Next Gen Interview with Bambi Semroc of Conservation International

NCA Next Gen recently had the chance to chat with Bambi Semroc, VP of Sustainable Markets and Strategy at Conservation International. The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Bambi Semroc

Next Gen: How did you first become interested in conservation and sustainability work?  Did your Peace Corps work in Togo help set you on this path?

Bambi: As I was finishing undergrad, I started becoming more and more interested in international development and in working overseas.  One of my professors, however, challenged me, asking what skillset I would bring with me if I went abroad. What can you do that those in your hosting region couldn’t do better?  So, realizing I needed to bolster my skill set, I went back to school to study international development with a concentration on the relationship between gender and successful agroforestry systems. This led perfectly to my Peace Corps assignment in Togo, where I was living in small, rural community located next to a protected area and worked on agroforestry and other community development programs. Returning from Togo, I joined Conservational International (CI), which was just developing its Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and haven’t looked back since.

Next Gen: You’ve spent most of your career with Conservation International (CI) following your time in the Peace Corps. What about the work and culture at CI keeps you excited and motivated?

Bambi: Well, when I first joined CI, the idea of an environmental NGO working with the private sector was still relatively new. It took some effort to convince the corporations we approached that we were not looking to launch an attack, but rather that we wanted to collaborate with them. It was an exciting time. Overall, CI has a culture of innovation. It allows you to stake a course for yourself, and there always seems to be something new and exciting to work on. 

Next Gen: How has your career at CI evolved and how did you come to lead the Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC)? Have you always had an interest in sustainability within the coffee sector?

Bambi: It’s evolved from an internship while in grad school to now leading the coffee program and forming a new Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters.  And while I have worked on coffee the entire time, I don’t actually drink coffee. Rather than a love of the beverage, my drive comes from a love of the coffee tree.  It’s a crop that can grow under a tree canopy and holds great potential for rural development. So, my role at CI is constantly evolving, and coffee is only a portion of the work I do. Leading the SCC, however, is basically a dream job: managing the coffee program, engaging with major corporate leaders, and working closely with local communities.  Can’t ask for much more than that. 

Next Gen: It seems that leading the SCC you wear many hats. Do you have a favorite part of the job?  A least favorite?

Bambi: Overall, I could name two favorite parts. The first would be getting to meet and speak with producers, visit coffee farms, and see amazing natural areas.  The second would be trying to get industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. Seeing this alignment happen is extremely fulfilling and rewarding.  And, well, my least favorite part would be… trying to get the industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. While seeing the alignment happen is fulfilling, it takes a lot of time and I know that, when it comes to our gravest environmental concerns, time is not a luxury we have. So, I worry about not being able to drive collective action and alignment fast enough.

Next Gen: You’ve taken on a very exciting role within sustainability and coffee industry. Is there anything you can point to that helped you achieve this success?

Bambi: In the first place, you have to find your passion, then you have to work hard. My first role at CI was an internship in which I had one task: research how to grow cocoa sustainably in one region of West Africa. I poured my heart and soul into that internship. As a result, my research grew and grew, and I received recognition within CI for this effort. I’ve been working side by side for the last 18 years with that same manager who took over the cocoa program while I was an intern.

Next Gen: The SCC’s mission is to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. It seems “sustainability” means something different to each actor in the industry – what does “sustainability” mean in the context of the SCC?

Bambi: SCC recognized that there was not alignment regarding what sustainability means throughout the industry, so we set out to try to establish a common framework. The framework is based around four compass points: Improve livelihoods, conserve nature, sustain supply, strengthen market demand. We are now embedding carbon sequestration more formally in the conserve nature point. However, in additional to a common alignment on sustainability, we’ve also developed a common definition for success.  But yes, in the end, the question still comes up: What counts as sustainable coffee?

Next Gen: During your tenure leading the SCC, are you happy with the changes and improvements you’ve seen across the industry? In terms of sustainability, where do you see the industry heading?

Bambi: We have seen a lot of progress but, ultimately, I feel we are never moving fast enough. This is the reason behind forming the SCC:  How do we catalyze more effort? We have major challenges—climate change, deforestation, freshwater degradation, etc.—but we can get there.  Moving forward, we need to see more innovation around sustainability. We need to talk more about living incomes for producers and workers. We need to talk more about capturing CO2. And, in the end, we need to take a very holistic approach and ask what is good for the producers, communities, landscapes, and regions.

Next Gen: What challenges do Covid-19 pose to the work of the SCC and, more broadly, to the sustainability efforts across the coffee industry?

