Vava Angwenyi’s passion for coffee began percolating at Western.
“I was always stopping in at Tim Hortons in Alumni Hall or the Health Sciences Building between classes. And I loved the Starbucks in Weldon Library. Even back then, I was a real coffee junkie.”
But much more than campus coffee breaks inspired Kenyan-born Angwenyi, BSc’03 (Statistics), to return to her homeland to start her own company, Vava Coffee Limited, in 2009. It was a dream of contributing to social change that inspired her successful company.
“When I decided on coffee as the vehicle for social change in Kenya, I had to face the bureaucracies which discourage risk. You face challenges on a daily basis; but those are what highlight the successes so much.”
Today Vava Coffee works with more than 250 small holder farmers across Kenya to produce coffee. Vava’s packaging is made in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. HIV-positive women are employed to sew cloth bags for the company’s high-end blends, while former street kids make packaging from recycled paper products for Vava’s other blends. Each Vava Coffee bag is labelled with the name of the Arabica beans and a brief story about the farmer who grew them.
It is this realization of social change in motion that Angwenyi is most proud of.
“You start to realize that the small victories will always define your pride,” she says. “It’s the woman calling from Australia who tells you how much she loves your coffee. It’s the young student who realizes she can be a part of something bigger than herself. Those are the things that keep me going.”
In February 2014, Vava Coffee won a marketing challenge organized by the Fair Trade Organization in conjunction with Progresso International for having come up with the best idea of how a business can set up a value chain that benefits the small holder farmer. In December 2013, Angwenyi was named one of Kenya’s 50 most successful and influential business people by the Msafiri magazine. Also in December 2013, she received the Pillar Awards Africa – entrepreneur category. In 2011, Vava Coffee was nominated as one of the top 12 social enterprises worldwide by the BBC program World Challenge. In 2009, Angwenyi herself was named to Business Daily Africa’s top 40 under 40 women in 2009.
Angwenyi’s time at Western helped inspire her future direction. “I still remember my very first Homecoming game,” she recalls. “As a Kenyan connecting to Canada, it was an event that quickly connected me to the Western spirit. It is a school that rewards diversity, free thought and the ability to truly enjoy one’s education. To this day, I can say that my Western years were the best academic years of my life.”
Angwenyi was awarded the Young Alumni Award in the 2014 Western Alumni Awards of Merit.
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