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How Kaldi’s Plans To Teach Women In Rwanda The Coffee Business

January 29, 2020 Karen Sherman Tricia Zimmer Ferguson
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Kaldi’s Coffee is a St. Louis company. It roasts its beans here and ships them from here. Most of its 17 cafes are in the region as well. Other than a few outlets in the Atlanta area, Kaldi’s lacks a physical presence outside Missouri.

But in the past year, Kaldi’s co-owner Tricia Zimmer Ferguson has been spending time far from the Midwest — in Rwanda. It’s not just because the company sources many of its beans there (although that’s certainly a big part of it). Ferguson is also working with the nation’s only women’s college, Akilah Institute. A group from Kaldi’s is committed to teaching its students about the coffee and tea industries, opening career opportunities for them.   

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Zimmer Ferguson explained that Kaldi’s is working with Akilah to open a coffee shop on campus. Like the Kaldi’s location at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the Rwanda shop will be run by students, giving them valuable real-world business experience. 

Karen Sherman, president of Akilah Institute, said the cafe could launch by the end of the year. She explained that such opportunities are invaluable for students. Akilah offers programs in hospitality management, information systems and small-business management/entrepreneurship.

“What Tricia’s talking about here links up very nicely with our market-relevant curriculum and being able to create economic opportunities through education for the women who go to Akilah,” she said. 

Sherman is also the author of “Brick by Brick: Building Hope and Opportunity for Women Survivors Everywhere.” She discussed how she moved her family to Rwanda almost on a “whim,” and what she learned during her year in the country. 

Today, she is based in the U.S. but spends a significant amount of time in Rwanda. She encouraged listeners to consider helping women there, whether that’s by programs like Kaldi’s or by helping to sponsor a student getting her education.

“If you think about what Americans spend on education today — and I can speak very personally, having two kids in college and one on the way — a life-changing education for these young women is the equivalent of about $6,000 for two years,” she said. 

Related Event

What: Karen Sherman Talk, Q&A and Book Signing

When: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 

Where: The Novel Neighbor (7905 Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63119)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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