While traveling the world, Cesar Murillo and David Nouveau saw some devastating problems that affect many innocent people from around the globe. Now they are on a local mission to find a solution.
And it all starts with a cup of coffee.
The College of William & Mary business graduate students started a socially-conscious coffee cooperative, Do Good Trading Company, last year with some high expectations and now they are looking for carriers of their product within the Hampton Roads area.
The consumer market for high-quality coffee is a large one — half of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis — but their main objective has nothing to do with taking down the coffee giants like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.
Instead, they want to deliver access to clean water for the 700 million people in the world who don’t have it.
“Problem solvers — that’s what we really are,” said Murillo, 27, who grew up in Fresno, Calif.
“These are real problems in the world and need to be addressed so we want to use our background and what we are learning at school to solve them. We also need the local community to get behind us.”
A percentage of the profits from their company go toward supporting organizations that fund lifesaving water projects around the world.
“There are a lot of communities around the world that produce coffee but some of those very same communities also have water access problems,” said the 39-year-old Nouveau, who grew up in Dallas.
“We saw the connection and figured ‘Why not coffee?’ because our ultimate goal was to support a project that is relatable to consumers and that is also impactful.”
Their international scope includes water projects in Senegal, Madagascar and Mexico.
Both students have experience with the humanitarian issue of water shortages. Before they started their MBA programs at William & Mary, Nouveau, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2003, was deployed to Iraq several times while Murillo spent two years in Madagascar as a member of the U.S. Peace Corps.
Murillo saw first-hand the effects water shortage can have on people when he lived in a village that was a 90-minute drive outside Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. He saw entire communities get sick after people would resort to drinking contaminated water due to shortages.
“Madagascar is one of the top 10 poorest countries in the world and in a lot of those areas, from July to December, they had almost no access to clean water,” said Murillo, who partnered with a local company to build a clean-water well that is still in service today more than a year later.
“I have visited Kenya, South Africa, Nicaragua and Guatemala. At each stop, I have met with farmers about the coffee production process and how important it is to have clean water.”
Through the Army, Nouveau traveled to many countries and was exposed to “some pretty austere places”. Just because he’s back in America now does not mean he has forgotten those who are still in need.
“It’s the travel that puts things right in front of your face,” he said. “It really pressures you to find solutions to the problems. Seeing people struggle with something simple like just having clean drinking water — it’s hard to walk away from something like that.”
Murillo and Nouveau partnered with Water Charity, a non-profit organization, at each of the three international sites. According to the Do Good Trading Company website, their Padaf Water Projects in Senegal, which will impact 300 people, has a fundraising target of $1,800 but they still need help as only 14 percent has been funded.
Water Charity has funded 21,118 water projects for 6.4 million people around the world. But for Do Good Trading Company, which was founded in Virginia, they are calling on their local Hampton Roads community to help them reach their goals.
“You need clean water to make coffee and everyone here drinks coffee,” Murillo said.
“When you’re making your coffee, it makes you appreciate the clean water you have. And if you drink our coffee then you know you’re helping someone else have clean water. We feel people right here at home can help with this global problem.”
Selling an international social-conscious product to a local community, who may not see the direct result or understand its impact, is an uphill climb.
But Murillo and Nouveau are ready and willing. They even went door-to-door when they first started last year to sell the coffee and spread the word about their fundraising goals.
They work with a local coffee supplier while most of their product sales — they ship across the country — come from their website. At the same time, they are still hoping to secure a local carrier so that their coffee can be featured at local restaurants, hotels and other businesses throughout Virginia.
“There’s no shortage of marketing here and you have to start somewhere so why not get going locally,” said W&M marketing professor Lawrence Ring, who teaches Murillo and Nouveau in the same MBA program.
“Cesar and Dave are energetic and eager to succeed. I would say that their persistence is one of their strongest qualities. Plus, they’ve been around the block. They have traveled and they have seen some things.”
One study they looked at from Ring’s class was about a Harvard University business student, who was also a retired military soldier. She and a few of her classmates started a small company, which inspired Afghanistan farmers to grow saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world, as opposed to opium poppies, which is a source of heroin.
“Hearing about this sort of peaked their interest,” said Ring, who has been teaching at W&M since 1985.
“The fact that someone from America can organize a successful saffron production in Afghanistan proved to them that working on international water projects from Williamsburg can be done. If you look at it, both entrepreneurships have a lot of similarities.”
While they navigate their way through the tricky path any small business faces, Murillo and Nouveau, who are full-time students on pace to get their MBA degree in 2018, remain positive.
And of course, they drink a lot of coffee.
“Oh, I drink it everyday,” Murillo said. “It’s always fresh on our minds and it powers us through the longs night when we’re working on these projects.”
For more information or to have your recent trip highlighted in our travel section, email travel editor Aaron Gray at email@example.com