Coffee collaboration wins gold award from CASE

A York-inspired marriage between education, sustainable farming practices, fair-trade prices and great tasting coffee was recently recognized with a gold award at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District II Accolade Awards ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland. Members of the York community and Timothy’s World Coffee received the gold award – the highest honour in its class – in the category of Leadership in Educational Fundraising for establishing a distinctive association that offers multiple benefits.

Becky McKinnon and Howard DaughertyRight: Becky McKinnon, president of Timothy’s World Coffee, and York Professor Howard Daugherty are all smiles at CASE Awards dinner in Baltimore

“This award recognizes the unique nature of the York University-Timothy’s World Coffee relationship that generates funding for research and conservation, promotes sustainable development in rural Costa Rica, and increases awareness of sustainable products among Canadian consumers,” says Howard Daugherty, environmental studies professor at York, who was instrumental in establishing this initiative.

The relationship between York and Timothy’s was born out of a donation of farmland in southern Costa Rica to York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) by Toronto physician Dr. M.M. (Woody) Fisher in 1998. Each year, York student researchers from FES travel to Costa Rica to conduct graduate research on biodiversity conservation and various themes in rural sustainability. Working closely with the Tropical Science Centre in Costa Rica and the local growers’ cooperative, students help local farmers grow quality specialty coffee that does not harm the environment, that uses fair labour practices and brings a higher than fair-trade price for the crop. One of the results of this effort has been the creation of the Las Nubes brand coffee, York’s own brand of specialty coffee (certified “sustainable” by the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture), which is grown on farms adjacent to York’s Las Nubes Rainforest.

Becky McKinnon, president of Timothy’s World Coffee, agreed in 2002 to support the Las Nubes project. Upon sampling or “cupping” of various roasts in 2003, Timothy’s agreed to promote its sale in 140 stores throughout Canada. Timothy’s also agreed to donate $1 from every pound of coffee sold through its retail stores, back to York. These funds are directed towards the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation, which was established to help support York’s sustainability research and conservation programs in the region.

“As a development-related activity, this relationship serves as a model for how corporate supporters and educational institutions can successfully work together to achieve mutually beneficial goals,” says Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation. “We congratulate the University on receiving this distinguished form of recognition from CASE, an organization that sets the benchmarks for success in the field of educational advancement.”

“Las Nubes is a success story based on relationships spanning the University,” says Nancy White, York’s director of media relations. “Our role was to bring those parties together and launch the Las Nubes brand, together with Timothy’s and the York University Foundation. The giant coffee party and news conference at York was an innovative way to kick-start brand-awareness with the many media outlets across Canada that covered the Las Nubes story.”

Some of the benefits of the York-Timothy’s relationship include:

  • An increase in the number of students who will be able to complete their master’s degrees based on their field research in Costa Rica. (Since the program began in 1999, 16 students have completed their degrees and 30 more have taken field courses and done their internships. It is anticipated that 20 or more students will benefit from the extra funding per year).
  • In 2004, local farmers and their families benefited from Timothy’s prices – US$1.30 per pound, which was more than double the world market price of 60-80 cents per pound that year. Timothy’s also paid a higher price than last year’s fair trade price of US$1.26 per pound. These additional funds go to farmers and to a social development fund of the cooperative.
  • A positive consumer response in terms of the taste of the coffee and the message it brings.
  • This partnership places York in the forefront of “sustainability in action”.

Luis Angel Rojas, a small coffee farmer and a member of COOPEAGRI, the farmers’ cooperative that produces Las Nubes Coffee, says, “Coffee farmers in the Las Nubes region are proud to be associated with York University and Timothy’s World Coffee by providing a sustainable, high-quality coffee for the Canadian market. This relationship is important to our cooperative because of the economic, social and ecological values derived from this program.”

The first consideration in building this relationship with York, says Becky McKinnon, president of Timothy’s World Coffee, was the excellence of the coffee.

“The Las Nubes brand offers superb cup characteristics that we are proud to offer our customers,” says McKinnon. As for the environmental, educational and social benefits of the relationship, customers “got it” immediately. The CASE award, she says, further endorses the need for companies to build globally-focused relationships with their communities.

“We feel we are just at the beginning of this relationship,” says McKinnon. “To get this international recognition so early on is amazing. This program has tremendous potential for growth and we are looking forward to working together with the University and with the coffee growers cooperative in Costa Rica to make it even better.”

“Companies like Timothy’s are setting a tremendous example for others to follow and their efforts are receiving well-deserved recognition,” says Joni Seager, dean of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. “This award is further endorsement of the widely beneficial nature of this relationship –  for our student researchers, coffee farmers, Canadian consumers and our planet.”

Headquartered in Washington, DC, with an office in London, CASE is the professional organization for advancement professionals at all levels who work in alumni relations, communications and development. District II has the largest CASE membership including more than 660 institutions and 4,800 individual members.

The York University Foundation submitted this award nomination to CASE. In 2003 the Foundation won a bronze award in the category of Leadership in Educational Fundraising for its start-up progress and its innovative approach to university fundraising in Canada.  

For more on this York-inspired  marriage see the March 10, 2004 and the March 17, 2004 issues of YFile.

This story was submitted to YFile by Carrie Brodi, communications officer, York University Foundation.