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Seattle Pacific University
Spring 2007 | Volume 30, Number 1 | Alumni

Coffee as Change Agent?

SPU alumni find Pura Vida’s business model a way to engage the culture

Matt Chism ’01 is a self-confessed coffee junkie. He gets to indulge his caffeine craving as inventory and logistics manager for an ingenious, Seattle-based nonprofit, Pura Vida Coffee. The former Seattle Pacific University history major says he works in an environment where vocation and values meet and do “a little dance.” The choreography incorporates the basic steps of business with the fancy footwork required for personal well-being and opportunity — and, of course, a perfect cup of joe.

Matt Chism in front of Pura Vida
Matt Chism enjoys his favorite java beverage at SPU's new Pura Vida coffee shop in Weter Hall.
In January 2007, Pura Vida opened a coffee shop in Weter Hall on the SPU campus. Not only does it offer specialty coffee beverages and a new public space for students, staff, and faculty, but Chism is convinced it will also serve “as a lightning rod for the imagination of students.”

What is striking to Chism and others captivated with the Pura Vida business model is how it harmonizes with the University’s vision to engage the culture and change the world. Though competitive in the marketplace, the company invests its resources to benefit at-risk children and their families in the coffee-growing countries of Central and South America.

Erin Leach ’00, the coffee chain’s customer service representative for East Coast college and university clients, also sees a close match with SPU’s values: “At Pura Vida, we engage our culture by educating people on why Fair Trade is important and how the way you spend your money affects others around the world.”

Pura Vida’s trademarked mission is to “create good” through soup kitchens, after-school programs, and access to computer centers, soccer teams, and other educational programs for thousands of children. The organization exclusively purchases Fair Trade coffee, grown under environmentally safe conditions that ensure farmers a living wage, healthy working environment, and access to affordable credit. One hundred percent of Pura Vida’s net income supports its charitable efforts.

At least a dozen Seattle Pacific alumni have worked for the company since its inception. In addition to Chism and Leach, the current front office staff includes Accounting Manager Julie Tumilson ’00.

John Sage, a Christian who co-founded Pura Vida in 1998, serves on the Executive Advisory Council for SPU’s School of Business and Economics. In past years, he has addressed Seattle Pacific students on such topics as capitalism, java, and justice.

Sage and other socially conscious entrepreneurs serve as inspiration to students who entered the University’s first Social Venture Plan Competition this year. Working in teams across disciplines, participants are competing for $7,000 in prizes by applying their entrepreneurial skills to projects that create solutions to social needs.

Will the student competitors see this as a dance between vocation and values as Chism does? Maybe, and at least one of them should find another good idea — possibly fueled by plenty of great coffee.

— By Clint Kelly

Photo by Luke Rutan

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Department Highlights

Coffee as Change Agent?
Pura Vida employees, including several SPU alumni, find a social-venture business models is a way to engage the culture.

From Home Into the World
Alumni returned to the Seattle Pacific campus to “refuel and reenergize” at Homecoming 2007.