Bent Dietrich, Coffee Trader at American Coffee Corporation and NCA Next Gen Council Member, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mary Petit, Senior Advisor for Global Coffee Platform (GCP). Formed in 2016, Global Coffee Platform has evolved into a widely-recognized multistakeholder association with members united around the vision of creating “a thriving and sustainable coffee sector for generations to come.”
[Bent]: Before getting into the Global Coffee Platform and your work with the organization, can you tell our readers about yourself? How did you get your start in coffee and what has brought you to where you are today?
[Mary]: Well, I got into coffee totally by chance. After graduating from college in Minnesota, I went to work for Cargill as a trader trainee. Unsure of what commodity I wanted to be in, they assigned me to a coffee company they had just purchased, Scholz & Company, in 1983. I started in the coffee sample room and was very lucky to be mentored by some outstanding coffee mentors. It was very important to me; at that time, there were hardly any women in the green coffee trade, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Notably, they always encouraged me to stand up for my ideas and speak out on issues.
[Bent]: What is the Global Coffee Platform and what does it stand for?
[Mary]: Overall, the GCP is dedicated to creating a thriving sustainable coffee world for generations to come. However, the way we are going about it is quite innovative. GCP is a multistakeholder membership organization solely dedicated to the advancement of coffee sustainability through the collaborative efforts of producers, roasters, traders, NGOs, government and others. The concept is centered around the idea that by working together, we can multiply our efforts and collectively act on local issues and then scale our efforts across the sector. Fundamentally, GCP believes that sustainability is a shared responsibility, and we must work together to improve farmer prosperity, wellbeing and the conservation of nature. The GCP is the first formally structured organization to adopt a facilitating role amongst the industry.
[Bent]: Who founded the GCP, and how did the original idea come to be?
[Mary]: The GCP was founded in March 2016 by the board of the 4C Association and participants in the Sustainable Coffee Program’s activities in producing countries; it started with the idea of forming neutral country platforms and then combining these platforms with consumer facing global members. Together, they formed the Global Coffee Platform as a pre-competitive initiative to create sustainable solutions to advance coffee sustainability. The GCP has an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with the ICO, and the idea is to have a structural approach where stakeholders from the sector can come together to identify issues and form solutions.
[Bent]: How does the GCP differ from other organizations tackling sustainability in coffee?
[Mary]: The pre-competitive aspect creates a unique opportunity for companies of any size to learn from each other, leverage collective knowledge, and work to expand the sustainable coffee industry. It makes economic sense.
[Bent]: What is your role specifically within the GCP?
[Mary]: My role is as Senior Advisor. I work with our secretariat team to help members and partners develop solutions that will advance coffee sustainability. This can include things from championing new members, helping develop collective action initiatives, working to sharpen communications, and more importantly, helping to shape goals, strategies and tactics to keep us focused on achieving the high level of impact to which we are dedicated.
[Bent]: This interview is targeted towards NCA ‘Next Geners.’ Considering your wealth of experience, what advice would you give to young industry members looking to accelerate their careers?
[Mary]: I feel very lucky to have worked in many different areas of the coffee industry. I would say, always be on the lookout for opportunity. Beyond just that, get out there, meet people, and learn as much as you can from them, especially when their perspectives and experiences are different than your own. Don’t think of it as social networking, but rather as working to develop real, solid, true, mutually respectful relationships. Coffee is an industry of relationships. We stand on the shoulders of family farmers. This causes it to be an industry of family values, and this will be your bedrock in challenging times.
My second piece of advice is to set goals for yourself and to earn as many industry credentials as possible in order to help you become a more rounded and more developed professional. Keep looking for innovative ways to improve your professional capacities. I still do it, and I’ve been in the business since 1983. It never stops!
Lastly – be honest, be kind, and approach challenges with a good sense of humor!
[Bent]: To that effect, we all know sustainability continues to be the leading issue in our industry. How would you recommend new members of the industry get involved, make a difference, or have an impact?
[Mary]: My challenge to everyone is to figure out a way to contribute towards sustainability within their own role and to learn as much as you can about the issues you are working with. What choices can you make to create a more sustainable coffee sector? Talk to colleagues and find out what other people are doing. Being a company with clear sustainable advancement goals is fundamental to our sector. Cooperate with others on pre-competitive levels to accomplish mutually beneficial goals for coffee farmers and their families.
Thank you to Mary Petit for her generous time and participation in our latest NCA Next Gen interview piece. For more information on Global Coffee Platform, be sure to check out their website: https://www.globalcoffeeplatform.org/
As a parting note from the Next Gen Council, may we all keep “Mary’s mantra” in mind as we continue on in the face of new opportunities and challenges:
“Be honest, be kind, and approach challenges with a good sense of humor!” – Mary Petit