Meet Startup @TW

How social enterprise IMPCT builds a preschool with "coffee bricks"

IMPCT Facebook fanpage

IMPCT, a social enterprise based in Taiwan, has stayed ahead of the curve by using a quarter of the profit it made from selling coffee beans to build preschools in developing countries. Founded in 2014, the company has been spreading the idea to different parts of the world throughout the years.

Until 2019, it has invested more than US$340,000 in the early education of central to South America and Africa to open four schools and offer proper education to 400 kids.

A preschool in El Salvador.

Deriving from the word “impact,” IMPCT stands for the right for all children in the world to receive a quality education and enjoy a brighter future. The missing letter “a” represents the absence of action in today’s world.

"Everyone needs to get involved to create influence," IMPCT’s cofounder Chen An-nung said.

Winning the US$ 1 million Hult prize

In 2014, Chen was a fresh graduate of the International Master of Business Administration at National Chengchi University in Taipei. She and three classmates from Canada, Honduras, El Salvador formed a team to vie for the Hult Prize, a global competition for social impact projects and was awarded US$1 million to turn their idea into reality.

But at first, their project was not a big hit. Several professional advisers called it impossible due to legal constraints and foreseeable execution challenges.

Despite being eliminated in stage two, Chen’s team did not give up on their idea and quickly raised around US$58,000 on the American crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to build the first early childhood education center in La Chuchilla, El Salvador. They also partnered with local NGOs to upskill a caregiver in the community, so parents can get a full-time job without worrying about their kids.

Impressed by their achievement, the judges of the Hult Prize decided to bring them back to the competition and crown the team as the global champion.

From left to right: Taylor Scobbie, Juan Diego Prudot, former US president Bill Clinton, Andres Escobar, and Chen An-nung.

“Our model, at a basic level, involves investing in women already running informal daycares to transform those into real schools that they own and operate — new facility, materials, teacher training, community/government outreach, ongoing support,” IMPCT’s cofounder Taylor Scobbie said.

“We bring the capital and partners required to make those all happen and act as project managers for the implementation.”

Selling fair trade coffee in developing countries

To grow sustainably, IMPCT turned their attention to coffee. With the mission to build more early childhood centers in urban slums globally at the back of their mind, IMPCT launched the “Coffee for the future” program to allow people around the world to buy bags of coffee beans from developing countries like Honduras and Guatemala and contribute to local school construction.

The packaging of the coffee products was designed to look like a brick, symbolizing that each purchase is a brick to build a better future.

Impct Facebook fanpage

Customers can scan a code inside the coffee box and pick a preschool they hope to help build Montessori preschools in Latin America founded by IMPCT that upskill local women as school owners and provide education to children. When the school is built, they receive a notification.

The program is beneficial to coffee farmers living in developing countries, who often earn too little to make ends meet while large coffee companies engaging in greenwashing are raking it in.

While 25% of the revenue goes towards building schools and nurturing low income women, 20% goes to the coffee farmers and 15% of the profit is invested in collaborative local roasting.

Same goal, new approach

When IMPCT was building schools in Latin America, they were contemplating how they could give back to Taiwan. The team planned a visit to numerous areas in Taiwan such as Pingtung and Hsinchu to investigate whether they can apply what they did in Honduras, Guatemala, and South Africa to Taiwan.

During their trip, they realized right away that the early education scene in Taiwan is completely different from Latin America or Africa. Many schools in the rural areas were closing because there were not enough admissions.

They started thinking what the community really needs and how they can help. They came up with an idea: selling local farmers’ products and returning the profits to the community.

IMPCT first partnered with local farmers living in rural areas and jam brand Red On Tree to upcycle unsold fruits into jams and sell them in flea markets. The company then reached out to Taipei City Government to kickstart a campaign wading into a social issue: the diminishing cultural identity of aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. They started a course for children aged between three and six about the traditions and cultures of 16 Taiwanese aboriginal tribes.

Impct Facebook fanpage

The company also partnered with Taipei 101 and Taisugar as their marketing consultant to help them give back to the community of their choice. For example, IMPCT and Taisugar renovated and transformed a school in Honduras into a secondary school that offers standard academic courses, career planning and leadership training sessions.

IMPCT & Taisugar crossover

Broadening the landscape of impact trading

With more and more businesses approaching IMPCT to develop ways to fulfill their corporate social responsibility, the company has a new business idea.

It will launch an e-commerce platform to help companies fulfill their CSR goals in a simpler way: They can sell their own products online, and 10%-25% of the profit will be used to support a social cause.

Meanwhile, customers decide where the money goes. They can invest it in areas such as early education, environment, food safety, and so on.

“We hope consumers and corporates can choose to support a social cause they care about and see how their purchase helps others,” IMPCT’s general manager Jessi Fu said. “For corporates, one major benefit of our e-commerce platform is that they can focus solely on developing high-quality products instead of allocating resources to CSR projects.”

With IMPCT’s new platform, more and more people will be involved in impact trading and understand what type of impact they can make on others’ lives.

“The US has already initiated a movement to move the conversation on sustainability forward to impact trade. It may take Taiwan two to three years to acknowledge its importance, but we believe the COVID-19 is a catalyst for consumers to change their mentality and for us as a business to explore e-commerce,” Fu said.