Mikestrathdee’s Blog


Climate and Coffee – Kenyan firm helps farmers grow beans amidst changing weather patterns
June 26, 2018, 7:39 pm
Filed under: Business, Environment, gardening, Generosity, Uncategorized, Work

Climate and coffee

CDD WORKER WITH SEEDLINGS 3 Women make up most of the workforce at Caffe Del Duca’s seedling nursery. Photos by Mike Strathdee

Kenyan firm helps farmers grow beans amidst changing weather patterns

By Mike Strathdee

As printed in The Marketplace – May/June 2018THIKA, KENYA — Arabica is the most popular coffee variety in the world, accounting for three-quarter of worldwide production by some estimates.

It’s also something that future generations will have to do without due to climate change, a Kenyan coffee expert suggests.

“Eventually, this type of coffee will disappear,” Elio Lolli predicted while giving a tour of his coffee plantation to MEDA supporters earlier this year. “It’s not (going to be) economically viable.”

Lolli, director of Caffe Del Duca, is looking for ways to develop new coffee varieties that will be able to thrive in the changing weather conditions.

A woman mixes coffee beans that are drying on long tables in the sun.Caffe Del Duca, located in Maboromoko- Thika, 26 miles north-east of Nairobi, works with thousands of farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to source quality coffee, roasting the collected product for local and export markets.

Through a recent partnership with MEDA, the company will work with 1,000 new farmers and 100 micro-enterprises in Western Kenya over the next two years, targeting an equal number of female and male entrepreneurs.

cdd OWNER SMILINGElio LolliLolli’s father came to Tanzania from Italy in 1954 to work in coffee, planning to stay for two years. “Since then, we’re still here.”

Throughout his working lifetime, Lolli has been involved in growing coffee and making machinery, including pulpers that reduce water consumption.

Climate change is a concern that forces the development of new coffee blends, including Italian blends. “We are actually seeing the climate change,” he said.

Caffe Del Duca used to get a late crop in November or December. Now they get the crop in May or June “which means the quality is going down, not up. Any good food or fruit, it takes a long time to ripen.”

In addition to declining quality, “it’s getting more difficult to produce because of the climate change.”

Finding the right moisture levels for coffee is challenging. If there is not enough rain, the beans become too light, Lolli said.

If there is too much rain, the coffee berries (also known as cherries) become diseased.

A woman mixes coffee beans that are drying on long tables in the sun.Historically, Kenya has had two distinct coffee crops, Arabica and Robusta, says Leonard Murwayi, a value chain specialist with the firm. Farmers have been marginalized as Kenya imports Robusta, so Caffe Del Duca is working to increase the domestic supply of Robusta.

Robusta coffee has generally been less favored than the Arabica. Robusta is more bitter and less flavorful than Arabica. Espresso in Kenya and Ethiopia has historically been 70 per cent Robusta and 30 per cent Arabica, according to Caffe Del Duca’s web site.

Over the past four years, the company has been working to create a nursery to cross-pollinate and create a Robusta coffee that is water resistant and high production.

Caffe Del Duca has 14 employees, two-thirds of them women. Women have better manual dexterity than men, making them better suited for working with seedlings, Lolli explains.

The partnership with MEDA will help Caffe Del Duca gain improved access to local, regional and international markets and strengthen the business capacity of the 100 entrepreneurs (coffee vendors) it works with.

It  will also train farmers in post-harvest operations for improved quality, using collection points and helping groups to acquire drying tables.  Soil conservation activities such as protecting water catchment areas will be stressed to prevent soil erosion.

A gender consultant will be hired to train both men and women on equity leadership, decision making, business development and financial literacy, including bookkeeping and tracking money. CDD will help entrepreneurs get the public health licences they need to enter the coffee business and assist some of them in buying subsidized coffee-making cans.

Some farmers will receive assistance in purchasing pruning tools, sack sprayers and affordable fertilizer.

Kenyan coffee growers prune their plants, something that is foreign to Ethiopian farmers. (In an unrelated consulting project, Lolli is trying to teach sustainable farming practices to Ethiopian growers.)

One part of the MEDA project targets one of Kenya’s most vulnerable populations — widows who are farmers. Caffe Del Duca will help widows to set up five demonstration farms and nurseries.

