Root Capital’s digital learning partner, Vuna Coffee School, fills a key gap in the coffee education market. Vuna, a one-of-a-kind digital coffee education platform, was founded in 2020 to address the lack of coffee education at origin. Vuna’s classes are lifetime courses, available 24/7 in six languages, and include a global coach network. Vuna’s self-paced courses seek to serve those historically excluded from coffee education: coffee professionals farther up the supply chain than farmers and roasters. Vuna students mainly work in office jobs related to coffee production—in exporter or cooperative administrator roles. According to Sara Morrocchi, Founder and CEO of Vuna Coffee School: “It's all geared towards that mission of selling more coffee at better prices. So if you are in the business of selling coffee, then the school is for you.”
The Challenge: The Missing Middle of Coffee Education
Sara knew that there were many online coffee courses, but most targeted farmers, roasters, or baristas, and excluded other professionals in the supply chain.
“When we think of origin, we just think of farmers, and I think we completely overlook a whole segment of the value chain that works really hard. Who really looks after the commercial manager of a cooperative that represents a couple of thousand farmers in Guatemala? That's when Vuna comes in. And that’s where Root Capital comes in. We work with people who are most of the time invisible to the chain.”–Sara Morrocchi, Founder and CEO of Vuna Coffee School
It is this alignment around a common vision—creating a more prosperous future for rural communities—that brought Vuna Coffee School and Root Capital together in partnership. In 2020, we began partnering with Vuna to offer training to select Root Capital regional teams and coffee clients via a “train-the-trainer” model.
The Partnership: Root Capital and Vuna Coffee School
Sara is an expert in the world of green coffee consulting management. In 2015, she started her consulting organization, Vuna Origin Consulting, after spending eight years working with international clients in coffee supply chain management. Sara originally designed the Vuna Coffee School as an in-person course. She had plans to deliver price risk management trainings to 90 cooperatives spread across Central Africa, contracted by Farm Africa in collaboration with Root Capital. However, in 2020, with travel suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sara had to adapt her plans. While others may have seen the emergence of the pandemic as the end of the ambitious project, Sara saw this as a challenge, and one she knew she could solve. Thanks to her perseverance and innovation, the concept of the first truly digital coffee school was born.
Once Vuna and Root Capital formally partnered to bring Vuna’s courses to Root Capital coffee clients around the world, Sara began working more intensively with our regional staff. Root Capital’s lending team was interested in learning more about price risk management from the perspective of a producer organization, so they could better serve our clients. To help, Vuna and their coaches delivered two courses to 50 Root Capital staff in Latin America, so they could then teach our clients similar topics. This cross-training allowed our regional staff to support coffee clients in their post-coursework implementation phase. Vuna’s courses proved so beneficial that Root Capital’s Head of Lending in Latin America, Daniel Rivera, hopes to enroll our Credit, Risk, and Credit Administration teams for training in 2024.
The Solution: A Truly Digital Product
Generally, smallholder farmer organizations, like the cooperatives and associations that Root Capital works with, are aware of price risk management as a concept, but they struggle to find and implement strategies to manage coffee price volatility in real time. Because these clients may have never had training in or access to price risk management tools, coffee harvests are often processed inefficiently, resulting in lower returns for farmers and their families.
Vuna’s virtual courses range from six weeks to an entire year and include interactive digital content like quizzes and on-demand lectures, as well as three live coaching sessions. The real-time coaching sessions and the graduation at the end of a course are held on the digital platform Zoom. Both Vuna and Root Capital try to make these celebratory events as impactful as an in-person graduation. They aim to celebrate each student’s accomplishments while providing students with the opportunity to interact, hopefully taking their connections beyond the (virtual) classroom.
While online education courses exist for coffee supply chains around the world, Sara feels that Vuna Coffee School is the only true virtual coffee education program. She says that a digital education is more than Zoom courses and virtual meetings–though these elements can be part of the courses. For her, virtual education means delivering a fully digital product, accessible at any time, and available lifelong so students can continually revisit the material.
“We thought by developing a digital product we could reach a much larger audience with a scalable, affordable product.”–Sara Morrocchi, Founder and CEO of Vuna Coffee School
Vuna accomplishes this through training coffee supply chain workers in price risk management to advance their understanding of price risk mitigation strategies, and supporting their students in adjusting physical strategies according to market outlooks and price projections. The classes are divided into the following four pillars: collection and procurement, sales and marketing, price fixing, and finance. Students can take the courses in six different languages (and can request them in others). Currently, the language offerings include: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Vietnamese, and Bahasa. Per Sara: “Sometimes you have global education, but it only comes in English. So we decided to make digital coffee education accessible, and in the language of the country.”
Since many students (and Root Capital clients) are located in remote, rural locations and often have slower wireless internet, it was important to Sara that Vuna’s courses only require as much internet bandwidth as a YouTube video. According to Sara, if you can watch a YouTube video on your phone, you can take her course!
The Students: Celebrating the Stars
Of the 1,000 students who have taken Vuna’s courses, approximately 100 have been Root Capital clients or affiliates. Lia Hulit, Advisory Quality Assurance Manager, oversees the partnership from Root Capital’s side. For her, Vuna’s courses are unique because of “the connections that students make with one another across regions, countries, and contexts.” Lia sees potential for delivering Root Capital’s advisory services training using Vuna’s digital model of accessibility. She believes that advisory training modeled off Vuna’s platform could maximize cost effectiveness and provide the possibility of 24/7 training to Root Capital clients around the globe. That way, Root Capital could continue to deliver education on-demand to our clients so they can learn and build capacity without the need for in-person visits.
Most excitingly, Root Capital and Vuna Coffee School have partnered to give 15 star students from previous courses— all Root Capital clients—a full year of strategic implementation support from Sara in the form of a business coaching class. These star students were chosen for their prompt completion of courses and exercises, active participation during live coaching, as well as engagement with other students in the course. These interactions included students asking instructors questions, leaving comments on courses, or messaging with other students to collaborate.
Wilder Quispe is one of Vuna’s star students. Wilder is a member of Cooperativa Agraria Los Angeles Coffee, a Root Capital client located in Northern Peru. He took Vuna’s basic price risk management course thanks to Root Capital’s sponsorship. Wilder says the course “greatly helped us in the decision making process and the securing of contracts” and “helped us refine risk management tools and policies.” With these new tools to streamline cooperative processes and secure contracts, Cooperativa Agraria Los Angeles Coffee and their members are benefitting from Vuna’s courses. And Wilder is excited to continue his coffee education at origin as part of Vuna’s class of star students.
Another star student who was chosen to be part of the year-long course is Rafael Zavallos, General Manager of Valle Verde de Rodríguez de Mendoza, a coffee cooperative located in Northern Peru. While Rafael found the price risk management course to be insightful, he is excited for other members of the cooperative’s management team to take Vuna’s courses so they, too, can “better understand the coffee business, its risks, and how to minimize these risks.” Rafael notes that Vuna Coffee School provides “a simple, practical, easy to understand course.”
Root Capital is thrilled to see the resounding success of our partnership with Vuna Coffee School and the recognition of our clients’ hard work. We are particularly excited to bring more of Vuna’s courses to our regional staff in 2024, expanding this accessible and inclusive digital training tool beyond the lending team. As Sara says, “by better understanding our clients’ pains, we can better serve them in the pursuit of their dreams and aspirations.” We look forward to deepening our partnership with Vuna Coffee School in the years to come and providing our most remote clients with this valuable digital learning tool.
About the Author
Tess Fisher is the Content Development Associate at Root Capital.