A new app-based platform is designed to make it easy for coffee consumers to tip the people who make their coffee — not their coffee drinks, but the beans themselves.
Social enterprise firm Grupo Crawford launched Propina earlier this month with two different iOS apps that send tip money directly to Colombian coffee growers and harvesters, including support for Venezuelan migrants working on Colombian coffee farms.
The Propina Business app is intended to be displayed on an iPad positioned alongside a retail point of sale for customers in coffee shops to send a tip that will go directly into a pension for a designated farmer, the company says. Pensions are administered by the Colombian state-run institution Colpensiones.
The second app, designed for consumers to use on their smartphones, is called Propina Tip Your Farmer. It allows consumers to trace the origin of their coffee, send money to the farmers who grew it, receive photos and video directly from the farm and actually communicate directly with that producer. Alternatively, consumers can also opt to direct tips into a general fund that supports the women coffee farmers of the Associación de Mujeres Caficultoras del Cauca (AMUCC) and schools for the children of coffee farmers.
Grupo Crawford Co-Founder and CEO Crawford Hawkins met Partner and CFO Viviana Salazar at Columbia Business School in New York, where they both earned MBA degrees before entering the financial management field. Hawkins is originally from a small town in North Carolina; his experience is mostly in investments and portfolio management. Salazar was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and has worked as an investment banker for institutions in both New York and Colombia.
Propina asserts that its technology, its involvement with pension accounts and its outsider approach all set it apart from other financial support mechanisms that have emerged in the specialty coffee industry.
“One differentiating factor to highlight is that Propina does not have an underlying bias in the coffee market,” Hawkins told Daily Coffee News. “We are not biased by having to conduct business with clients or suppliers or answer to investors. Our current and future investors share the social impact nature of our original and innovative platform. The most original and effective models for change, innovation and disruption develop outside of industry.”
To trace the coffees from seed to cup, Propina said it uses spectrometry, GPS and cloud technology.
“In simple terms, a spectral footprint is saved in the cloud with corresponding GPS coordinates,” said Hawkins. “When the roaster uses the mobile spectrometer that is the size of a keychain, the spectral footprint, which is unique to every bean, confirms the GPS coordinates stored on the app, and thus the origin of the coffee.”
Each coffee retailer is assigned a unique “store code” through which consumers can track, via the app, the progress of the tip they provided. The official pension accounts ensure receipt at the end of that process. For the progress of the money in between, Propina developed its own “ledger and database” system that Hawkins was loath to describe as “blockchain.”
“Blockchain, in our opinion, is an overused term and often a misunderstood concept used to attract investor attention,” said Hawkins. “We built a ledger system, but most importantly, we emphasize transparency, traceability and economic viability. Our unique store codes, proprietary database, use of GPS and cloud technology, and pension accounts assure traceability.”
Propina has partnered with progressive Colombian coffee research center TECNiCAFÉ and Corporación Colombia Internacional (CCI) in hopes of scaling the social venture rapidly. With the infrastructure it has developed, the company said its platform is ready to on-board new cafes and roasting companies at any time, while farmers could begin receiving tips from consumers within a matter of days.
“We are already talking to acai and cacao producers in the country,” said Hawkins. “We have bold plans. Imagine a world in which you can walk down the aisle at Whole Foods and tip the producer of every item in your cart.”
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.