The former executive director of International Women’s Coffee Alliance talks about delivering change through coffee and her new role at Sustainable Harvest.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Sustainable Harvest
Kellem Emanuele (she/her) dove deep into the world of coffee while studying corporate sustainability, and has ended up staying in its waters in the ensuing years. After entering the industry as a volunteer, Kellem eventually became executive director at the International Women’s Coffee Alliance. She worked there until early this year, when she joined Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers in a new position for the company, chief impact officer. We talked to Kellem about developing a passion for coffee, what she’s excited about in her new role, and much more.
Chris Ryan: What are your earliest memories of coffee? What was your relationship with coffee before you started working in the industry?
Kellem Emanuele: Coffee was the way to start every day! Every night, my dad would set up the coffeemaker so the coffee was set to brew the next morning. The day didn’t really start until Mom and Dad had at least a cup or two.
I didn’t start drinking coffee until graduate school. And I think my motivation to start drinking coffee was to join in the ritual of those I spent time with—my roommate and I got to know each other over morning cups of coffee.
When did you start working in coffee? How did that happen? What industry did you think you’d work in prior to that?
When I lived in Boston and worked in energy efficiency, I started spending more time in cafés. I also started studying corporate sustainability, and when I needed to pick an industry for the capstone project, I chose coffee—mostly because my day didn’t start until I had a cup, and I liked exploring cafés. But the more I learned, the more intrigued I became. In my mind, if ever there was an industry that could fundamentally change “business as usual,” it was coffee. I was eager to find a way that I could contribute.
My first role in coffee was in 2015 volunteering for COSA, the Committee on Sustainability Assessment, and I learned a lot. I kept reading and exploring, and in 2016 I became a Re:Co fellow. It was through Re:Co that I came to know the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, and I just kept learning and connecting from there.
Before coffee, I don’t think I was pursuing a specific industry. I think the best way to sum up my career drive was to pursue roles that made positive differences in our everyday way of living. For example, I was—and still am—very excited by the Smart Growth approach, and I worked for several years in transportation planning. Whether it’s a bus, a car, a bike, or walking, nearly every aspect of our lives is affected by transportation, so the potential for positive change at scale, especially for those most in need and the environment, is tremendous.
What are your biggest takeaways from your time as IWCA Executive Director?
Without question, the people, perspectives, and the experiences we’ve had together have forever changed my life—as a global citizen and as a person driven to see sustainability become the norm. Two takeaways that stay with me daily:
1. The tremendous, transformative power of listening and knowing you have been heard.
2. You do not need to speak the same language to have a meaningful connection. Clearly, it helps, but communication and real connection are so much more than words.
What will be some of your main goals in your new role at Sustainable Harvest? What is exciting to you about the opportunity?
I have always admired what the Sustainable Harvest team puts into practice: transforming a traditionally linear and opaque supply chain into an engine for transparency, collaboration, and shared success. I see it as the coffee industry version of the “positive difference in the everyday.” To help fuel that engine with my experiences from other industries and what I’ve learned from coffee stakeholders—especially women and those whose voices are often not heard—is an opportunity to drive meaningful change and achieve that transformation. This is incredibly exciting for me.
One of my goals as I step into this new role is to identify opportunities to accelerate, scale, and integrate multiple dimensions of sustainability. How can we increase efficiency and effectiveness to achieve shared success? How can we make it more accessible—for partners, consumers, and, frankly, anyone that’s connected to coffee—to invest in building relationships that generate positive impact? I have a lot to learn, and likely more questions than answers at this point, but I know I’m joining a great team that is eager to ask and answer these questions together.
Finally, what do you enjoy doing outside of the coffee world?
I love meeting new people and making new connections, especially when we’re able to find ways to share a hearty laugh! I also enjoy the ever-humbling (and hearty-laugh-filled) experience of motherhood. And when all else fails—you can find me out for a long run.