Doctor sells coffee to help Rwanda's poor

A Seattle family physician's business sells one-pound bags through schools, churches and specialty stores. Revenue goes to improve the health of Batwa pygmies.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Sept. 20, 2010

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Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
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Name: Karl Weyrauch, MD, MPH

Specialty: Family medicine

Location: Seattle

Company: Coffee Rwanda (link).

Annual revenue: The company took in $1,295 in 2007, $6,652 in 2008 and $9,283 in 2009, and 2010 is on course to beat those numbers. "We started really small and have been going up," Dr. Weyrauch said.

Why he started the business: Dr. Weyrauch was in the Rwandan countryside in 2007 visiting a daughter working on a research project. He ended up visiting the Batwa pygmies.

Batwa pygmies are one of the poorest ethnic groups in the world. The 1994 Rwandan genocide, which led to the murders of 500,000 to 1 million people, also significantly scarred the country and this ethnic group.

Then Dr. Weyrauch hired a boat from a coffee cooperative to get back to the capital of Kigali. "We spent the morning talking to the guys about their coffee and realized it wasn't being imported in the U.S. ... We decided to try to sell it to support health and development work in the country."

He established Coffee Rwanda and the Pygmy Survival Alliance (link). Coffee Rwanda sells the Arabica coffee beans that are grown at 1,600 feet in volcanic soil, which reduces acidity. The nonprofit alliance manages the health and development projects.

Although some coffee is imported through wholesalers, Dr. Weyrauch travels to Rwanda twice a year for charitable work and coffee.

Coffee can be ordered through the website and also is available at a few retail outlets. Churches, schools and other organizations use the coffee for fundraising efforts for themselves and the Pygmy Survival Alliance.

Why he stopped practicing: Health issues meant that he stopped practicing medicine about four years ago, although he still carries out some research and public health work.

Words of wisdom: "Think hard about why you want to do a project like this. There should be a good reason that motivates you to get engaged in this kind of activity. For us, it was to help endangered people survive."

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