Sustainable Development Management in practice: Student Luisa Desch does her applied project in sustainable development at Social Business Kaffeekoop GmbH in Rwanda

In the degree programme Sustainable Development Management M.A. students learn how to translate complex theory into action. Luisa Desh, who is in her second semester of the degree programme, demonstrated this process during an exciting and instructive internship at the German-African Social Business Kaffeekoop GmbH. Her internship included not only hands-on work in the coffee fields together with the co-op’s female farmers, but also behind-the-scenes administrative tasks in sales and marketing, providing deep insight into work at a social business.  

Gruppenfoto beim CIF Marketingtraining. Frauengruppen der drei Kaffeekooperativen Musasa, Koakaka und Maraba zu sehen sowie Luisa Desch (mitte, hinten)

How did I end up in this internship? I love coffee and worked in a café during my undergraduate studies. There I learned a lot about how to prepare this incredibly popular drink. At the same time, privately I’ve been deeply interested in topics like the empowerment of women in society and economics, transformations of traditional gender roles, and equal opportunity for quite some time now. The internship at Kaffeekoop combined all of these interests. I wanted to learn more about the truth behind coffee and its value chain, as consumers often take it for granted, expecting the highest quality coffee at the lowest possible price in stores. Around 80% of coffee is produced via small-scale farming businesses and these farms in particular are hit the hardest by problems such as climate fluctuations, lack of agricultural infrastructure etc. Women farmers are particularly affected, too. I wanted to learn more because I can picture myself working on these topics after graduation. The internship at Kaffeekoop GmbH was the perfect fit for me.

Kaffeekoop GmbH is a joint German-African social business that aims to revolutionise the coffee market by placing the responsibility for the entire coffee production chain – from planting to processing – squarely into the hands of women farmers. The goal is to empower women farmers to become autonomous entrepreneurs who can earn a living from sustainable coffee production. The company only imports coffee that is grown and processed by women farmers in Rwanda to the German market. In other words, it acts as an extended arm of the coffee cooperative in Germany. Fair trade conditions, social responsibility, and trade on the basis of mutual respect are central elements of its work.

My internship was from September 2021 to February 2022. During this time, I worked primarily in marketing and sales. In close collaboration with partner organisations in Rwanda, this work entailed carefully composing social media posts and blog articles, organising online events, researching potential new markets, and contacting potential new customers. I also worked with well-known political organisations in the field of sustainable development and was able to contribute to specific ongoing projects in Rwanda, mainly INATrace, an initiative for sustainable and transparent agricultural supply chains, as well as the Coffee Innovation Fund (CIF).

The INATrace project was implemented together with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance Rwanda. Its aim is to use blockchain technology to introduce new ways to trace raw agricultural materials from initial production to final product. This increases transparency in supply chains by recording each step in the process as well as every transaction from the farmers to the consumer. Blockchain technology can prevent illegal and unethical practices in production and distribution which would otherwise jeopardise sustainability and food security. At the same time, increased transparency also means that consumers can make more informed decisions on their purchases and thus, for example, support vulnerable small-scale farms and protect the environment. By scanning a QR code on the package, consumers can access all this information from their smartphones and instantly see the path their product took from the field to their hands. Consumers can thus see, for example, how the coffee brand Angelique’s Finest was produced and distributed, while also contributing to greater transparency in the value chain with their purchase.

During my time in Rwanda, numerous workshops were held for female farmers, employees in the coffee washing station, and the team at Rwashoscco in order to teach them about the blockchain system and how they can benefit from it. I assisted my colleagues with the planning and implementation of workshops and was able to improve my understanding of blockchain technology and the immense potential it has for the value chain.

The Coffee Innovation Fund (CIF) is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) GmbH in the countries Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. The CIF supports innovative ideas from key actors along the entire coffee value chain with the goal of improving production, processing and commercialisation, thus increasing the value generated for local regions. With the help of the CIF, a marketing training workshop was organised for the makers of Angelique’s Finest. There they received valuable training on producing new content, developing ideas, and trademark protection for the brand “Angelique’s Finest”. By introducing them to the concept of a brand-building marketing campaign for Angelique’s Finest, the coffee producers were empowered to take strategic control of marketing for their product. My colleagues and I organised and ran a workshop for the makers on this very topic. In addition, I shadowed my colleague in January 2022 at the coffee co-op Musasa, where we helped the women farmers there create social media posts as well as videos of the coffee plantations and their homes. The farmers were bursting with confidence as they spoke about their lives to the camera; it was truly inspiring to witness.

It was also very exciting to visit various coffee co-ops operating in Rwanda. I spent days with the farmers in their fields, interviewing them about a whole range of topics: how all-female coops have changed their lives, what their daily routines are, how they perceive their roles as women in society etc.

Wrapping up my internship in early March of 2022, I was able to attend a visit of Germany’s Minister for Development, Svenja Schulze, to Rwashoscco, near the city of Kigali. She spoke about both the CIF and INATrace projects, visited the roasting house, saw a cupping, and spoke at length with three of the farmers.

All in all, it was definitely a very valuable, impressive, educational and inspiring internship. I learned so much about the coffee industry, the value chain, direct trade, field work with the farmers themselves, consumer behaviour etc. I also fell in love with the country while I was there. It was a life-changing experience.


Original German text by: Luisa Desch