15 Voices: An Interview with Jonathan Rosenthal


Jonathan Rosenthal (right) with Rosario Castellon, Root Capital’s former loan officer for Nicaragua 

Jonathan Rosenthal has been a friend of Root Capital since the early days. As one of Root Capital’s founding board members (2001-2007), Jonathan has been a critical advisor to Root Capital, always helping us stay true to our mission and remember the needs of our clients.

For the last 25 years, Jonathan has created and managed projects that help advance social justice issues in the global fair trade community. He current serves as the executive director of Coop Coffees and advises numerous fair trade organizations. He is also the co-founder and former executive director of Equal Exchange, a worker owned fair trade organization.

Root Capital: When did you first encounter Root Capital? 

Jonathan: I first heard about Root Capital, then Ecologic Finance, at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) annual convention in 1999. After SCAA in 2000, Willy and I talked about getting together for several months. Finally, that November, we got lunch to talk about Ecologic Finance and Willy asked me for recommendations for candidates for the board of directors. By the end of the lunch, I had suggested several people (including future staff member Rosario Castellon with whom Willy had already had some collaboration) and I casually suggested I might be interested myself.

I had just left Equal Exchange in June 2000 and was looking for ways to address the three key shortcomings I saw in fair trade coffee: cooperatives’ access to credit, access to business and finance training, and development of professional quality control capacity—to speak the language of the trade. Ecologic Finance was a perfect opportunity for me! By January 2001, I was on the board and began a long journey of collaboration with the fast growing team that was to become Root Capital.

Root Capital: Why have you been involved with Root Capital? 

Jonathan: Root Capital has always had a unique combination of cultural characteristics that has made it appealing to me. First, the vision was ambitious, broad, and inspiring. Second, Willy’s leadership wove together passion, ambition, vision, and humility. Willy had the ability to embrace a radical vision but implement with nonthreatening and almost mainstream tactics. His ability to speak the language of corporate CEOs, peasant farmers and all of us in the middle continues to be a key part of the Root Capital difference.

Root Capital: What is one word that summarizes Root Capital in your mind? 

Jonathan: Root. Root capital has always looked to go deeper—to the root of things—in its analysis and strategies. Thus, they don’t take the shortest route between two points but the one with the best long-term impact. This ability to walk the talk with humility and almost magically float above political skirmishes is unique.

Root Capital: What excites you most about what Root Capital can achieve in the next 15 years?  

Jonathan: Root Capital has a very difficult road to travel: it is striking a difficult balance between demonstrating that rural agricultural organizations are bankable while also ensuring that this type of lending is not distorted and remolded by global capital organizations. Walking this line between scaling up, documenting what works and what doesn’t and building the capacity of rural agriculture organizations, all at once, is inspiring, daunting and deeply important.

I am a believer!

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