CDD SEEDLINGSCaffe Del Duca grows up to 100,000 coffee plants a year to produce disease-resistant varieties.Vulnerable widows have been identified by CDD and MEDA as a specific group that  will be targeted within the overall client population, says Lloyd McCormick, MEDA’s country manager for MEDA’s M-SAWA (equitable prosperity) initiative.

“Western Kenya was hit hard by the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the recent past, thus leaving a significant number of widows,” McCormick said. “The project will help a number of these widows access better livelihood opportunities (including) farming and small-scale vendor retail.”

Each new farmer needs five seedlings and a tree to provide shade to get into coffee production. Coffee bushes are intercropped with both food crops and shade trees. Plants take two years to mature enough to produce and will yield for five years.

A coffee bean (or cherry) is a seed of the coffee plant and the source for coffee. It is the pit inside the red or purple fruit.

CDD’s nursery grows plants from cuttings and seeds, producing up to 100,000 plants a year, focusing on varieties that are resistant to several diseases. “As the climate gets warmer, it (coffee plant) is more susceptible to leaf rust,” Lolli said.

Climate change is also increasing the size of insect pests. As temperatures increase, yields drop. Yields were down by 50 per cent in 2017, he said. “The taste varies from the date of the rainfall.”

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Challenges amidst business boom
June 26, 2018, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Business, business incubator, Generosity, stewardship, Uncategorized, Work

Tech innovators, charities need to understand each other to tackle social problems

As Printed in The Marketplace – September/October 2017

Rapidly increasing wealth and inequality in North American high-tech hubs is forcing charities to reach out to technology entrepreneurs for solutions to societal problems as well as donations.

That new, uncomfortable reality means that both sides need to understand each other’s challenges, a forum on technology and inequality in Kitchener, Ont. heard recently.

The event was held at the offices of Vidyard, a fast-growing firm which provides a platform that helps companies analyze the performance of their online sales videos. It was organized by FaithTech, a nascent movement operating in three tech clusters across Canada (Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and Vancouver).

FaithTech provides a place for Christians working in the technology sector to share their stories and think about ways to apply their talents to pressing social issues.

Speakers at the event came from both the social service and technology sectors. They included:DSC 0082John Neufeld holds a 3D-printed car in his office. His agency partnered with tech employ- ees to provide 3D-printing camps for low-income youth. Photo by Gail Martin

  • John Neufeld, executive director of Kitchener-based House of Friendship, which serves over 42,000 low-income men, women and children throughout Waterloo Region.
  • Christian Snyder, head of community relations at Smile.io, a Kitchener firm that manages corporate rewards programs.
  • Stephanie Rozek, executive director for Hive Waterloo Region, which works to teach digital literacy skills and to build diversity and greater inclusion within the tech sector.
  • Fizsum Areguy, who works with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute researching the use of tech with health care.

FaithTech founder James Kelly, who moderated the event, recalls being told that in California’s Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s largest tech firms, “you can taste the difference between the rich and the poor when you are there.”

Waterloo Region, home to one of the fastest-growing tech clusters in the world, could become the Silicon Valley of the North, he said. “The question is, will we like it (if the inequality accompanies the economic growth)?”

Under-representation of women and minorities in tech jobs, sexism and housing affordability as sections of the city undergo gentrification were the most frequently-named issues by an audience of 120 people, most of them young and employed in the tech sector.

Inviting the tech community to be part of community conversations around inequality requires adjustments by both parties, said Neufeld (who is a past president of MEDA’s Waterloo, Ont. chapter). “We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t have a template, we don’t have a formula for this.”

One of the disconnects that must be overcome is the inability of social services organizations to move quickly enough, and the need for tech firms to slow down, Snyder said. He experienced that first-hand in a previous job working at an organization that serves refugees. A large Kitchener tech firm volunteered to help his employer solve a problem, but could only devote resources for a limited time. The refugee organization couldn’t react quickly enough, and “eventually, it came to naught.”

Other conversations have borne fruit. Neufeld was invited last Christmas to the Accelerator Centre, a University of Waterloo-based incubator for tech firms, to thank them for donating to his agency. He challenged tech entrepreneurs to consider running computer coding camps for bright youth in low-income neighborhoods.

After his talk, some people came up to him with a counter-proposal. “We can’t do coding camps, but we can do 3D-printing with you,” employees of a 3D-printing firm told him.

