Michael Opitz is Managing Director of ICP’s implementing partner Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS). When he speaks about partnerships, he includes all ICP collaborations but specifically emphasizes the partnership with the farmers and their families themselves: “Each farmer, embedded in their community or cooperative, is a partner to us – they are the center of our work. ICP fosters farmer organizations. These in turn engage locally with supply chain actors, service providers, and local authorities. Collaborations on-site with research institutions, with other implementers in the field, and with financial service providers are equally important. Public development organizations are partners to us. And last but not least, “partnership” refers to our ICP shareholders, companies who don’t see each other as competitors but as partners that strive in the same direction.”
A spirit of partnership is essential
What is important to understand: “Coffee is not the reason for ICP’s action but the vehicle”, explains Michael Opitz. “Our goal is to support people in coffee-producing regions improving their livelihoods. Coffee serves as a mere product to be grown and sold to increase their income. Food security and prosperity are furthermore created through diversification – growing other crops than coffee as well and building additional business opportunities and promoting entrepreneurship.” ICP thus follows a holistic approach that addresses several aspects of coffee farming families and communities – professional farm management, farmer organizations, climate, youth, and gender. Therefore, acting in a spirit of partnership is essential in this approach; it would not work without that: The real environment of smallholder coffee farming families is characterized by a variety of needs that must be satisfied to truly improve their life situation. They include economic development, access to food, education, and health, ensuring human rights, protecting and carefully using natural resources, and maintaining good relations inside their communities as well as with governmental institutions.
“ICP’s holistic approach can only deliver the full benefits to farmers if we work closely together with them to identify and meet their needs.”
Managing Director, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS)
The ICP approach can only meet these different needs by closely working together with the farmers and adapting the projects accordingly. Targeted networking with local and other actors is also crucial as it enables ICP to broaden its spectrum of offerings. ICP therefore actively reaches out to potential partners and builds networks, involving them as supporters of the concept. A strong network also facilitates the action on-site and allows for long-term operation. But it also works the other way around and one factor accounts for the other: As ICP is active in the various regions over years and project cycles, farmers build up a high level of trust. And the long-term presence in the countries enables ICP to build solid relationships with local stakeholders. Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), ICP’s implementing partner in the field, for example, strongly contributes to establishing and maintaining local network structures and partnerships.
Cooperating with public partners helps expand the offerings
However, it’s not just local collaborations that help address the different elements of the farmers’ lives that are crucial to improving their livelihoods. Also, cooperation with public partners such as development organizations opens up opportunities to connect different offerings in a meaningful way. They work very impact-oriented and systematically. ICP already worked together with the German Development Organization GIZ, the Austrian Development Agency, Finnpartnership, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency SIDA, USAID, and many others. “We see that joint projects often turn into longer-term cooperation, again following the idea of a true partnership and building trust towards each other”, explains Michael Opitz. “This works with a continuous alignment of the expectations of the farmers and their families, the organizations, and the ICP shareholders.” Collaborations can even be multiplied by the networks of development organizations. Like this, ICP reaches even more potential partners that can support the approach and that can be supported themselves by the knowledge and experience of ICP.
“To me, thinking outside the box and networking with other players is key. They enable us to develop our content, become more efficient, and take projects to scale.”
The idea of partnership is already reflected in the name “International Coffee Partners” and it played a fundamental role in the foundation of ICP as a not-for-profit initiative: 20 years ago, the coffee crisis had massively affected the lives of smallholder coffee producers. They were no longer able to cover their production costs with their revenues and were at immediate risk of poverty. That led Michael R. Neumann – then CEO of Neumann Kaffee Gruppe – to take action. He reached out to other family-owned European coffee companies who were motivated to start the initiative. Michael Opitz remembers: “The basic idea was: Let us pool! Let us pool our interests but also our resources. Let us learn together, build relationships, and tackle these issues in the longer term. In this way, we can take our effort further than one organization could do alone. “The idea of partnership was therefore very strong at ICP from the very beginning. “There is an African Proverb that says, if you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together. I think that is very true and a core motivation for partnership thinking”, Michael Opitz adds.
Partnership is not a one-way road
Of course, it helped, that the ICP shareholders work together as like-minded partners who – as family-owned companies – share the same values: They take on responsibility in the sector and in society as a whole. But the most important is: If you want to build partnerships, you have to be a good partner yourself. ICP is willing to share their knowledge and learnings, to constantly keep learning, and to commit on a long-term basis. Private and public partners can include experiences of ICP in their own work. Michael Opitz: “We act as true and reliable partners for coffee farming families on site, we listen and we do our best to always improve and adapt our measures. And we want to create examples and inform sector actors and public partners about how smallholder coffee farming families can improve their livelihoods and prosper. Because the farmer’s prosperity is the core of our work.”