Courage Coffee Fights Human Trafficking with Connected Coffee Packaging

California company Courage Worldwide isn’t just another brand trying to sell you your morning Joe. Instead, they’re a mission-driven company, driven by a purpose higher than just slinging caffeine. They’re changing lives. 

As a life coach, Jenny Williamson always stressed the importance of having a purpose in life. She eventually realized she needed to follow her own advice. When she found out about the worldwide human trafficking scourge – reading about young girls caught up in the webs of lies by predators, or families selling their daughters to these same predators – she found the cause to invest her whole self into. 

‘I Just Need Somebody to Believe in Me’

The sheer magnitude of the human tragedy was almost too overwhelming. “Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry,” she said.

Williamson and her husband were both entrepreneurs. WIlliamson hadn’t been involved with anything purpose-based till that discovery. “How does one little person like me make an impact? How can I help fight a multi-billion-dollar evil?”, said Williamson. 

She wanted to do something that involved creating and selling a product. She thought about coffee as a solution, since her neighbor, Tom Kilty, CEO of TK Coffee Sourcing, was a coffee broker. 

But the mission led her in a different direction. She started talking to local law enforcement officers, asking questions about how she could help. She discovered that when a young girl is rescued, she needs a place to go. 

The turning point for Williamson was when the FBI convinced her to meet a young 15-year old victim. “When I met her I said, ‘what do you need to be free of this life?’ And she said ‘I just need someone to believe in me.’”

That was the turning point for Williamson.

“We wanted to help create a safe place for someone to go back to,” Williamson said. “…many times, the people being trafficked were by their own families. There was a lack of homes, and there was no safe place for them to go to, no safe mom, no place that cared.”

The Plan: Provide Housing for Rescued Victims

Williamson’s goal was to build houses for victims of human trafficking and provide them with mental health care, as well as a safe place to call home. She realized it was going to be an expensive undertaking. (Courage Worldwide doesn’t spare any expense when it comes to the care of the girls).

She had a plan, but now she had to figure out how to execute it, “From the beginning, I knew we needed resources. I don’t like chasing people for money, so I knew we needed to start a business to support something I became so passionate about stopping,” she added

To get the project off the ground, Williamson, who is based in California, met with local leaders, musicians, and activists who all wanted to get involved. Her vision would indeed take a village. “We got the word out and threw these events all over the Sacramento area. We did fifty shows with local musicians and managed to raise almost eight hundred thousand dollars in 2007, during an economic downturn.” 

“At one of those early events, I met a 15-year-old sex trafficking survivor. She’d been going to all of the events and wanted to talk to me, saying, ‘I’m one of your daughters.’” Williamson was floored. This was the first victim standing before her, not as a statistic she was trying to impact. 

With the money raised, Williamson and her team bought fifty acres and a house, which would become the first Courage House. At the same time, Williamson’s dad had gone to Tanzania to plant a garden and start an orphanage. “I went over there…to do a conference and while I was over there, somebody gave me some land at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro.” 

And in 2011, WIlliamson opened two houses simultaneously: one in the U.S., and one in Tanzania.

“Our tagline is ‘Build them Homes, Call them Family,’ and we mean it, we need to be there for these kids, so they’re supported, and someone believes in them.” Williamson noted, “It’s an expensive process, but it’s worth it. We invest in these girls. We want to show them that there is a world for them out there.” 

Selling Coffee to Fund the Mission

Fifteen years later, the idea for a product was still on Williamson’s mind. In 2021 they built their first ‘Courage Cafe’ on the land they had in Tanzania. The coffee shop has a spectacular view of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. 

One day, she got a call from one of her directors in Tanzania. “She said the owner of the largest coffee plantation in Tanzania was drinking coffee at our cafe and said, ‘Hey, I think we need a partnership.’”

That’s when she remembered the coffee idea, and her old neighbor, Tom. “I love coffee. My neighbor down the street was in the coffee business, so that sparked an idea.” Williamson studied a lot about coffee and how much of it is consumed around the world. “Billions are spent annually on coffee in shops and at home,” she said.

She called Tom and told him about the idea. Tom had introduced her to Gretchen Peek from Clayton Coffee, a local coffee roaster in Modesto, 15 years earlier. “Gretchen and I had written a business plan to distribute the coffee, and so I reconnected with her and she was like, ‘yes I will roast it for you!’”

And the question of coffee packaging came up. Being a newcomer to the coffee business, Williamson knew nothing about packaging. Luckily she believed in the mission and decided to go with her gut. 

“I’m just one of those people who just says yes, and I figure it out on the back end.”

Tom introduced her to ePac Flexible’s plant in Sacramento. “He said, ‘I think you’re going to be super excited about it. They can do some really cool things with the QR codes’. And so that’s how we got connected,” Williamson said.

But it wasn’t a slam dunk. Williamson started shopping prices. “[Tom] gave me the names of a couple of other organizations, and one couldn’t even get the packaging to us in time. and then there was just no contest when we started seeing what we could accomplish with [ePac’s] packaging,” she added.

“Even though we may have paid a little bit more per pack because we weren’t going to have a huge order, ours was going to be a smaller initial order. It just came back to the resources that they provided. We just knew that this is who we wanted to partner with to bring the coffee to market.”

Packaging in Record Time

The conversations with the grower in Tanzania, with Tom, the coffee broker neighbor, and with Gretchen, started in September of 2021. 

“I hadn’t talked to Tom in 15 years. I asked if we could pull this off for holiday gifts?

Could we kick this off? We needed a reason why people would want to buy the coffee.” 

Fortunately for Williamson, everyone said yes! 

“We kicked off the campaign to our donors on our eblast list. The message was, ‘Give this gift of coffee and rescue children from human trafficking,’” 

Courage sold 400 bags and had only 8 bags left, just in time for the holidays.

Connected Packaging to Drive Mission Awareness and Engagement

And Williamson’s ideas didn’t stop at just coffee. She saw a bigger picture. “We put (serialized) QR codes on the bags, that way, we could see where people were scanning from around the world. But we could also spread our message to drive more awareness about our mission. The package is beautiful, and we saw our story in our hands. What ePac helps us do will now be sold in places as far away as California and Africa.”

As Courage Worldwide is in its fifteenth year, they’ve faced a fair amount of challenges, but Williamson never lost her vision. “Through all of the ups and downs, we never lost hope. Many times, it would have been easier to give up. We’ve seen girls go to college, to become mothers themselves, to see lives changed. The goal is to get a house in every city thanks to coffee and Courage Cafes. Our Tanzania cafe is amazing. It’s also an events center – with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background.” 

Williamson is now more hopeful than ever. “We finally were in a place where we could work with roasters to invest in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania. The coffee from the area is incredible, so we worked on sourcing it and selling it as the base of operations. We knew we had amazing coffee, but we needed a package to match how good the product was, and that’s how we got connected with ePac.” 

This Christmas was a dream come true for Williamson and her Courage Worldwide team, “The packaging is beautiful. Getting it to look right, get approvals, it was truly a worldwide team who brought it together because some of us are in Sacramento and some are in Tanzania. Something I’ve dreamt about was finally coming true. We had our first product. We sold our first 400 bags this Christmas, it was so inspiring. We waited fifteen years for this.” 

And as for ePac, we can’t think of a better way to help impact the lives of so many, one bag of coffee at a time.