Success Story from Uganda: Andrew Rugasira’s Good African Coffee

By Heidi G. Frontani

This post shares the success story of a Ugandan social entrepreneur and reviews his 2013 book, A Good African Story: How a Small Company Built a Global Coffee Brand.

Andrew Rugasira grew up in Uganda. He received a degree in Law and Economics in 1992 from the University of London. Mr. Rugasira is a businessman, author, and an advocate for trade, not aid, to Africa. In 2003, he founded Good African Coffee. It was the first African-owned coffee brand to be stocked in UK supermarkets (including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco). In addition to being sold in more than 700 UK stores, Good African Coffee can be purchased in more than 500 shops in African countries. Mr. Rugasira’s company has developed a supply network of more than 14,000 coffee farmers and helped to establish 17 savings and credit cooperatives in agriculturally-based communities in western Uganda. In short, Good African Coffee has helped thousands of farming families earn a living, send their children to school, and lift themselves out of debt and dependence.

Mr. Rugasira’s journey was not an easy one. He reports facing difficulties securing the capital to get his business started and having to overcome the prejudices of business people in the global community unaccustomed to working with Africans. His business success has led to numerous honors in Uganda and beyond including: the African Vision Award (2005), Coffee Entrepreneur of the Year (2006), Business Personality of the Year (2006), Ugandan Entrepreneur of the Year (2007), and the Legatum Pioneers for Prosperity Award (2007). Mr. Rugasira was also nominated as a Young Global Leader by The World Economic Forum (2007) and for a Financial Times/Accelor Mittal Boldness in Business Award (2010). In 2011, Mr. Rugasira completed a master’s degree in African Studies at the University of Oxford.

His book, A Good African Story: How a Small Company Built a Global Coffee Brand was published in 2013. It is the inspirational story of how Mr. Rugasira’s coffee company became a profitable global brand. In his book, Mr. Rugasira makes a case for initiatives that lead to community transformation. He champions trade as a means of development and discusses the need to remove the barriers that still exist (such as Uganda and Africa as a whole being ‘branded’ negatively) that prevent fair and equal trade between African and non-African countries. Impressively, Mr. Rugasira gives 50 percent of his company’s net profits to sustainable community empowerment projects.

Mr. Rugasira also uses A Good African Story as a means to challenge outsiders’ perceptions of Africa as a dependent region that is in need of handouts and to make the case that sustainable trade networks are preferable to aid. The author recognizes that his business model is relatively new, but believes that his memoir is a starting point for conversations about what it means when people refer to Africa as being ‘open for business,’ in particular because he believes that for the most part it is still business on terms set by non-Africans. Mr. Rugasira’s Good African Coffee lost its contract with Waitrose and with US companies online due to challenges with meeting their rate of sales, but Tesco continues to stock the coffee and plans to expand the number of its stores in which it can be found by more than 500. Mr. Rugasira’s book is important because it is grounded in reality and passes along his experiences for other potential African entrepreneurs.

Mr. Rugasira regularly speaks at leadership and business conferences and his articles have been published in newspapers from Uganda’s The New Vision to the UK’s The Guardian, Financial Times, and Telegraph. Mr. Rugasira is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Andrew Rugasira (and Good African Coffee) been successful?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Mr. Rugasira had a DEFINITE CHIEF AIM, a VISION—he wanted to be the first African to collect, roast, and market quality coffee directly to British supermarkets.

He spoke publicly about his dream and thereby was able to IDENTIFY OTHERS who SHARED HIS VISION. One of the first to join Mr. Rugasira was Mr. Charles Kahitson, a man who was farming and already working directly with others he viewed as model farmers in Kasese, in Western Uganda. Mr. Rugasira and Mr. Kahitson then found other like-minded people, created a network of farmers, and COLLABORATED with them.

They provided INCENTIVES, fair prices and included micro-finance opportunities for women and to communities that rotated their crops, harvested efficiently, and produced high quality coffee beans. As community members saw their neighbors succeed (making improvements to their homes, purchasing a bicycle or sending their child to a good school), they in turn wanted to become part of the Good African Coffee team. Mr. Rugasira’s FAITH and PERSISTENCE, and his company’s SUCCESS had given them the hope that they too could be agents of positive change in their own lives.

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