Dean Cycon, author of Javatrekker: Dispatches from the World of Fair Trade Coffee, was recently featured in the cover story in BusinessWest, the business journal of Western Massachusetts.
From the article:
“I said that people graduating from college should be less concerned about getting a job than with finding out who they are so they can work toward long-term satisfaction with their employment, especially if they’re interested in making a difference in the world,” [Cycon] said. “It wasn’t until I was 40 that I found the proper vehicle for my life’s work.”
That would be Dean’s Beans, which he created after navigating a winding career path that took him in a number of directions.
It started with international corporate law.
Cycon told BusinessWest that he handled a number of licensing and distribution agreements for several companies with overseas operations, while also undertaking some environmental-law work, which he described as a “passion.”
Eventually, Cycon left law and had a series of fellowships, including a two-year stint at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and an extended stay in New Zealand as a senior Fulbright Scholar. He was teaching part-time at the University of Rhode Island and UMass, while also practicing some law, when a chance encounter took his career in a new direction.
“I was giving a lecture at URI on the ‘real causes of deforestation in Brazil,’” he explained, “and was approached by a professor after the talk. He said he had a friend in Providence who owns a coffee shop, buys Brazilian coffee, knows how poor the farmers are, and wants to make a difference. Will you meet with him and talk to him?”
Cycon did, and this discussion eventually led to those three individuals forming what Cycon describes as the first nonprofit development organization for the coffee world. Called Coffee Kids, the initiative raised funds from the coffee industry and then distributed them for development projects such as water supply quality, education, and alternative income generation.
Now in its 20th year, Coffee Kids is still addressing quality-of-life issues, but Cycon moved on to take his work with coffee growers to a new, much higher level.
“After doing Coffee Kids for a number of years, I came to realize that the charitable approach was a noble thing, but it was not going to bring change to the coffee industry,” he said. “Companies didn’t have to change their business practices, which were what kept people in a chronic state of underdevelopment.
“I thought, ‘what would it look like if a company actually paid a fair price for the coffee and engaged directly in the lives of the people it bought from through development work?’” he continued. “So I created Dean’s Beans to model how that might look; could I do this and still be profitable? If I could, then no coffee company had an excuse to do things differently.
“Looking back over the past 15 years,” he concluded, “I’d say we’ve had a major impact on how the coffee industry does business, from Starbucks on down.”