I'm going to tell you three things about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first thing is something you probably already know. That is, the Congo has it's problems. If the Congo were your home you'd be 7 times more likely to have AIDS, your income would be 99.35% less, and would probably live 23.51 years less. The idea that much of Africa is poor and beset with problems is a common preconception. The Congo, in particular, is emerging from a brutal war so things are especially unsettled. That is, this preconception is not untrue in Congo's case.
Now I'm going to tell you a couple things you might not know. The Congo should be one of the wealthiest countries in human history. It is a country rich with just about every natural resource you can imagine. There is oil, gold and precious minerals, no doubt, but it also contains some the richest agricultural lands anywhere. Part of the reason the wars have been so brutal is because the stakes are high. A vast country, about half the size of the United States, centrally located in the content, is also well positioned to be a trading hub.
The last thing might be the biggest surprise. Despite all these problems, the global trend is that poverty everywhere is receding. Part of the reason investors are exploring African enterprises is because it is now possible to see the continent turning a corner. The important step now, as places like the Congo move toward achieving prosperity, is supporting the best products and the quickest path forward. The Chinese government is investing substantial amounts in Africa, but are the best models and the right people getting the resources?
Eleven years ago a group of farmers in the Kivu area, survivors of the so called "conflict years," teamed up to cultivate buyers for their coffee. This enterprising group of small farmers called themselves "Sopacdi." The collective now consists of over 5600 farmers. It is also interesting to note that 20% of the farmers are women who lost their husbands in war. To further assist single parents in supporting their families, Sopacdi's female members receive a price premium for coffee delivered to the cooperative.
Inmaculée Nimavu Musangi, a single mother and president of Sopacdi's women's group, gets up early to ready her two children for school before spending all day working on her small farm. In the early evening she returns home to cook dinner. The price premiums allow Inmaculee to live an independent life, provide quality food for her family, and be a successful farmer.
The growth of Sopacdi is indicative of how things have begun to recover for families of the region. This phenomena, however, is global and not unique to the Congo. Researchers at Goldman Sachs state that closing the gender gap in employment could boost GDP by billions of dollars. The U.N. similarly claims that if women farmers were provided the same opportunities as men they could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100 million to 150 million. According to Melanne Verveer, the U.S. State Department's ambassador for global women's issues, women have become the focus of US foreign policy. While on a trip top Kabul, women activists told Melanne, "Please don't see us as victims, but look to us as the leaders we are." Women can and will change how we conduct business and how we live and treat each other.
Laughing Man Coffee and Tea, inspired by this promising trend, arranged to source coffee from Sopacdi. It is more important than ever before for women to seek economic independence. Laughing Man Coffee and Tea is committed to partnering with women like Inmaculée Nimavu Musangi of Sopacdi. Together we can chart a better course for the Congo and the world.
I don't think it matters whether you have a celebrity profile or not. We all want to contribute in the most effective and practical way we can at work, in the community, or in our home. This desire is natural to who we are. When I left Ethiopia with the promise to use my voice on behalf of the community, I thought my voice was the most powerful tool I had. But after speaking at the United Nations, I realized that it was time to act on a practical level, not just talk about or drink fair trade coffee, and enter the marketplace to trigger change from within. I started the Laughing Man marketplace to highlight the stories of the entrepreneurs willing to help others and the people who share in their success.