Not your average cup of joe
Fengate is bringing ME to WE Coffee to offices across Canada, transforming communities in the process
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.