Aaron Swift returned from an emotional four-day journey in Rwanda with one goal in mind.
“I wanted to find a way to help Rwandan farmers and educate my peers at the same time,” said Swift, a four-year partner (employee) and shift supervisor at a Starbucks store in Manchester, England.
Swift visited Rwanda in 2014 as part of Starbucks Origin Experience, where select partners travel to coffee-growing regions to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for farmers who grow coffee. Having witnessed a cow-giving ceremony while in the city of Kigali, Swift realized providing a cow was an ideal means of giving back to the farmers.
“A cow means that farmers can invest back into their livelihood and in their community,” said Swift. “They can use milk for drinking and selling, the manure to increase the crop yield, and the animal as collateral for a loan to buy farming materials.”
700 Starbucks Stores Raise £40,000
After searching for the ideal charity to help with this endeavor, Swift and fellow partners selected Send a Cow, which works in seven African countries to provide training, tools, seeds and livestock to help those in need lift themselves out of poverty. With the organization in place, Swift invited Starbucks stores in the UK North West to accept donations for a two-week trial in 2014.
Starbucks UK raised enough money to fund the equivalent of 11 cows in the first year. Encouraged by the results, the company initiated The Big Cow Project in 2015 with more than 700 stores participating and an end result of nearly £40,000 (nearly $60,000 USD) in donations. As an added bonus, the total raised will be matched by the UK government to support Send a Cow’s projects in both Rwanda and Ethiopia.
“The Starbucks Big Cow Project was led by one young partner with the passion to make a difference,” said Rhys Iley, vice president operations, Starbucks UK. “Partners across the country have been so inspired to raise funds for farmers in Rwanda and the teams have really enjoyed getting behind this worthwhile cause.”
Overwhelmed by Generosity
“We have been inspired by the enthusiasm of Starbucks partners and their customers,” said Simon Barnes, chief executive of Send a Cow. “Thanks to their fantastic support we have been able to spread the work of Send a Cow to high streets across the UK and Ireland and use the daily Starbucks habit to save lives and ensure futures, not for one day, or even one week, but forever.”
Swift is overwhelmed by Starbucks customers’ generosity.
“It feels great to not only provide cows for Rwandan farmers, but also help so many Rwandan communities,” he said.
The campaign motivated many partners in addition to Swift, most notably Becca Turner, a store manager in London. Due to her exceptional fundraising efforts, Turner was chosen to visit Rwanda this month to witness Send a Cow in action and report back to Starbucks partners about the impact of The Big Cow Project.
“I am incredibly lucky to have the chance to see Send a Cow’s work first-hand in beautiful Rwanda,” said Turner. “This was not achieved alone. It is through my hard-working store partners that I’m able to go and experience something as incredible as this.”
Also taking Swift’s lead, a group of Starbucks partners in Germany have raised enough money to fund their first cow, and the initiative is set to go wider in Europe this year.
Next for Swift is to focus on his work as one of four coffee ambassadors in the UK. He will help coordinate education events for partners as well as the local Coffee Master Program.
“I’ve learned so much from this experience,” added Swift. “I’m sure the campaign will be a yearly tradition for some time to come.”