Not your av­er­age cup of joe

Fen­gate is bring­ing ME to WE Cof­fee to of­fices across Canada, trans­form­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the process

Ottawa Citizen - - We Day - BY JESSE MINTZ

Lou Ser­afini Jr. is a cof­fee-aday guy. Some­times two. It’s part of his morn­ing rit­ual and has been for years. But it wasn’t un­til he par­tic­i­pated in a cof­fee tast­ing in the mid­dle of the dense rain­for­est of the Ama­zon basin that he stopped to con­sider the bean be­hind his morn­ing brew.

Pres­i­dent and CEO of Fen­gate, a Toronto-based as­set man­age­ment com­pany, Ser­afini brought his three daugh­ters and se­nior lead­er­ship team to Ecuador in July, on an in­for­mal fact-find­ing mis­sion with WE. A year ear­lier, Ser­afini had spear­headed his com­pany’s WE part­ner­ship. It started with Fen­gate’s pur­chase of ME to WE Cof­fee That Changes Lives™ for its of­fices. Soon, the com­pany would use its ex­per­tise to help ME to WE re­vamp its cof­fee sales from di­rect-to-consumer into a full-ser­vice op­er­a­tion that keeps com­pa­nies and their of­fices well-caf­feinated.

ME to WE Cof­fee That Changes Lives launched with a sim­ple but pro­found mis­sion: to pro­vide fair wages for farm­ers and em­power their fam­i­lies. When Fen­gate be­gan pur­chas­ing ME to WE Cof­fee for its em­ploy­ees, Ser­afini saw an op­por­tu­nity. A nat­u­ral con­nec­tor, his job is to help com­pa­nies thrive by iden­ti­fy­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­vest­ment. He im­me­di­ately be­gan putting that unique skill set to work for WE.

With their trip to Ecuador, Ser­afini and his team trav­elled 5,000 kilo­me­tres to see the so­cial im­pact cre­ated by the sale of ev­ery cup. “We be­came cof­fee con­nois­seurs that day,” laughs Ser­afini. “For some­one who’s been a cof­fee drinker for so long, it’s in­cred­i­ble how lit­tle I knew about it.”

They learned how the bit­ter red cof­fee cher­ries be­come aro­matic brown beans, and how dry­ing, fer­ment­ing and roast­ing trans­form the end re­sult. “But, most im­por­tantly, we learned how buy­ing cof­fee from these com­mu­ni­ties and these farm­ers changes lives.”

It’s a mes­sage in line with Ser­afini’s vi­sion. Fen­gate was al­ready a sig­na­tory to the United Na­tions Prin­ci­ples for Re­spon­si­ble In­vest­ment. He was look­ing to in­fuse a greater sense of pur­pose and iden­tity at Fen­gate when he first heard Craig Kielburger’s in­spir­ing story of ac­tivism. “You ei­ther stand for some­thing, or you don’t,” Ser­afini be­lieves. He wants Fen­gate to be a pil­lar of the com­mu­nity and a source of pride for em­ploy­ees.

For most com­pa­nies, cof­fee is just an ex­pense item in their bud­gets. But what if an em­ployee’s daily cof­fee could have an im­pact on the world? Ser­afini’s vi­sion was to trans­form ME to WE Cof­fee That Changes Lives from a consumer choice into a tes­ta­ment to so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity at the of­fice. He put to­gether a team to come up with the busi­ness strat­egy, re­search the mar­ket, re­vamp the mar­ket­ing plan and over­haul ship­ping lo­gis­tics. “You’re go­ing to have cof­fee in your break­room,” he ex­plains. “Why not make it cof­fee with an im­pact and a story?”

With Fen­gate’s ex­per­tise and Ser­afini open­ing doors to his busi­ness net­work, ME to WE Cof­fee That Changes Lives brought in $300,000 in its first year of of­fice cof­fee ser­vice. “The first $100,000 was slow-go­ing,” Ser­afini says. “Ev­ery dol­lar af­ter that gets eas­ier as the busi­ness be­gins to scale and gen­er­ate mo­men­tum. We’re just at the be­gin­ning and the tar­get is the hori­zon.”

Ser­afini speaks the lan­guage of profit and loss with ease. But when the con­ver­sa­tion switches from dol­lars and cents to hu­man in­ter­ac­tions, his pas­sion shines through. While in Ecuador with his three daugh­ters, all of whom are in­volved with WE at their schools or uni­ver­si­ties, the group helped build a class­room in the ru­ral vil­lage of Los Rios. They met young girls and boys who now have ac­cess to clean wa­ter, thanks to wells built with fund­ing from the sale of ME to WE Cof­fee That Changes Lives.

That’s why Ser­afini wanted his se­nior lead­er­ship team and their fam­i­lies along for the trip to Ecuador. Long a be­liever in the im­pact of WE, both around the world and in Canada, he wanted his em­ploy­ees to feel it too—and to take own­er­ship of the change they cre­ate.

Lou Ser­afini, CEO of Fen­gate and his daugh­ters and friends and Minga Lodge.


Lou at the build site in Los Rios.

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