Last summer, the company did a pilot 3D-printing campaign at a community centre in one of the region’s poorest neighborhoods. Neufeld is optimistic the idea will spread.

“I think we’ve got something good here that we can co-create,” he said, while acknowledging that success will require difficult conversations, “hearing things that we don’t want to hear.”

Systemic solutions take time, “which is counter-intuitive to how tech works,” Areguy noted.

Snyder agreed. Community development in the tech sector is difficult work with data-driven engineers, he said. Those professionals typically work in two-month sprints, and are oriented toward objectives and key results (OKRs). But relationships aren’t OKRs. “If you do work in tech, don’t think about relationships as OKRs,” he said. ◆



Cyclists hit Myanmar for fundraising trip
November 7, 2017, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving, Generosity, Uncategorized

This article appeared in the November, 2017 issue of Faith Today magazine.

http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20171112?pg=13#pg13

Photo is by Steve Sugrim

Laverne Brubacher doesn’t consider himself an avid cyclist.

Before beginning training for this fall’s adventure, the longest bike trip he had ever done was 25 km.

But this month, the 73-year-old St. Jacobs man is one of 17 Canadians and three Americans who are riding 355 km through Myanmar in support of impoverished women farmers, people they have never met, in that South Asian nation.

Sixteen other people, mostly from the U.S., are exploring Myanmar on a bus tour in support of the same fund drive. Each participant has committed to raising at least $5,000. Brubacher set and achieved a goal of raising $10,000.

Overall, the Myanmar On the Move trip, sponsored by Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) raised $600,000. Waterloo-based MEDA is a Christian international development organization that works to provide business solutions to poverty. It currently has projects in 62 countries, including Myanmar.

Myanmar On the Move is an initiative of MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) project targeting rural women, providing them with market connections and prospects for employment to help them grow with their country.

That project will help 25,000 women farmers get their products to markets, something Brubacher calls “a pretty compelling thing.”

He is particularly impressed with the fact that all donations to the project are multiplied almost seven-to-one by Global Affairs Canada for a total value of $4 million.

Several of the participants are making the trip a family affair, including spouses or children. Leamington pastor David Dyck is riding with his son Andrew.

The cyclists’ adventure includes one day of trekking and 5 days of biking. Distances for cycling days will be 55km, 70km, 55km, 70km and 105km.

“The only thing that I’m concerned about is the 105 km one day,” Brubacher said of the prospects of visiting a part of the world that has seen a lot of political instability in recent years.

The retired renovator, former owner of the Menno Martin company, is active in leadership in many charities, as well as his home congregation. Fitting for a man whose business card read “chief servant.”Laverne-Brubacher-4



Preventing Prodigals
February 24, 2017, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Estate Planning, Generosity, stewardship, Theology, Uncategorized

 

By Mike Strathdee

(Published in January 2017 issue of Canadian Mennonite and the Jan/Feb issue of The Recorder magazine.)

Many of us are familiar with the the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. There are great lessons in this story about grace and forgiveness, but I’ve never heard it used in the context of warning about giving children gifts before they are emotionally or spiritually mature enough to handle them properly.

We aren’t told how old the prodigal was when he made his disrespectful, audacious demand of his father, but clearly he wasn’t ready to handle money responsibly. When I heard that passage read some time ago, I couldn’t help wondering if the story could have been different if the father knew what we now know about human brain development. What was the father thinking? Could he have had any idea how poorly equipped his son was to handle the premature inheritance?

Science has taught us that even in well-adjusted people, it can take up to age 25 before the prefrontal cortex is fully developed. That’s important because this part of the brain helps people appreciate the consequences of their actions. In her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Margaret Atwood argues that, knowing what we now understand about brain development, giving people access to credit cards too soon could be considered a form of child abuse.

Similarly, parents should consider whether allowing their children to potentially inherit more money than they’ve ever had before, as soon as they attain the age of majority, would be a blessing or a bane.

About 15 years ago, I was trying to make this point in an end-of-life planning seminar at a church in a small town. I was shocked to see a young woman stand up in her pew and say that she agreed with me completely.