Bambi: Covid-19 brings tremendous challenges to the entire coffee sector. It’s changed where people drink their coffee, which has profound impacts on retailers and roasters in particular. Covid-19 also forces us to recognize the fragility of the coffee industry – from the safety and availability of workers picking the coffee to those milling and roasting the coffee. Then, it also gives us a moment to reflect on why we are so fragile and how we can find a better balance with people and nature. With regards to sustainability in general, Covid-19 only emphasizes how important the work we are pursuing is.

Next Gen: What advice do you have for someone trying to get involved in sustainability within the coffee industry?

Bambi: Again, first you have to find your passion.  If you want to get involved in sustainability, find exactly what it is within the space drives you and gets you excited.  Then, on a very practical level, field experience in invaluable. It gives you empathy and an understanding of the reality on the ground in some of the world’s most vulnerable places.

Next Gen: What changes would you like to see in the coffee industry moving forward? The audience of this interview is comprised of the young coffee professionals that will drive the coffee industry in the future—what message do you have for them?

Bambi: I see so much hope with the younger generations.  These are generations in which the majority actually care about social and environmental issues. So my hope is that this generation sparks a new wave of sustainability in the sector – that harnesses this interest and passion to truly transition the entire sector to a sustainable and resilient future.

Empowering Families Through Coffee, Today and Always

A message from the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and the National Coffee Association

During this time of challenge and significant hardship, sheltering in place has brought us closer to our families and loved ones. Coffee continues to provide comfort, health and perhaps the one routine that continues uninterrupted.  And so it is this week, the week we mark the International Day of Families, that the National Coffee Association (NCA) and IWCA share a message to connect and empower.

THE SHARED CHALLENGE

Every part of the coffee community is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, from furloughed baristas to frontline grocery and delivery workers to the farming communities where coffee is grown. Across the industry, we are all working to adapt to rapidly changing government responses, community health concerns, and many other significant challenges.

Coffee farming supports the livelihoods of an estimated 125 million people around the world and 1.7 million American workers. Behind every one of those people is a family and community. Well before the pandemic, coffee farmers were facing serious challenges ranging from building resilience in the face of a changing climate to struggling to achieve the profitability necessary for sustainable livelihoods.

The pandemic also exacerbates economic challenges and inequality. As the UN recently highlighted:

“…The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic…Compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty.”  

THE OPPORTUNITY AHEAD

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Americans and consumers around the world have prioritized coffee as a daily staple during these uncertain times. Continuing this strong demand is a key to the economic survival of our favorite stores and brands. What is less well known is that strong demand for coffee is also critical to support coffee farming communities, including members of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), as they also work to weather the pandemic. 

“Coffee holds this world together when all else fails”

— Leslie Nanne, IWCA Guatemala as shared in the IWCA Insights Report

What’s more, drinking coffee provides health benefits. It is associated with reduced risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.  Particularly relevant to current times, a recent review by Dr. Alan Leviton of Harvard Medical School notes that drinking coffee may reduce the risk of depression by up to one-third.

So, as we join the United Nations in marking the International Day of Families, to honor the strength and resilience of all families, from those who work tirelessly to grow the best beans possible to those who count on a daily cup to start their day. Wherever this message finds you, as you pour your next cup, know that you are connected, and empowered, through coffee.

Thank you from the National Coffee Association and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

ABOUT THE NCA

The National Coffee Association of U.S.A., Inc. (NCA), established in 1911, is the leading trade organization for the coffee industry in the United States. The NCA is the only trade association that serves all segments of the U.S. coffee industry, including traditional and specialty companies. A majority of NCA membership, which accounts for over 90% of U.S. coffee commerce, comprises small and mid-sized companies and includes growers, roasters, retailers, importer/exporters, wholesaler/suppliers, and allied industry businesses. Please visit ncausa.org to learn more.

ABOUT THE IWCA

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) is a global network of organizations united by the 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.We represent more than 25 countries, the majority of which are coffee growing. Together, we achieve empowerment through leadership development, partnership, and amplified market visibility. www.womenincoffee.org.

NCA Member Spotlight: JNP Coffee

Photo: JNP Coffee

COMPANY: JNP Coffee
LOCATION: USA & Burundi
NCA MEMBER SINCE: 2018
TWITTER: @jnpcoffee
FACEBOOK: /JNPCOFFEELLC
INSTAGRAM: @jnpcoffee

Read more NCA member spotlights, or check out our complete list of members

What does JNP Coffee do?

We trade the very best East African specialty coffee from Burundi, while empowering women farmers with technical knowledge and unparalleled bonus/premium payments.

