FOF Grace Hightower De Niro (yes, that De Niro), 58, told us there is more to our cups of coffee than cream and sugar. Not only is she a savvy businesswoman, but her company, Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda™, helps to create a more sustainable future for the people of Rwanda. FOF chatted with Grace about her business, and recently spotted her coffee truck in the heart of Manhattan, a few days before National Coffee Day. See what she had to say, and enter to win a set of Grace’s coffee!
When did you start your business, and what inspired you?
I started thinking about the business two years ago, but launched it in January. I was hearing President Kagame speak about his vision for Rwanda and his people, which focuses on ‘trade and not aid.’ I thought that was such a powerful statement because the leaders of many third world countries allow handouts, without motivating their people to get involved and do for themselves. President Kagame inspired me to look more closely at Rwanda. He’s coming with such a strong vision after the atrocities in the country. On a trip there, I learned that the Rwandans are strong and want to support themselves.
Can you explain the ‘trade not aid’ philosophy?
The Rwandan people would like to establish sustainable businesses for themselves and for the country, and not just depend upon outside aid. By accepting aid, you’re not providing an infrastructure in your country to take care of yourself.
Why coffee, as opposed to other available crops in Rwanda?
I learned from the Rwandan people in New York that half of their country’s cash crops are coffee, so I looked deeper into Rwanda’s coffee business. It consists mainly of small farms, not big plantations, so we deal directly with the farmers. The farmers get paid as they bring in their coffee cherries, all hand-carried. They walk several hours to have the cherries weighed, and they get paid according to the healthiness of the cherries and the number of pounds.
How is your company improving the daily lives of Rwandan coffee farmers?
A number of the coffee laborers are women, who have started to learn about the financial side of the business. Growth in coffee farming has helped these women provide more for their children. In some areas, schools have also been built.
Where is your coffee sold here and how much does it cost?
You can order it online. It’s also sold at select Whole Foods and other markets. The coffee bags are $12.50 for 12 ounces. We also have a few partner restaurants, like Amuse Wine Bar in NYC.
What other business and philanthropic projects are you working on this year?
I try to be health conscious! I’m involved in a workout studio in New York City, called Body By Simone. It’s owned by me and my partner, Simone De La Rue. We started it because we wanted to have a place to work out, not just to lose weight, but to feel good. We’re hoping to open in L.A. quite soon. We started out with just women, and now men work out there, as well. I also work with the New York Women’s Foundation, empowering city women from all walks of life.
To enter to win a set of Grace’s coffee ($50 value), answer the question: How much coffee do you drink every day?
1 FOF will win. (See official rules, here.) Contest closes October 10, 2013 at midnight E.S.T. Contest limited to residents of the continental U.S.