Get To Know 2020 Business for Peace Awardee Joji Pentoja And Her Journey With Coffee
It all started in 2006 when Joji moved to Mindanao after years spent abroad. In hindsight, it was her way of giving back to the country she had long missed. Joji had left her 16-year-old job as a Financial Counsellor in a big-time Canadian company and has since advocated for peace in the war-ridden provinces of the South.
But advocating for peace didn't come easy for Joji. After all, victims of war had more pressing problems to address, usually with no reliable source of income and just barely making ends meet.
"Things changed because to really understand 'peace', you have to feel it. It is not just a nice word that you can achieve easily. A hungry woman who has experienced being displaced because of armed conflict would dismiss the idea easily because they have no food to eat, no clean water, and no shelter," Joji explains.
For a while, Joji was stuck. She had tried different approaches to bring people together for the cause, but none worked; that is until she sat down with opposing tribes and offered them a cup of coffee.
"With no other ideas to try to advance Peace in Mindanao, we decided to offer to serve coffee so that they may have dialogue," she said. Coffee for Peace was born in April 2008.
This seemingly simple idea paved the way in bringing communities closer and opening discourse in high conflict areas. It has allowed for continuous conversation between clashing families and clans and encouraged them to build a harmonious relationship.
With no time to spare, Joji and her husband reached out to their peacebuilding peers and business partners to kickstart Coffee for Peace. The idea was simple, to help coffee farmers in Mindanao produce quality beans and give back 25 per cent of the company profit for peacemaking activities in the area. After much research, Joji, with her team reached out to local farmers in Mindanao and helped them improve their farming processes in order to produce quality coffee. Their hard work paid off as more and more consumers have recognised the premium beans they have been developing with the farmers over the years.
"Receiving a review and feedback in 2011 from our prospective client in Vancouver, Canada, they gave our coffee a good review because it passed the premium standard of Specialty Coffee. They are willing to buy in big volumes!"
In a span of 12 years, Joji and the entire Coffee For Peace team were able to tap 33 out of 81 provinces in the Philippines. Among these are 20 Provinces in Mindanao, four in Visayas, and nine in Luzon. They have impacted and changed the lives of around 880 families with their Inclusive Development Approach that is based on non-violent Peace and Reconciliation. More than livelihood, Joji has given the farmers a chance to make a name for themselves and boosted their confidence as coffee suppliers.
"Our commitment is to help the farmers redeem their confidence in farming and be proud with what they do, with increased income, children going to school, good water source and sanitation, and enjoying life as a family. We feel that we have done our job when they can assert by themselves how traders and impact investors treat them as farmer-prenuers," she said.
Because of all of her efforts in Mindanao and nearby provinces, Joji was recognised by the prestigious Business for Peace Foundation last September 2020. Joji, alongside Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, and James Mwangi, chairman and CEO of Equity Group Holdings, has received the coveted 2020 Oslo Business for Peace Award. The Oslo Business for Peace Award is given to individuals who have greatly contributed to the establishment of trust, stability, and peace in communities. The award recipients are deliberated by an independent committee composed of winners of either the Nobel Peace Prize or Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences or Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
"When I received a call from Business for Peace Award, I could not contain my joy, because this is an awarding body that is recognising that we are a business and that we promote peace! The very essence of our corporation. I really thank God for the opportunity to use my life to serve people. I dedicate this award to the farmers, who are in the frontline in conflict zone areas, trying to keep the peace, for the many peace partners that have never given up in believing in Peace. For our impact investors who are there to celebrate with our farmers' successes, and for our consumers who are inspired by the stories of the farmers."
For Joji, Coffee For Peace has still a long way to go in helping coffee farmers throughout the country. The company is expanding rapidly, training and recruiting more farmers to also match the increasing demand. As of last year, the Philippines reportedly consumed 3.4 million 60 kg bags, 65 per cent of which were imported. Aside from advocating for peace and creating a source of income for farmers, Joji also aims to push the consumption of locally produced coffee beans that are as good, if not better, as those that are imported from other nations.
"Our dream is to continue to promote our local coffee to our own Filipino people so that we can help our economy to recover. Brewing coffee is getting popular among our younger generation, and we hope to penetrate that market. Creating a new breed of consumers that are conscientious," she expressed.
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