Watch WDI Speaker David Griswold Nov. 4 Talk
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Before David Griswold began his Nov. 4 talk that was part of the WDI Global Impact Speaker Series, five words appeared on the screen behind him: “Can questions change the world?”
Griswold, founder of Sustainable Harvest Coffee, said it was a simple question that changed the course of his career and began his long involvement in the transparent, sustainable coffee business. A Mexican coffee farmer had shown up at Griswold’s office in Mexico City. Griswold was a volunteer for the National Coordinating Body for Coffee Farmer Cooperatives and the farmer said he and others from his region couldn’t sell their coffee.
“Can you help us?” the farmer asked.
That question “gave me my answer for what I would do for the rest of my life,” Griswold said.
This is the second time Griswold has been a featured guest of WDI’s speaker series. He also spoke in 2013. In addition to his talk, Griswold also was a guest lecturer for an MBA class at U-M’s Ross School of Business taught by WDI Senior Fellow Ted London on business strategies for the base of the pyramid.
Sustainable Harvest also sponsored a student MBA team from Ross that was organized by WDI. For the project, the student team traveled to Rwanda to conduct an in-depth market analysis of coffee consumption and potential coffee retail channels including hotels, restaurants, and ecotourism. The team then used the market analysis to develop a business plan for the cafe and wholesale operation. Read a feature story about Sustainable Harvest on NextBillion.
Through a series of questions at the forum, Griswold shared his career path and how he grew Sustainable Harvest with the audience made up of U-M students, professors and coffee industry representatives. One of his more difficult times came 18 months ago when he was asked if consumers cared about sustainability.
Griswold didn’t have any hard data, but hoped customers cared about sustainability or else he had spent “the last 25 years of my life building a bridge to nowhere.”
Griswold told the audience he began talking with leaders of companies with the same set of values as Sustainable Harvest to get reassurance that customers did value sustainability And while he doesn’t know for sure whether consumers care about sustainability, his company is taking steps to start gathering relevant data.
He closed his talk by again mentioning the four words – can you help us? – that sent him on his career journey. He asked the audience what they thought the question would be that would change their world.