By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
As seniors in high school, Noah Wolfe and Tim McGill took time away from their studies and prom planning to think way, way outside the box. In fact, they were thinking about and concerned by the inequitable situation endured by Peruvian coffee farmers, circumstances Wolfe witnessed on a visit to Bagua when he was 10 years old.
“I researched it a lot over time and really committed to solving the problem when I was 16 or 17,’’ said Wolfe, who found a like-minded partner in McGill, a friend from north San Diego County.
“The farmers are creating this product, but they are not able to sell it at an economic rate that makes sense because they can’t ship it,’’ McGill said. “The middlemen, who can transport the coffee, are setting the price and making most of the profit. By us coming in and assisting these communities to give their product directly to a source, we’re able to A, give the source a cheaper price than they would be getting with multiple intermediates and B, give most of the proceeds back to the community. Eventually the plan is to give them their own means of transportation by building an air strip, so they can take control of all the orders of production.’’
The pair began to research the cost of an air strip ($27,800) and the steps needed to establish a nonprofit organization, including setting up articles of incorporation, tax exemptions and bank accounts, obtaining required licenses, forming bylaws and choosing a marketable name and logo. They continued to work on the project as freshmen at Grand Canyon University, until their lives interrupted.
“Noah and I are definitely dreamers but as freshmen in college the execution of a full-scale multi-machination nonprofit was definitely difficult while balancing school and paying our bills,’’ McGill said. “So we put that on pause.’’
It stayed on pause as they excelled in their classes and student worker jobs and established themselves as leaders with the Associated Students of GCU (ASGCU). Wolfe is the president and McGill is the administrative vice president.
An opportunity through the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) prompted the pair to add a partner, ASGCU chief of staff Aly Halbakken, and re-boot their dream of helping poor farmers in Bagua, Peru by training locals to be pilots and building an air strip adjacent to their farms.
“We rebranded it, reignited it and shared it with a lot of people who are influential,’’ said McGill.
Halbakken, a communications major , marketing minor and part-time employee of the marketing arm of the Honors College, was instrumental in re-naming the proposed nonprofit, Novella, and developing a logo. She also brought burgeoning coffee expertise to the table, thanks to a trip last summer to the Dominican Republic with the Honors College in which she was introduced to the coffee production process.
“From growing a bean to the whole roasting process, it was so cool to learn about coffee,’’ she said.
The trio is fully engaged in moving forward.
“There are a lot of steps that have to take place,’’ Wolfe said. “Relationships have to be developed, we need FDA approval, Homeland Security approval, and we have to set up contractual relationships with the farmers and communities in Peru and the aviation school.’’
They are gaining advice for the process through their connection to the CGI U, (sponsored by the organization headed by former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton) which is an annual conference of more than 1,000 students interested in making Commitments to Action (CTA) in five targeted areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. According to CGI U, $750,000 in funding is made available to selected attendees to assist in their action plans. Wolfe, McGill and Halbakken were encouraged to apply for acceptance to the latest CGI U because of the absence of students from the southwestern part of the United States. In that all three students are members of Honors College at GCU, it stepped up to fund their air fare and lodging for the 11th annual event, Friday through Sunday at the University of Chicago.
“I think it is awesome to be able to see future world leaders, entrepreneurs and changers in one central location,’’ Wolfe said. “Our goal is A, meet as many people as we can, B, represent the university, private education, and the southwest portion of the United States incredibly well. And then we’ll see where it goes from there. We are really excited. It is a big win for us. We’re hoping to meet people who have a desire to help. We hope to gain some funding, but we do not expect it.’’
The conference begins late Friday afternoon when students with similar CTA targets meet; it ends with a four-hour service project on Sunday morning. The Saturday sessions are packed with all-attendee sessions and breakout sessions, including skill sessions about how to publicize initiatives and how to raise money for them. Among the breakout topics: “Keeping adolescent girls in school’’ and “Building financial inclusion at the bottom of the pyramid,’’ which ties in with the CTA of the Lopes trio. The moderator of that panel is Olivia White, partner in McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.
In preparation for the conference and in an effort to make progress toward developing Novella, the trio gained coaching from Phoenix-based Mission Create, a nonprofit incubator designed to help startups “scale their ventures for the glory of God.’’ Moreover, the Honors College facilitated incubator marketing sessions.
“I talked to them about what we are doing and they are always interested in helping out students,’’ Halbakken said.
Honors College program manager Luke Amargo was particularly helpful.
“He talked about hockey stick growth,’’ Halbakken said. “He said, ‘It might seem slow now, but we are a push away to greatness.’ He also told us, ‘It was never about you, but it's about God using you.’’’
In addition, Kimberly Roland, an Honors College Professional Advisory Board member and a CGI U alum has generously donated her time to advising the trio. As the Director of Entrepreneur Programs for the Better Business Bureau, the Peoria-based professional is an expert at establishing businesses.
Also, they have sought advice from California-based private equity operator Rav Karwal, who earned a master’s degree in entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California.
“It is cool to see the support system we are already developing from a business coaching standpoint,’’ Wolfe said. “Even that is a massive win for us; we are grateful.’’
The expectation is that their interactions at CGI U will produce even more connections, ideas and possibly funding. The pause button is no longer on their radar. Their dream is in motion again, designed to make an impact on a coffee farm 3,483 miles from GCU.
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].