Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Cuppa Joe, with a Twist: Pura Vida Coffee-Like Most Companies-Goes after Profits, but What Happens Next Is Hardly Ordinary

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Cuppa Joe, with a Twist: Pura Vida Coffee-Like Most Companies-Goes after Profits, but What Happens Next Is Hardly Ordinary

Article excerpt

It is a morning ritual for thousands of Americans, a gateway into the day, the warm cup over which they connect with others. But for drinkers of Pura Vida, that cup of coffee is also a ray of hope for at-risk children in the impoverished and struggling neighborhoods of San Jose, Costa Rica, and across the United States.

While some socially responsible businesses are able to boast a charity- or justice-oriented mission that grows out of their established consumer base, Pura Vida is an example of a for-profit business that was developed explicitly to support a religious and social mission.

In Spanish, "Pura Vida" has a double meaning. In street parlance, it means "cool," "awesome," or "great." But it also translates as "pure life" in English. Founders John Sage and Chris Dearnley seek to embody both meanings in the company's products, marketing, and social justice activities.

Pura Vida was founded in 1997 by Sage and Dearnley, who had met 10 years earlier when they both joined the Graduate School Christian Fellowship at Harvard Business School. After graduation, the two went their separate ways--Sage to work for Microsoft and into the high-tech start-up world and Dearnley first into business consulting and then, in 1995 after becoming an ordained minister, to Costa Rica, where he started a Vineyard church.

But the business school friends stayed in close contact, each looking forward to their annual get-togethers. In July 1997, relaxing by the pool after a round of golf in San Diego, Dearnley found himself telling Sage about the work he was doing in San Jose with at-risk youth, providing meals for the hungry and reaching out to struggling children. The work was rewarding but the group was financially strapped, Dearnley reported.

He recalls, "I shared with John and then at the same time said, hey, by the way, I brought you some great coffee from Costa Rica." Sage, impressed with the robust, high-quality coffee, immediately suggested that Dearnley create a brand of coffee to support his mission. The pair penciled some start-up figures on a paper napkin and Pura Vida was born.

For a year after what Sage calls "the poolside epiphany," Dearnley and Sage prayed and talked more about whether to invest themselves fully in their idea. During this period, Sage's consulting work landed him a position at Starbucks, where he deepened his knowledge of the gourmet coffee business--an $8 billion-a-year industry in America.

At that time, Sage also found himself thinking more about merging his business expertise with his religious faith. "I have a conviction and I feel a calling to ascertain whether or not there are ways for business and ministry to work together to help raise funding and awareness for ministry," he says. "This is the perfect manifestation or laboratory to figure out if this could work."

TODAY, IN ITS THIRD year of full operation, Pura Vida is a for-profit company that Sage operates out of Seattle, in a warehouse-style brick building that is located directly across the street from Starbucks' headquarters.

All of the company's post-tax net income goes to Pura Vida Partners, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Pura Vida Partners provides services including a soup kitchen that serves more than 100 meals a day--more than 10,000 meals have been served so far--plus four computer centers (funded with a grant from Sage's former employer, Microsoft) and four community soccer teams.

Dearnley, who lives in Costa Rica with his wife, Andrea, oversees Pura Vida Partners and the social mission of the company. He reports tremendous success in meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of San Jose's children, many of whom struggle daily with poverty, malnutrition, broken families, and omnipresent drugs and prostitution--success that is possible because of the funds generated by the coffee business. …

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