Students at Olds College are taking part in an entrepreneurial project that offers them real work experience and the opportunity to help people in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic Coffee Project was launched at the end of 2012 and has raised over $20,000 in its first month.

Toby Williams is Acting Director International for Olds College and joined the project in the early stages in October 2011.

The project follows a social entrepreneurship model which takes a regular business model and adds social ends, like helping the farmers and children of the Dominican Republic.

“So we’re taking the coffee from the Dominican, importing it here. Roasting it in Calgary and then selling it and ninety percent of the profits are going back to help the farmers and their kids,” said Williams.

“We did a lot of brain-storming of different marketing ideas. How to get the coffee out,” said first-year business student Laura Woodard. “It’s a really good cause. It’s helping education in the Dominican which is really great and a lot of people like drinking coffee so it’s really a win-win situation.”

The coffee is grown at a fairly high elevation which is important for the quality and has a smooth, mellow flavour.

“This coffee is shade grown and it’s organic. The key thing about shade grown is that you maintain the forest canopy and the coffee is grown beneath the big trees which maintains biodiversity, stops erosion, which is a huge issue on those steep slopes,” said Williams.

The group says they were a little surprised by the success of the project.

“We really didn’t know what to expect and our expectations went up and down as we got different information and so it’s just been really cool to see the response,” said Woodard.

The students also receive an education in coffee production and learn about growing methods, the drying and roasting process and the various types of coffee.

“It is a great learning experience for the kids here. It’s a real life project and something to put on their resume that’s real and lots of kids come out of college with no work experience and that’s what employers are looking for,” said Williams.

“It’s not just coffee. It’s not some really wealthy business owner who is making a lot of money on higher grade coffee. It’s the individual people who are counting the beans in the sorting plant who are working hard to pick the beans by hand on the mountain slopes and it’s really going to increase their standard of living, I think,” said Woodard.

There are currently eight students and two faculty members who work together to run the program.

The collage has a partnership with UAFAM, a private university in the Dominican, to provide technical training for the farmers in pruning and fertilization techniques and business optimization.

The group also sponsors the Dominican Republic Scholarship Fund for the worker’s children so they can attend school.

“It’s very difficult for kids to finish grade eight and very, very difficult to go on to high school because that means going down the mountain to the community of Jarabacoa to go to high school and the families can’t afford it,” said Williams.

Williams has actually been to the fields in the Dominican and was able to see how coffee is grown first hand.    

“Met the coffee farmers who grow the coffees. Saw how it was grown. It’s grown on these steep slopes that are like black-diamond ski hills. It can’t be mechanized so it has to be done by hand and once you see that, and you see how hard it is to schlep the coffee beans done the mountain to the processing plant, you will never take coffee for granted again,” said Williams.

She is returning with a group of supporters to the Dominican on Thursday night to plant coffee and take supplies.

The project was designed in conjunction with the college’s centennial celebrations and the group will be selling the coffee at all of its centennial events happening throughout 2013.

Coffee bags can be purchased at Bean Brokers Cappuccino Bar in Olds, the Olds College Bookstore, and five Co-op stores in Olds, Carstairs, Lacombe and both Red Deer locations or ordered online.

In the first month the project raised $8000 in direct donations and $12,000 in coffee sales.

The collage will reevaluate the program at the end of the year to determine whether it will continue beyond 2013.

For more information and to order the coffee online visit the Olds College website.