Later, I heard the sad family story. Her father died when she and her brother were 19. Their mother had passed away earlier. They each inherited $60,000. It was way more money than either of them knew what to do with. Her brother chose particularly poorly, burning through all the cash and ringing up considerable debt in only 18 months. She is now determined to ensure that her children have a better understanding of money.

Another verse relevant to the topic of inheritances is Proverbs 13:22: “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”

At first glance, this passage may seem to focus on skipping a generation and leaving everything to the grandkids. But when taken in context with other advice in Proverbs, we see that wealth can only be successfully transferred between generations if a values transfer comes ahead of the money.

Part of me wonders if we might have fewer prodigal sons and daughters, and fewer prodigal grandsons and granddaughters for that matter, if we were more explicit in modelling generosity and explaining our beliefs and habits. We can transfer good values to our children by educating them about responsible spending, good habits and about giving throughout our lives. We can also model generosity in our estate plans by including charitable gifts as if they were an extra child in the list of beneficiaries. Let your kids know what values are important to you and how you hope they will continue them with their inheritance.

Abundance Canada can help you design and carry out a generosity plan. Ask us how.

Mike Strathdee is a gift planning consultant at Abundance Canada serving generous people in Ontario and the eastern provinces. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest Abundance Canada office or visit abundance.ca.



Look to the U.S. for the next big catalyst for charitable giving

A couple of decades ago, some of the largest Canadian charities were suffering. Federal cuts to transfer payments, seen as necessary to balance the national government books, were a body blow to universities, hospitals and others.

Help for the charitable sector came in the form of a policy change in line with what donors enjoy in the U.S.  After considerable lobbying, Ottawa agreed to “temporarily” reduce in 1997, then permanently eliminate in 2006, the capital gains tax on appreciated securities when donors gifted them in kind to charity.

By some estimates, that single change resulted in charities receiving an extra $1 billion in donations almost every year since 2006.

With the Canadian donor pool aging and reportedly shrinking, maybe it is time for the sector to look to the U.S. once again for a big idea to kick start the next wave of giving.

In December 2015, Congress passed a bill making permanent a charitable gifting option that allows donors aged 70.5 and older to withdraw IRA funds – a tax-deferred retirement account analogous to our Canadian RRSPs –  to donate to their favorite charities. Withdrawals of up to $100,000 each year can be made without these distributions registering as taxable income.

Given the billions of dollars of RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund) income that Canadian baby boomers have to begin drawing down as they turn 72, there are massive possibilities here. Not only do some people not need all of the income they are forced to begin drawing, many are not looking forward to the accompanying tax hit.

A significant number of Canadians will move into the top tax bracket when they draw their last breaths, if that occurs before they have depleted their RRIFs.  In Ontario, that top bracket current stands at 53.5%. Charitable tax credits have been adjusted to match.

Getting a cash-strapped federal government to consider a break for retirement funds donated to charity will not come easily. Many leaders in the charitable sector will say their top lobbying priority will be convincing Ottawa to reinstate the proposed capital gains exemption for gifts of real estate and private shares that was accepted, but not enacted, by the former Harper government.

(Donald K. Johnson, who led the successful lobby for favorable treatment of donated securities some years back, is also pushing Ottawa to give exemptions for real estate and private share gifts. A Toronto Star story says such a change would result in additional donations to charities of about $200 million a year. The cost to the federal treasury would be between $50 million and $65 million.)

But it’s also time to start asking whether the lowest-hanging fruit for growing charitable donations could lie with the ever-increasing wave of RRSP savings that need to be converted to RRIFS and withdrawn.

Lots of good causes sure could use the help.



On autonomy and community
March 1, 2016, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Communication, Financial Management, Generosity, stewardship, Theology

Published Feb. 24, 2016 in Canadian Mennonite magazine

Feb 24, 2016 | Volume 20 Issue 5

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. . . . The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:24-25, 31).

Dutch pastor Wieteke van der Molen used this text for a Friday evening message at the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., last July. Out of many good sermons that week, her message, “On autonomy and community,” struck the deepest chord for me. (The entire message is available online at pa2015.mwc-cmm.org.

We are all part of a community, van der Molen noted, be it a family, tribe, school, workplace or church. Some of us are members of multiple communities. Community feeds us, nurtures us and teaches us right from wrong, she said. To be human is to be part of community; we cannot survive alone.

