Foundation uses coffee sales to fund water projects in Third World
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Bill Prost combined his passion for drinking coffee with his desire to do good to form a foundation that has already given more than 57,000 people access to clean water.
Through the sale of Green Mountain fair-trade organic coffee by Rotary Clubs across the country, Prost's Five for Water Foundation has helped fund 11 water projects in 10 coffee-growing countries.
According to UNICEF, more than 1 billion people lack safe drinking water, a number that Prost just didn't believe the first time he read it in The Rotarian magazine.
With a background in market research on specialty coffee and coffee distribution, Prost started doing some research of his own after reading the article. He quickly confirmed that the number was correct and learned that 30,000 people die every day from water-related illnesses and 90 percent of those who die are children under 5.
"That planted the seed," he said. "I started thinking about how I could try to do something about that. It evolved from there. The bits and pieces came together."
Prost uses the proceeds from Five for Water, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, to finance the "Clean Water for Coffee-Producing Countries" fund at The Rotary Foundation. As a longtime Rotarian and a member of the Rotary Club of Cape Girardeau, partnering with Rotary was an easy decision.
Five for Water also partnered with specialty coffee company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to produce a special packaging with the Rotary logo.
It was important to Prost to choose coffee varieties that were designated both fair trade and organic. Fair trade means growers get a guaranteed minimum, which helps them invest in their crops and their communities.
With the focus of his foundation on clean water, he wanted to make sure the coffee was grown without contributing to water pollution.
"I don't want herbicides, chemicals or pesticides going into Third World water tables," Prost said.
Five for Water has funded projects ranging from constructing new wells and water towers to installing water main pipelines to carry existing clean water to villages.
"People are willing to walk quite a bit for water, but when you can get that walk to half a mile instead of five miles, it lets a mother be a mother and a kid be a kid instead of being a water porter," he said.
Prost's trademarked tagline is "A Contribution in Every Cup." Rotarians sell bags of coffee in the same way Girl Scouts sell cookies, Prost said. Each bag costs $10 and is available in one of four varieties: Organic House Blend, Organic Sumatran Reserve, Rain Forest Nut and a decaffeinated version of the Organic House Blend.
Prost knew from his research that 70 percent of adults in the U.S. drink coffee, so he reasoned that 70 percent of Rotarians are also buying coffee and could be buying coffee for a cause. Helping bring something as basic as clean water to people who don't have it was a "no-brainer" for Jim Riley, Cape Girardeau Rotary Club member.
"I love coffee and I love good coffee and I drink a lot of coffee," Riley said. "So I'm going to buy coffee anyway, but to be able to do something like this and have a couple of dollars of my purchase be combined with donations from Rotary international, 50 cents of mine can turn into a dollar or two worth of good."
He's also purchased many bags of coffee as gifts for others, he said.
To date, Five For Water has raised $98,000 for clean water projects that has brought matching funds from the Rotary Foundation, individual Rotary Clubs sponsoring projects and in some cases other organizations, including the Jane Goodall Institute and Engineers Without Borders.
Since the foundation began in 2008, $350,000 worth of water projects have been completed or are now in progress in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Sumatra, Malawi and Costa Rica.
Even when funding is in place for a project, there are often many challenges in completing them, Prost said.
Tribal warfare has delayed the Malawi project twice, Prost said. It's often difficult to find a qualified contractor in the area, and fuel theft also causes problems on construction sites.
When it came to finding a home for his foundation, Prost came back to his roots in choosing the business incubator at Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A Caruthersville, Mo., native, Prost earned his undergraduate degree from Southeast.
Coffee for Clean Water can be purchased from Rotary Club of Cape Girardeau members. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
920 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO