Business Model: Oromo Coffee Company

How the fair-trade company works

The Oromo Coffee Company is a Fairtrade Foundation-certified social enterprise, set up by refugees in the UK to sell high-quality coffee imported from their Ethiopian homeland.

In the six months since the Oromo Coffee Company was first conceived, the organisation has gone from strength to strength.

It has brokered a deal with growers from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Ethiopia to ship coffee to the UK, where it is roasted. It has so far sold it in a small number of churches, cafes and specialist fair-trade shops.

"We're already making some money," says Teshome Bedassa, company accountant of the Manchester-based company. "But it is still very early in the business, and we're all still working on a volunteer basis. Several Oromo people are involved in the UK, and we will start earning salaries once sales increase.

"It's been difficult for us because we have had problems with language and the culture, but we've had lots of help."

He says the enterprise has been started up without outside investment, and has relied instead on pro bono legal and marketing services, most of them brokered through the Lorna Young Foundation, a charity that supports agricultural businesses in the developing world.

The foundation helped to set up a company limited by guarantee, and used its contacts in the UK coffee industry to help Oromo gain access to the resources it needed.

Ian Agnew, director of the foundation, says the model is one his organisation would like to repeat with other refugee communities.

"This is a great tool to get refugees working," he says. "They've grasped the opportunity with both hands."

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