ORANGE — Sitting in his small office last fall, Dean Cycon, founder of Dean’s Beans, remarked on the company’s 25th anniversary that it isn’t just a coffee company, it is a “social movement.”
Now, Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company has won a 2019 Flourish Prize, a global award given to the company in recognition of its work toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals in eliminating poverty.
The 17 Flourish Prizes this year were given by the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management — Case Western Reserve University. More than 800 companies were considered for the award.
According to Dean’s Beans’ Katherine Parcell, the company won the award because of its “innovative” business practices.
“It is rare that a coffee roasting company gets global awards like these, especially those that directly address the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.
Dean’s Beans was founded in 1993 “as an experiment,” Cycon said.
Cycon had worked throughout the 1980s as a lawyer based in Providence, R.I., who advocated for indigenous peoples’ rights, especially in South America.
It was while preparing a lecture on deforestation and partnering with Bill Fishbein, a coffeemaker and fair trade proponent, that it “clicked” for Cycon and he realized 80 percent of the world’s coffee farmers are indigenous peoples.
Cycon founded Coffee Kids with Fishbein and later Dean’s Beans on his own to see if it was possible to turn a profit by paying indigenous farmers in places like Papua New Guinea a living wage while selling their coffee beans at low prices internationally — something normally the work of nonprofits.
“After working as an environmental and indigenous rights lawyer, I realized that until business changed its fundamental operating principles, the social, economic and environmental issues that lead to underdevelopment and poverty in the source communities would never change,” Cycon said.
“Charity was not enough,” he added. “So I took the risk of buying high, selling low, to see if it would be possible for a for-profit company to pay high prices for the commodity directly to the growers.”
His experiment worked, and Dean’s Beans has seen around 5 percent growth in each year of its existence. Cycon said his unorthodox business model centers on building relationships directly with coffee bean farmers in continents like South America, Asia and Africa.
Dean’s Beans, a “100 percent organic, 100 percent fair trade” company, according to Cycon, spends tens of thousands of dollars each year on development projects in small villages across the world.
One such project is in Sumatra, where Dean’s Beans is training workers in property rights to prevent the encroachment of palm oil plantations on their lands.
Cycon said these projects help indigenous peoples by “enabling them to pour resources back into their communities, then sell to the public at affordable prices, so everyone has access to organic, delicious, specialty coffee, not just people with means.”
The 17 award winners were selected after the Fowler Center examined stories written by students at 14 universities across eight countries — stories in which the students focused on companies working toward global U.N. goals. The story that got Dean’s Beans nominated was “Beyond the Bean” by student Jeremy Lile and under the direction of professor David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University.
Reach David McLellan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.