Building schools with ‘coffee bricks’

By Elaine Hou, CNA

TAIPEI, Taiwan — What can you do with a package of coffee? A Taiwan-based social enterprise that was expanded from a student team in 2015, will soon open a coffee shop in Taipei as part of its latest project — building schools with “coffee bricks.”

The new cafe is scheduled to open by the end of July, and each package to be sold there will be turned into funds for building schools, in an effort to improve early education for children living in urban slums around the world, according to Chen An-nung (陳安穠), co-founder of IMPCT Corp.

IMPCT Corp. is a social enterprise established by a team of four graduates of the International Master of Business Administration program at National Chengchi University in Taipei. The team, which comprised Chen and three foreign students — from Honduras, El Salvador and Canada — won the Hult Prize, a global student competition for social good in 2015 and was presented with US$1 million in prize money.

IMPCT emerged as the top prize winner of 2015’s challenge with its “online round” crowdfunding program.

Before the award ceremony in September 2015, the team had set up an early childhood education center in El Salvador. It provides childhood education solutions to children living in poverty by using funds raised from its online crowdfunding program.

IMPCT has since built two schools in El Salvador and one in Guatemala. Another is currently under construction in Khayelitsha, South Africa, as IMPCT has expanded into a social enterprise with a team of about 16 members from home and broad, Chen told CNA in a recent interview.

Over the past two years, IMPCT has mostly used its prize money and revenues earned from selling coffee products in Taipei to build the schools, Chen said. Since last summer, IMPCT has been working with coffee farmers in less-developed areas of Central America and at home in Pingtung County to sell coffee products from those areas, she added.

Its latest project, “Coffee for the Future,” is an expansion of what they have been doing.

Under the new project, IMPCT has redesigned its coffee products — coffee beans and drip coffee — and has launched a new website that not only sells the new products but also gets people more involved in its schools, called “Playcares,” IMPCT Chief Executive Officer Taylor Scobbie said.

The packaging of the coffee products has been redesigned to look like a brick, with the idea that each package sold is “a brick to build a better future,” he said.

“Every package of coffee we sell is actually your brick,” Scobbie said.

When a customer buys a box of coffee, there will be a code inside the box that the customer can use on the project’s website, laying on his/her brick on one of the schools they hope to help build, he said.

The customer will continue to receive updates as the school is being built, he added.

The coffee sold on the website comes from Guatemala, El Salvador, Ethiopia and Pingtung County.

In addition to the website, IMPCT is set to open a new cafe in Taipei’s Daan District in late July, where its coffee products will be sold and freshly brewed coffee will also be served, Chen said.

Revenue from the cafe will be used to sponsor IMPCT’s Playcares, which mostly take care of children aged 2-6, Chen said.

Two other co-founders of IMPCT are Andres Escobar of El Salvador and Juan Diego Prudot from Honduras.