Next Gen Sintercafe: Fostering Young Leaders in the Coffee World

Find out how Next Gen Sintercafe fosters community, education, and sustainability by empowering young coffee professionals across Central America.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Photos courtesy of Sintercafe

Sintercafe, a nonprofit organization founded in 1987, has long championed Costa Rican coffee on the global stage. Building on that legacy, the organization has launched an innovative initiative known as Next Gen Sintercafe, dedicated to nurturing the next generation of coffee professionals across Central America. By creating a supportive community for young enthusiasts, Next Gen Sintercafe encourages the exchange of experiences, knowledge, and opportunities, driving professional growth and forging strong connections among young people within and beyond their countries of origin.

“Our goal is that through this community, we can bring to the table the most pressing issues in the minds of young people and help spotlight how our generation at origin is imagining the future of the industry,“ says María Paz Lobo Zeledón, sustainability manager at The Coffee Source and president of Next Gen Sintercafe. By focusing on community, education, and sustainability, Next Gen Sintercafe aims to empower young professionals, ensuring they feel valued and capable of making significant contributions to the coffee sector. 

Four people talk at an open house event.
Next Gen SINTERCAFE’s open house event during SINTERCAFE 2023, featuring engaging presentations and community-building activities.

From Personal Experience to Leadership

María Paz’s journey with Sintercafe began in 2017, when she quickly recognized the need for a supportive community for young professionals. Reflecting on her experiences, she shares, “I thought of myself seven years ago and how I would have loved having this space to guide me and provide me a much-needed community.“

Inspired by her own challenges and the potential she saw in her peers, María Paz took on the challenge to lead Next Gen Sintercafe. Her vision is clear: to connect young people across Latin America who are leading transformative initiatives and to catalyze impactful collaborations. “With everything going on within and outside of our industry, the most powerful thing we can do is create communities with common goals and ways forward,“ she emphasizes.

Four people on the council of Next Gen (3 women and 1 man).
The newly presented council of Next Gen Sintercafe at Sintercafe 2023, dedicated to fostering the next generation of coffee industry leaders.

Collaborative Efforts and Networking Opportunities

Next Gen Sintercafe draws significant inspiration from the Next Gen initiatives of the National Coffee Association (NCA) and the Swiss Coffee Trade Association (SCTA). María Paz explains how the guidance and support from these organizations have been instrumental in shaping their approach: “I’m very grateful for the guidance from Kyle Bawot of the NCA Next Gen and Judith de Boer from the SCTA Next Gen; both have been great in giving us ideas, sharing their experiences, and being open to working closer together,“ she says. 

The collaborative event hosted with the NCA Next Gen Council during the Specialty Coffee Expo at the Starbucks Reserve exemplifies this partnership. “Seeing so many young people together in a room, sharing their stories, and how many of them are becoming important decision-makers, really reflected the ‘force’ that our generation is bringing,“ María Paz notes.

People gathered at SINTERCAFE's 4-day annual event.
Sintercafe is a four-day annual event dedicated to the. coffee industry. Taking place in Costa Rica, it. provides a space for stakeholders from throughout the coffee value chain.

Networking is at the heart of Next Gen Sintercafe, providing young professionals with invaluable opportunities to connect with established industry players and peers. “We will host at least two or three activities during the event, which we hope will be fun and allow for good connections and exchanges,“ María Paz shares. Beyond the annual Sintercafe event, the organization plans to co-organize spaces and opportunities during other industry events and foster year-round connections through virtual mediums like webinars. This approach ensures that the community remains engaged and supportive, enabling continuous professional growth and collaboration. “We also rely on our council to lead activities at each origin so people within countries can continue connecting,“ María Paz adds.

Group photo of seven people at NCA Next Gen in Chicago, in front of a wall spelling out Chicago in small cards.
A group photo capturing the energy and enthusiasm of attendees at the NCA Next Gen event in Chicago, showcasing the strong connections formed.

Prioritizing Education and Sustainability

Education and sustainability are core priorities for Next Gen Sintercafe. Recognizing the challenges young people at origin face in accessing higher education, the organization is committed to education. “We want to promote education opportunities as much as possible,“ says María Paz. This includes initiatives like the “Virtual Open House,” which provides information on courses, graduates, post-graduates, and scholarship opportunities. 

In terms of sustainability, the council members’ diverse backgrounds bring a focus on environmental and social considerations. For example, Diego Robelo’s work in regenerative agriculture and Karla Boza’s expertise in economic and social sustainability are integral to the organization’s initiatives. “Creating a community of young people at origin is about acknowledging the different issues our countries face and being active in these issues,“ María Paz explains.

People chat in front of art at an event.
By having a platform to come together, young professionals can build strong networks, gain valuable insights, and create a positive collective impact.

Looking ahead, María Paz envisions a future where Next Gen Sintercafe becomes a recognized and influential community across Central and Latin America. The goal is for young people from different origins to feel empowered to propose ideas and initiatives, and for the community to support these actions. “A good connection or friendship can be transformative in this industry,“ she notes. 

By fostering a diverse and empathetic community, Next Gen Sintercafe aims to bridge the generational gap and respond to the evolving demands of the coffee industry. María Paz’s aspiration is for the organization to be a catalyst for transformative connections and impactful collaborations, shaping the future of coffee production and trade in the region.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work.

Cover of June + July 2024 issue of Barista Magazine featuring Mikael Jasin of Indonesia.

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