of gender rights can be considered as much a threat to the sustainability of quality coffee as global warming, access to water, plant disease, or an aging farmer.
By investing in gender equity, we can see significant improvements in crop productivity and quality as well as marked social impact. When we engage the full capacities of both men and women in the coffee supply chain, the resilience of all stakeholders, including communities, crops and businesses, will be strengthened. Making sure women have equal access to training as men, consulting with women of farming communities to see what aspects of training they’re most interested in, and pinpointing what factors prevent them from accessing not just training but credit and leadership positions, are essential measures that will positively affect society as a whole and for generations to come.