Eradicating poverty, one coffee at a time

Eradicating poverty, one coffee at a time

On a recent trip to New York, I sought out an unassuming coffee shop in the Tribeca neighbourhood. My goal was to uncover what a Laughing Man, fine coffee and Hugh Jackman had in common.  

Laughing Man is famous on-stage performer and screen actor Hugh Jackman’s coffee company. The story of Jackman’s involvement in the coffee business began in 2009, when Hugh and his wife, Deborra-lee Furness, travelled to Ethiopia as ambassadors for World Vision. As long-time donors, they wanted to visit a community development project to see how rural communities were being empowered to eradicate poverty.

So inspired was Hugh seeing 27-year-old coffee farmer — Dukale — working to move his family out of poverty, that he promised to advocate on behalf of farmers in developing countries to only drink fair trade coffee. And so Laughing Man was born.

Laughing Man recently partnered with one of the world’s largest purchasers of fair trade coffee — Keurig — to distribute their products all over the world. Director Josh Rothstein in partnership with Jackman and his wife Deborah Lee-Furness has produced a documentary called Dukale’s Dream, which launched in June this year and is named after the blend of coffee sold at Laughing Man Coffee and Tea. Profits from the sale of the Dukale’s coffee blend go back to his community to assist in myriad ways.

‘It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we want is opportunity,’ says Jackman of the documentary and the experience. ‘This is about livelihood, this is about change, and this is about hope.’

Through the lens of Dukale’s Dream, you begin to understand what many non-profit organisations and companies in the coffee industry already know: our world is connected. Our sisters and our brothers live in villages, sleep in huts, struggle for running water; they need “a hand up—not a hand out,” explains Jackman.

Development is the root of change that empowers people to expand their own lives through communal sustainability. Building stronger communities through education, training, mentoring and growth through new opportunities is what will bring communities out of crushing poverty.

Transformation can then occur all along the supply chain and goes beyond telling the story of the coffee we drink as part of our everyday rituals. The power of sustainable change means getting the end user fully vested in the acceptance that they have the power to transform lives. There is no doubt that this is a small microcosm of the work that can be done to transform lives from the ground up.

While visiting Jackman’s small shopfront in New York, it was clear that he is not trumpeting his work. But the coffee is great, and I realised that with every cup a family and community is being helped. Jackman now has a second shopfront and the business is growing. Inspired in my own way, I wanted to find out more of the story of Dukale.

So I spoke with Josh Rothstein during the launch of the documentary in New York in June to understand the journey of both the documentary and the passion for making a difference.

How did you become involved in telling the story of Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness’ involvement with World Vision and consequently Dukale’s story?

I met Hugh at the Oscars in 2009 when he was preparing to be the host of the Oscars. I was following Hugh, documenting him for 15 straight days. We got to know one another on a creative and personal level and through that experience, some discussions about human rights and social and environmental issues…so a couple months later when Hugh and Deb were traveling off to Ethiopia I was invited to travel with them, to document their journey.

How open were Hugh and Deb to sharing their journey with you?

Hugh and Deb were extremely open and willing to share their personal journey, in terms of exposing them and being very candid about many of the issues that they didn’t understand, that there was a real sense of self-awareness by sharing that reality. It was useful for our viewers to go through that experience with them. They are serving to be a model for this type of work that others can get involved with as well.

The film and the story is a very simple way of tackling a world-wide issue by simply buying a coffee. Something people do every day. Did you want to raise awareness of fair trade practices in America?

One of the biggest takeaways [of the film] is to galvanise audiences and to engage people, motivate people, specifically, to purchase fair trade coffee. There are so many individuals from Fair Trade USA and many others who have been working in the space for decades and who have dedicated their lives to spreading the messages of the importance of fair trade and direct trade.

We’re really just hoping to use the film as a way to support so much of the good work that has already gone on, and if the film can be used to amplify some of this work, and support so much of this work that has already gone on by dedicated individuals in experienced sectors, then that would be a true success story for us.

Do you hope this film will educate people about the benefits of fair trade?

At its core I think the film is largely an advocacy message for the benefits of fair trade. There are tremendous benefits for individuals living in the areas of greatest need. We hope by showing first hand Dukale’s experience and using Dukale as a model, that it will really connect Dukale as a face to the farmers and the growers and therefore translate to a greater sense of activation for consumers throughout the world.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?

I hope the film gives individuals an immediate sense that they can, and should, be active in their own lives. It’s easy to fall back into our little cocoons of our world; and the comforts that we have. But it’s essential we all explore how in our own lives we can play a role in being active, ethical, advocates for the planet, for those in the greatest need. I hope that our film galvanises this movement for a new generation and I hope that people realise that a small change can add up to having profound impacts on this planet. If enough people make that shift in perspective, I think it will be an opportunity to really make some great progress.

At the end of the day I think it’s just a matter of viewers leaving the theatre realising they have a new sense of perspective on the products that they buy, and helping the planet and those in need every day in their consumption habits.

Adrian Drayton


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