International Women’s Coffee Alliance Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary: Looking Back and Moving Forward


By IWCA Co-Founders Melissa Pugash and Margaret SwallowIWCA logo

This is a year in which businesses and nonprofits are reviewing and reimagining the roles that women play within their organizations. As co-founders, we’re pleased that the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) was a pioneer in bringing the role of women in our industry into the national and global spotlight.

In that spirit, the ICO announced that “Women in Coffee” is the theme for International Coffee Day 2018 on October 1.

The genesis for the “Women in Coffee “movement began in 2003, when we, along with fellow IWCA Co-Founders: Karen Cebreros, Colleen Crosby, Kimberly Easson and Karen Gordon shared a dream: to forge a new pathway for women in our global industry. We crafted our mission, “to empower women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry,” and applied for nonprofit status.

Over the past 15 years the IWCA has grown to a global network of self-driven, self-defined local organizations in 22 countries representing thousands of women. We are encouraged to see that women’s contributions along the “seed to cup” continuum are being recognized by the ICO, United Nations, SCA, NCA and other leading trade organizations. We’re also seeing large and small roasters offer premium quality coffees produced by women.

It is within this context that we look back at IWCA’s accomplishments and look forward to the possibilities ahead. We reached out to the organizations’ co-founders and past presidents for their reflections on the impact that IWCA has played to date within the global coffee community. Here are their comments:

Karen Cebreros, Co-Founder

I still remember, how on the 2003 women’s trip to Nicaragua (which was the inspiration for establishing IWCA) that, a woman from the Sopexxcca cooperative said ‘We just want to do business like you, with dignity.’ 

Karen Gordon, Co-Founder

I’d say that IWCA’s greatest accomplishment has been bringing women from around the world, from one industry, together for a common goal — to strengthen the position of women in the global coffee community.  Sharing stories, both personal and professional, has also helped women bring an understanding of each other, and make all of us stronger. IWCA offers women a way to come up with resolutions to the problems that we all face. We’re empowering each other, boosting each other up when times are difficult.  IWCA has brought laughter where there may have been none. The organization offers a vehicle for sharing tears, both happy and sad, a shoulder to lean on.  

Melissa Pugash, Co-Founder

When Robério Oliveira Silva, (then the Executive Director of the ICO) made the following statement at the IWCA Convention in 2015, ‘It is pivotal to achieve gender equality in the coffee sector and overcome the barriers that compromise the participation of coffee growing women,’ I knew that IWCA had made a significant impact at the highest level in the coffee sector. It’s gratifying to see that the ICO continues to keep ‘empowering women’ at the forefront of its mission.


Coffee harvest in Brazil. Source: IWCA

Margaret Swallow, Co-Founder

I recall working with Néstor Osorio in 2009 (then the Executive Director of the ICO) on the February 2010 World Coffee Conference in Guatemala.  At that point I was on the IWCA Board of Directors and we successfully advocated for a panel on the role of women in the industry. This was the first time the issue of gender equality was addressed at this level, in front of an international audience of business and government leaders. 

Kellem Emanuele, Current President

I view IWCA’s biggest accomplishment to be the very essence of what makes the organization unique – its local context-focused approach and people working collaboratively to deliver this approach. At its core, IWCA provides a platform for self-driven individuals to connect, organize, and work together to leverage and amplify individual drive to create organizational drive that achieves deeper and further reach. This creates empowerment and accomplishment – not just for the individuals coming together in pursuit of shared goals, but for the families and communities who are the beneficiaries of their achievement, long into the future.

 Judith Ganes, Past President

The IWCA began with the vision of a small group of women, and in the past fifteen years has morphed into a global organization that has gained tremendous recognition not only within the coffee industry, but also as a model for other industries where women are struggling for empowerment and credit for their contributions.  The critical mass that IWCA has already achieved as a voice being heard and resonating loudly with both genders, is inspiring and paves a clear path for continued successes in the years going forward.  There should be no limit or end to this road being traveled upon.


IWCA delegation in Washington, DC in November 2012: Fatima Aziz Faraji, Tanzania; Mbula Musau, Kenya; Desiree Logsdon, USA, Immy Kamarade, Rwanda; Angele Ciza, Burundi

 Desiree Logsdon, Past President

The greatest accomplishment of the IWCA has been the willingness of the volunteers in the organization to listen to the needs of the women in the chapters in the countries of coffee origin.  The ability to build a global organization that operates with a vision of ‘success through localization’ ensures that there is a connection between what women in various countries need and what resources IWCA Global can provide.

Grace Mena, Past President

As the saying goes, “an army is only as good its soldiers,” and the IWCA has been very fortunate to have such passionate volunteers aiming to fulfill its mission. I am extremely proud of this group of volunteers and wholeheartedly I can say that we have the best human resource base that any organization of our size and stature can have. Appreciating the progress accomplished during these past 15 years, we turn expectantly to the years that lie ahead. The road ahead will be challenging, as has been the last 15 years, but with our commitment and hard work we will take it forward to the new peaks that it deserves.

Mery Santos, Past President

IWCA has evolved into a platform or space for the women in the coffee supply chain to feel safe, equal and confident to speak and be heard.  IWCA’s work engages leaders working to advance the role of women in coffee both at the local and global coffee community. IWCA is being recognized not only with a presence but also a voice at the highest levels in organizations such as the International Coffee Organization and the UN Women organization.  Our work of 15 years is visible and with a wider reach, our model has become a model for other sectors such as cocoa and cotton, and that for IWCA should be one of the biggest milestones to show.


Teaching farmers about gender equality. Photo: IWCA

Launtia Taylor, Past President

As a past president, I’m most proud of the hands-on roasting workshops, cupping sessions and ‘Meet the Grower’ forums we’ve hosted at SCA and IWCA conventions and in producing countries.  In 15 years, we’ve taught women, many for the very first time, how to sample roast and cup and their coffees, bring them to market and receive the best possible prices for the precious beans. IWCA has made great strides in informing, educating and empowering women; and there is still a great deal of work to be done. I look forward to continuing to contribute to this vital work for many years to come.

Andi Trindle-Mersch, Past President

Without a doubt, the expansion of the IWCA from one relatively small group of women from a few different countries to 22 thriving chapters around the world is the biggest accomplishment. While I’ve been out of the ongoing work of the organization quite a few years now, I’ve followed the work, attending many breakfast and lunch events where I am always impressed by the thoughtful and steady growth of new members that is clearly mission-driven and impactful.


The IWCA conference in Guatemala

The great American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  We’re proud that IWCA has left a trail and look forward to creating even more opportunities for women in coffee on the long road ahead.

Please share your thoughts on the IWCA in the comments below, and visit the IWCA website for more information, including opportunities to support our mission.

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