We also crave autonomy, to have control over what concerns us. We want to make our own decisions, to be and do our best. There is a major tension between these important truths.

The struggle was ever thus, even in Old Testament times. As we read in Genesis, Jacob believed that he came first, always. He swindled his brother, deceived his father and so on. But living by your own set of rules and living in community do not go well together. After wrestling with the angel, Jacob struggled with the people around him, with God and with himself.

Autonomy, van der Molen argues, means that you are your own judge, but you have to figure it all out by yourself. Jacob’s story teaches us that it is not wrong to seek our own way, but we need to recognize the community around us, acknowledging the pain, hurt and frustration on both sides.

Modern, grown-up autonomy doesn’t come easy. When we act like Jacob did, wrestling with God, community and self, van der Molen has this warning: “Even if you win, it leaves you slightly limping.” How much of that limping results from failing to seek counsel?

One of the core principles that Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC) teaches is that God asks for our whole selves; that stewardship is best forged in Christian community marked by integrity, accountability and joy. Do we seek out Christian community and accountability in our walk as stewards of all that God has entrusted to us? Where do we find counsel in making choices around financial matters and in determining whether those choices are God-honouring?

In the 16 years that I have shared the MFC message of generous living and faithful, joyful giving, I have noticed the desire for autonomy, at whatever cost, intensify. Interest in, or even understanding of, community and the responsibilities that come with community, has crashed to a similar extent. It affects many of the institutions that we serve. Denominations, churches and some charities are limping, staggering in some cases. Others are thriving and growing, but there will be more limping and brokenness in coming years, I suspect.

We can do a lot more together than we can apart. How do we foster discussions around the value of community in our financial decisions? MFC can help. Perhaps a money autobiography class would be helpful. Maybe a discussion of best practices, both on a personal and congregational level, could be of assistance. Ask the MFC office closest to you for resources to help get the discussion started.

Mike Strathdee is a stewardship consultant at Mennonite Foundation of Canada serving generous people in Ontario and the eastern provinces. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.



Why should I give to your church?

Published in Canadian Mennonite, March 2015

Helping people give money away over the past 15 years has been a tremendously rewarding part of my work at Mennonite Foundation of Canada.

Many of these generous people are from the “builder generation” (born in or before 1945). The builders I’ve spoken with give generously, value church institutions and trust the people who run them.

Being told there is a need opens their wallets or cheque books. As these people age, become infirm and pass away, I miss their generous spirits. Increasingly, many churches, church agencies and related institutions are starting to feel the same sense of loss. That loss will intensify from dull ache to stabbing pain in coming years for those who don’t overhaul their approach and communication with donors.

Many in my generation and most in younger cohorts don’t see things the same way as their church-attending parents and grandparents did. This is true even of the much smaller fraction of boomers and millennials who still attend church more frequently than Christmas and Easter.

Given this clear dichotomy in how different generations respond, it is sad to see people making appeals based on guilt and obligation near the end of a church’s financial year. That doesn’t work anymore. It reminds me of the father recounting to his young daughter how his family had purchased their first colour TV when he was 10 years old. After some reflection, the daughter replied: “Daddy, was the whole world black and white then?”

Leave it to Beaver-era appeals don’t work in the digital age. Loyalty to church institutions is a foreign concept to a sizeable group of church attenders. Without new, compelling and repeated calls to commitment, the idea of supporting a congregation’s ministry is easily overlooked or dismissed.

J. Clif Christopher, in his book Rich Church, Poor Church, says he finds “far too many church leaders who are working on the answer to the question, ‘Why should I give?’ and not on the right question for today, which is, ‘Why should I give to you?’”

Younger donors who are asking the latter question don’t want to hear about commitments made at a budget meeting they didn’t attend. They want to give to vision, to relationships. They want to hear about outcomes and changed lives.

As the number of charities competing for donor attention continues to multiply—and Sunday morning once in a while is the extent of many people’s exposure to church—a congregation that wants to succeed in growing givers’ hearts needs to have a compelling answer to Christopher’s question: “Is my church the best place for me to invest to make a difference and change lives?”

Getting positive responses to that question will require leaders willing to move beyond traditional approaches. As Christopher says, “Being taught to give is as integral to the mature Christian life as learning how to read is to the adult life.”

Do we care enough about church to use proven stewardship best practices, even if they make us uncomfortable?