November 20, 2020

Lavazza Global Ambassador Programme: Rwanda One Year On




Here at Lavazza Professional, we know that our customers take sustainability seriously, and so do we. That’s why every year we host a vibrant ambassador programme, offering associates the opportunity to learn about our ingredients sourcing first-hand and become true ambassadors for sustainability. With the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic preventing international travel, we caught up with two of our ambassadors, Pam Green from our PMO team and Ollie Begbie from our account management team to hear about their visit to tea farming communities in Rwanda last year.


So, it’s been quite the year so far! Can you believe it’s been a year since your trip?

O: I can’t really believe it’s been a year at all! I still feel like it’s yesterday but it’s also quite weird to think how long ago it was.

P: I would have to agree with that – can I believe it’s been a year? No! This has been the quickest year in history - somehow, we’re nearly at the end of November and I don’t know how that happened!


Travelling to Rwanda was such an amazing opportunity for you both to visit communities working in our supply chain, what’s the biggest thing you’ve taken away from your trip?

O: The biggest thing I took away from it would have to be what the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) were doing for the farmers. Just seeing how much they benefitted, they were bringing them to a different level. One of the families we met were beneficiaries of a cow from the year before and they managed to put one of their daughters through university and she’s now working in a big government building in Kigali. Just to see something like that is incredible and it was all through the benefits they were given through working with the ETP – it was great!

P: I think to follow on from that story, the thing that got me about that family was how amazing it was to see was first-hand the real tangible difference it made to them. The woman was so emotional, they took us into their home, sat us down with the translators and she was telling us about being able to fund the university and that is only because they were given one £250 cow. It’s very humbling, honestly to hear the difference it makes.


Before your trip, you took part in a variety of fundraising activities. How did they go and how did you prepare for the trip?

P: The fundraising was all about raising money for cows so we collectively were trying to raise as much as we could. I literally just begged people for money and personally raised enough for one and a quarter cows – one and three legs! I was really surprised at how bought into it my friends, family and contacts were and they saw it was a really good thing. It was also the excitement of going to a new place, I love to travel – I’d been to all continents apart from Australia and Africa this time last year, so it was my first time in Africa. From a wanderlust point of view, I was really excited about seeing a new place and seeing what Africa meant

O: That was my first time to Africa as well and it was eye-opening. From the perception that I got from Rwanda it’s made me want to see more of it! It was just such an incredible place. I didn’t do as well with the begging as Pam did…

P: But you did do a 10K dressed as a cow!

O: That’s true, I know my strengths and begging isn’t one of them! So, I got stuck in with the 10K dressed as a cow. I wanted to do it in under an hour and I managed it, but I did do some damage to the cow costume on the way around – it was half ripped by the time I reached the finish line! It was amazing and I think we managed to raise money for 16-17 cows in the end

P: That’s right it was just over £4K which would be around 17 cows

O: Absolutely fantastic and it was great to see all the associates getting involved in the quiz and fundraising activities so big thank you to all the associates!


When you got there, was the trip as you expected?

O: I spoke with a few previous ambassadors beforehand who had been out to Rwanda the year before but still no! You hear the stories and you kind of prepare yourself for it, but then it’s just so much more incredible than you can imagine! I was going into it thinking it was going to be amazing and it exceeded that. I couldn’t really fathom it until going out and experiencing it myself. I don’t know if it was the same for you, Pam?

P: Definitely! And I think because we’d done so much planning, you have in your mind what it’s kind of going to look like - but Ollie is absolutely right it is just mind blowing being there as it’s so incredible! Being on a trip like that is such a privilege because you just see things that you could find yourself as you’re working closely with local people who tell you the right places to go and the right families to see. If you went travelling alone to try and experience that you just couldn’t! The attention to detail in getting the right itinerary just blew my mind it was incredible! We filled every day, we were exhausted but we had big smiles on our faces!

O: In terms of the itinerary everything was so well planned, the only thing we needed to worry about in the lead up was sorting our jabs out and what clothes you’re going to take.

P: We were so well looked after! Both by the Lavazza Professional team and the locals, the guide we had locally was just amazing.


With so many fantastic experiences, what was your personal highlight?

O: That’s a tough one! The hug from the woman when I handed her the piece of paper which named her an owner of a cow - that was incredible, it was a huge moment. That would have to be my personal highlight. The same with visiting that family from the beneficiary the year before – there’s loads to pick from. But those two would be my highlights if I had to isolate two.

P: Good job isolating two because now I’m struggling to pick one! One of the things that really stood out for me as a personal highlight was when we went to a village where they had a business school. The local elders run a bank - it’s a savings scheme to help the local community but also offers them loans to help them if they need to buy equipment or seeds or anything like that. They all pay their bit of money in and it gets marked down in a book and put in a safe place. It was so well organised but actually what it is giving them is the knowledge on how to run a business and manage money. The other thing that was a personal highlight – I loved staying in the mud hut! We had the option, but I just thought “Embrace it! That’s what we’re here for!” Yes, it smelled a bit damp and wasn’t the comfiest bed, but I slept in a mud hut and it was brilliant!


What was the thing that surprised you the most?

P: For me, even though we were going to tea plantations I hadn’t quite worked out how lush and green it was going to be. You fly into Kigali at a lower level and then we spent the first day going up to the altitude where the tea plantations are. As you’re going up the windy roads it’s getting greener and greener and it’s just stunningly beautiful.

O: I couldn’t agree with that more. I’d say for me two of the things that really surprised me were just the general culture. The first thing we saw after collecting our luggage there was a huge banner for a gender equality conference they were hosting. And that was reflected when we went to the tea factories, we saw they were building nurseries so that mothers could come and work there – it was so great to see. The other thing would have to be the forgiveness. With the dark past that Rwanda has had, just to see that something so terrible happened but they’re so forgiving.


What is the biggest thing you’ve taken away with you from your trip?

P: For me it’s the importance of ethical tea. It’s very easy to hear these claims about suppliers and raw materials – sustainably sourced, fair trade, ethical tea partnership or the coffee equivalents. It’s very easy to hear that and let it go because it doesn’t mean anything. So, I think the take up for me was making that real. Making the Ethical Tea Partnership and the work and the farmers real. That little logo that’s on the tea boxes is really important. I always have my sustainable UK favourites, but I also brought home some Rwandan tea I’m still working through.

O: Talking to customers day in day out, sustainability is such a huge priority. Being able to talk about a personal experience and what we actually did is brilliant so they can hear about other areas that we don’t talk about as often. Not only are we introducing KLIX Eco Cup and moving away from plastic, we’re also doing some great work at origin. I’ve mentioned it in a few account reviews, and it may have extended the account review time because there is so much to talk about! It’s really helped me to build relationships with those customers because they love hearing about it and hopefully they didn’t mind that I extended the meeting by about half an hour!


What would be your advice to other associates looking to visit Rwanda?

P: Do it! Take the opportunity because it is the most incredible and privileged opportunity to see that first-hand. Take it!

O: That’s a pretty good tip! Absolutely apply to the ambassador programme because it’s completely worth it!


Although we’re unable to visit Rwanda this year, the team at Lavazza Professional are determined to make a difference from afar. If you would like to help support the team raise money for cows, we’d be grateful for any donations which can be made here:

Read more about our fundraising activities here or get in touch today to find out more.