Friday Five – Joe Koenig and Three Avocados

By Daniel Darling

When you think of all the social need in this world—poverty, war, disease, HIV/AIDS, malaria, you’re head spins and you almost give up at the sheer size of the task God has called us to remedy. But one man, Joe Koenig decided to be part of the solution by employing a unique form of activism. He launched Three Avocados Coffee Company, which sells delicious coffee and funds the drilling of wells in Uganda.

I like coffee. I really like digging wells in Uganda. So I asked Joe to stop by for a chat for today’s Friday Five:

What prompted you to start a coffee company?

I went to Uganda in January of 2010 with a mission group from church. Two things happened on this trip. One day, while our bus was stopped, I saw a young man on the side of the road, sitting under a tree with his bicycle. He was exhausted. At that very moment, I realized that I could easily be that young man. I had done nothing to deserve to be born in the United States with so many opportunities in front of me. Just as he had done nothing to deserve to be born into a life of extreme poverty and hardships. I only had what I had by the grace of God. I had been blessed with so much, and it was my duty to do everything I could with what I’d been given to help those in need.

Second, while worshiping with a congregation in the village of Bulopa, literally under a tarp strung across a few sticks in the ground, I saw a poor widow place three avocados in the offering basket. For this woman, those three avocados were virtually everything she had. In Uganda, the pastors are not paid. They travel from village to village and rely on God to provide for them. One way they are provided for is through food given in the offering. This poor widow had given all she had, solely to God and for the benefit of others. It was truly an amazing gift.

With some of the others on the trip, I began kicking around different products that could be produced in Uganda and sold in the United States in order to raise money for projects in Uganda. Upon further research, it became pretty clear to me that coffee was the best choice. It was already produced in large quantities and high quality in Uganda, and since it’s consumable, we had potential to build a repeat customer base.

Most people don’t realize that many people groups around the world don’t have access to clean water. How pervasive is the problem?

About 1 billion people do not have access to clean water. And many that do have access have to travel miles to get it. I can honestly say that I had no idea this problem existed until my first trip to Uganda. it’s truly staggering to think that more people do not have access to clean water than live in the United States. I challenge you, for one day, to always walk to the furthest water source in the building when you need water. And then imagine that walk was 4 miles. And that’s not to mention the numerous bacteria and parasites that exist in much of the water these people are forced to drink and to give to their children daily. There are children dying everyday from something as simple as diarrhea, caused by dirty water. The same water they need to consume to live is killing them. It’s such a preventable problem.

How does me in Chicago buying coffee from you in St. Louis help?

The concept behind Three Avocados was simple – we’re not asking you for new money, we’re simply asking you to redirect money you’re already spending. You’re going to buy coffee anyway, so why not buy coffee that supports a greater cause than paying dividends to shareholders? We use 100% of the profits we generate to provide clean water in Uganda.

What was the biggest challenge in establishing Three Avacados?

It’s a lot harder to sell coffee than you’d think! Seriously, the biggest challenge is getting the word out on a shoestring budget. We are really relying on word of month to help us grow right now. We’re also constantly seeking new retail partners in order to get the coffee in front of more people. Once we get it in front of people, it does very well and people really like the product.

What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to get get active, possibly even start a nonprofit and fight an issue like the lack of drinking water?

I would say that you need to constantly keep your focus on why you’re doing it. It’s easy to get discouraged, or feel like maybe it’s not worth it. For me, I think about the people I met in Uganda that are hard working, but just don’t have as many opportunities as we do here. If you stay persistent, you can make a difference. If you change one life, you’ve changed the world.

I encourage you to go right now and order some delicious coffee from Three Avocados and help make a difference.