John Steel reporting from Africa

Posted by: , December 12th, 2012, Comments (2)

Installing rainwater harvesting tanks at Kayonza, Uganda

By John Steel, CEO at Cafédirect

“John here, just back from nine days in Africa visiting tea growers in Kenya and Uganda. Although there was a lot to see and there’s a lot to say, there were two aspects that really struck me – the power of triple bottom line business and the difficult job of keeping wellbeing in balance.

The first point was truly astonishing. At Cafédirect we pride ourselves on our unique business model and express it as “Made the Small Way”, but what really made an impression is how much more there is to our way of doing business. I went to Africa to see smallholder tea growers, and what I got was so much more – farmers caring for the environment with projects on wind power, low-energy stoves, rainwater harvesting (see image) and a fabulous focus on family planning to get the average number of children per household down to below 7.2! Farmers there are passionate about investing in community, for example health centre projects, incredible leaps forward in education and facilities shared by all those around them. On top of this is an incredible desire to grow the best quality tea possible for the Cafédirect family. This was living and breathing triple bottom line (financial, social & environment) in a natural – “this is the only way to do business” – way. Contrast this with the so-called developed countries, where the usual way of doing business is about cost reduction, margin maintenance, tax avoidance and anything to keep the business financially afloat and to pander to the roulette wheel of the stock market in 2012. The contrast between Africa’s balanced approach and the UK’s selfish, self-centered approach is striking.

Which leads me onto my second observation from the trip: wellbeing. As sustainability runs its inevitable course we must look beyond it to the balance of economic, social and environmental wellbeing to create a positive, resource-enhancing, balanced world. In Africa, most notably in Uganda, this balance is fragile. In the rural tea-growing region that I visited there was a wonderful social balance; a drive and desire to rebuild rainforests and heighten the environmental wellbeing of one of the most beautiful places on earth, alongside building significant increases in financial stability from a very low starting point. The danger is that as financial wellbeing increases it overshadows the other aspects of a good, positive life – money is driving expectations of a burgeoning youth (over half the population is under 18), many of whom are looking to cities and Western-style material wealth for satisfaction. However, in the West we are experiencing ever-increasing social and environmental poverty, so if history has taught us anything, it is that the West has not necessarily gone about things in the right way…

All in all, what a trip – and this is just a glimpse…”


Follow John on Twitter: @JohnSteelDirect