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Giving a Family Business a Jolt With Coffee That Empowers Women

Category: Business,Finance

Only a few months later, in April 2015, Ms. Bohbot struck upon her idea for City Girl after attending an International Women’s Coffee Alliance breakfast at a conference in Seattle. There she learned of a Colombian widow unable to keep her family’s coffee farm simply because of her gender; in many countries where coffee is grown, women are silent laborers left out of decision making largely because of cultural norms.

“The women were out of the loop even though they were doing the majority of the work,” said Connie Kolosvary, program director for Café Femenino. Café Femenino, which was formed in 2004, not only pays a premium for beans from cooperatives that follow its strict guidelines to empower women but also pays its female members directly for their harvests.

With the men aware that more money is coming in simply because of female involvement, Ms. Kolosvary said, “for the very first time these women are now viewed as having a leadership role in their communities.”

The I.W.C.A., with legally recognized chapters in 22 countries, helps mobilize women in the industry and provides a platform for them to share the challenges they face. Josiane Cotrim, chapter president for Brazil, the largest coffee-exporting country, said the support of organizations like the I.W.C.A. meant “the woman was no longer the daughter or the sister or the wife of someone in coffee.”

“We were women in coffee,” added Ms. Cotrim, who was raised on a coffee farm. “We had an identity.”

Ms. Bohbot, who serves as a marketing co-chairwoman of the I.W.C.A., said she, too, faced challenges when she entered the coffee world, though they were largely business-related. Some of her chief competitors have argued that City Girl’s female-empowerment message is little more than a marketing ploy. But “in this day and age, you can’t have a good product without having a good marketing story,” Ms. Bohbot said.

Also, buying coffee from growers run by women “adds a whole other layer of stress on our company,” she said. “We have to work diligently to reach out to all of our importers to use our connections to find this coffee and bring it in.”

Ms. Bohbot, who has made local philanthropy an increased priority at Alakef and will introduce new packaging and an updated logo there next year, said she got personal satisfaction from City Girl’s success and being viewed as a leader among her female peers.

When women in every industry are fighting daily battles to achieve equality, “I feel hopeful,” she said. “Women are vocalizing more than ever before. To speak out and not settle. To demand our place in society.”


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