10 QUESTIONS WITH ELISA KELLY FROM COFFEE KIDS
Originally from the USA, Elisa moved to London in 2002 to start post-grad work in Social Anthropology. She began
working for Coffee Kids in 2010, and among many other things, functions as the EU liaison for the organisation, working with their supporting partners in Europe to make sure our projects have the funding that they need to be successful.
Coffee Kids is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives and livelihoods of coffee-
farming families. Founded in the United States 1988, they work closely with partners in coffee-growing
communities to create community-based programs that respect the values, cultural integrity and
ingenuity of the communities. Their projects work in education, income diversification, health care,
food security and capacity building. The ultimate goal of all their projects and partnerships is long-term
sustainability (both for the project and the community involved).
1. If you had to describe Coffee Kids in one word, what would it be?
2. How did Coffee Kids come about?
Coffee Kids was founded in 1988 by a coffee shop owner in Providence, R.I. and several others who
work in the industry. Our founder had been in the coffee business for several years, but when he visited
Guatemala at the urging of a friend (and eventually co-founder) he was exposed to a side of the industry
of which he had previously been unaware. Moved by the poverty that he witnessed, he returned to the
United States and started Coffee Kids. Our original model focused on child welfare at an individual level
(thus the ‘KIDS’) but within a couple of years of operation, it became apparent that projects that involve
the wider community tend to have a deeper and more long-lasting impact. Our model, since then, really
seeks to listen to the voices within the communities where we work and to address the problems and
issues that THEY feel are most pressing.
3.What’s the best way to donate to Coffee Kids?
There are so many ways to get involved. The most straightforward is to become a business member or an
individual member of Coffee Kids. Membership for businesses start at $500, and individuals can become
members for only $35 (we accept all currencies!). You can also make larger donations, and we have a
tier of membership levels.
We also have lots of people who do fundraisers for us, which is a very fun way to get involved. Some people do individual challenge events and use sponsorship to raise funds, and others do auctions or coffee mornings – really the possibilities are endless.
You can find out more about supporting our work at http://coffeekids.org/youcanhelp/
4. Which country do you do the most work in?
Currently all of our projects are in Latin America, and right now we work in Mexico, Honduras,
Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru, with the highest concentration of projects in Mexico. But it varies from
year to year depending on project proposals and what our project partners are up to.
5. How is Coffee Kids different to other charities in the coffee growing areas?
We have a very holistic attitude to sustainable coffee that we think is a really unique approach
A lot of people have focused on market-based solutions to poverty at coffee origin. However, unfortunately, focus on improving market participation and price is not enough to adequately address the problem of poverty for small-scale coffee farmers.
The thing is, coffee has always been a boom or bust crop due to natural agricultural cycles and market
(over) reactions: it is a very volatile agricultural commodity. If coffee farmers are to liberate themselves from the cycle of poverty and to reduce their vulnerability in the face of a very unstable market, they need not only to improve their yields, coffee quality and production systems, but also to find ways to put food on the table year-round. This is where Coffee Kids comes in.
The projects that we develop in conjunction with our partners at origin do not deal directly with the
commercialisation of coffee but, rather, increase capacities and access to services that impact wider
issues of quality of life at the level of the family and the community. These areas, like education or food
security, can have a knock-on effect in improving coffee production and management, but they more
importantly make it easier for people to diversify their income so as not to be as vulnerable to the ups and
downs of growing and selling coffee.
6. Which book would you recommend for someone who knows little or nothing about coffee?
Coffee is so complex that one book could never encapsulate all there is to know!! If I had to pick a general
all-rounder, “The Coffee Book: Anatomy of an Industry from Crop to the Last Drop” by Nina Luttinger and
Gregory Dicum is pretty good and very readable. But it is pretty basic and a little out of date.
7. How many coffees do you have a day?
I try my very best to limit myself to two (large) cups of sustainably produced, sourced and traded coffee
in the morning. Otherwise, I climb the walls!
8. What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Listen more. You do not know as much as you think you know. In fact…. You know NOTHING (or close to
9. Who do you most admire?
10. Rolling Stones or the Beatles
Definitely the Beatles. Sorry, Mick