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“Why Gender?”

“Gender in Coffee: A Documentary”

A new documentary offers a profoundly human perspective on gender equity and the coffee industry.

Join the National Coffee Association for a special screening hosted by the Coffee Quality Institute on April 4 in New York City. Learn more


What does gender equity mean for a coffee family, a roaster or a coffee drinker?

How do we relate to and connect with one another around the same passion for coffee?

Gender in Coffee: A Documentary” opens up the conversation about the importance of gender equality for the sustainability of the industry.

Filmmakers Xavier Hamon and Hannah Stapleton followed the story of women and men involved in the production, transformation and consumption of coffee between January and March 2017.

Here, watch a preview of the resulting film:

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How to Empower Coffee Communities to Thrive

Inside the community-driven mission of The Coffee Trust, NCA 2019 Origin Charity of the Year

The National Coffee Association recognized The Coffee Trust as the recipient of the 2019 NCA Origin Charity of the Year Award, sponsored by Mother Parker’s Tea & Coffee, during the NCA 2019 Annual Convention in Atlanta.

Two Award finalists – meriting special mention – were Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc. and Strategies for International Development.

[Read the NCA News release and visit the NCA Coffee Charity Showcase to learn more.]

Here, Bill Fishbein, The Coffee Trust Founder and Executive Director, explains from the field what makes this organization so special – and how they are happily working themselves our of jobs in communities at origin.

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IWCA in Atlanta: Lessons Learned From Sustainability-Focused Initiatives

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Calling all NCA 2019 Convention attendees!

You’re invited to a lively interactive forum, titled Connect. Empower. Advance. Insights & Lessons Learned From Sustainability-Focused Initiatives.

Join the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and moderator Nathalie Gabbay, Representative of RGC Coffee, for the IWCA Annual Luncheon fundraiser at the NCA 2019 Convention in Atlanta, GA.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to get high-level insights into leading sustainability initiatives and connect with colleagues from across the coffee industry.

Panelists and discussion topics include:

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Meet the NCA Next Generation: Amber Gray, Starbucks

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The following Q&A is from the NCA Next Generation Group, a National Coffee Association initiative to engage and support young professionals and emerging leaders across the coffee industry. 

Join the NCA Next Generation Council for young professionals in the coffee industry at the NCA 2019 Convention in Atlanta on Friday, March 8.


Amber Gray
Mgr Sr Coffee Operations, Starbucks
NCA Next Gen Council Member

How and when did you get involved with the coffee industry?

I got involved in coffee in 2013 when I joined Atlas Coffee Importers in north Seattle.

Having a culinary degree, I was trying to find an opportunity that would allow me to stay connected to the food and beverage industry, but still utilized my analytical background.

I worked in their Logistics department, managing and coordinating orders from green coffee warehouses to various customers across the US.

What interested you in joining the NCA Next Generation group, and then becoming part of the council?

I found out about the Next Gen council opportunity while on an origin trip in Costa Rica. Experiencing the first 10 feet of coffee inspired me to find a way to contribute more to the larger conversation.

I hope to help inspire the next generation, especially women, to get involved in coffee and supply chain.

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From Invisibility Towards Inclusivity: Building Diversity In the Coffee Industry

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Daiane Vital embracing her mother Vanilda de Souza Vital, south of Minal Geraris Brazil. Photo: Danielle Sereio

“The industry must do a better job at telling coffee’s history, beyond those who carried the bean throughout different parts of the world…”
– Phyllis Johnson, BD Imports, NCA Board Member


In the most recent issue, Roast Magazine published an insightful and important article by Phyllis Johnson, NCA board member and BD Imports president & co-founder.

Strong Black Coffee, Why Aren’t African Americans More Prominent in The Coffee Industry?” features perspectives from 14 black coffee professionals.

The following is a summary of the original piece, with new reflections and an update from Johnson’s recent trip to Brazil during International Coffee Week.

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ICO International Coffee Day Highlights Women in Coffee

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Demonstrate Your Commitment to Supporting #WomenInCoffee with the IWCA

By Melissa Pugash & Margaret Swallow, Co-Founders, International Women’s Coffee Alliance


Monday, October 1, 2018 is the International Coffee Organization’s 4th Annual International Coffee Day.

Hosted by the ICO,  “International Coffee Day is a global celebration of coffee’s long journey from the farm to your local shop — an opportunity to honor the women and men who grow and harvest the coffee we love.”

The seventy-seven member states of the ICO selected “Women in Coffee” as the theme for this year’s International Coffee Day.

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

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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.

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