Rehabilitating coffee farms around the world recovering from crisis
Ascension is an Australian-style coffee shop with French-style food service, but its international influence is far more than that.
Russell has always had an interest in philanthropy. In 1993, he and a friend had been digging water wells in South Sudan to provide fresh water to the people there. His primary charity work was through Water is Basic, a nonprofit that fights for clean water around the world.
Photo: Russell Hayward
While he was researching Ascension, he got a phone call from a friend who knew of a coffee farm in Rwanda that needed help after being destroyed during the genocide of 1994.
“It was kind of half-done, they started having a lot of product coming out of it, but they didn’t quite have a business plan together, they didn’t know how much money they needed to operate efficiently,” Hayward said.
For a guy with 30 years’ experience in the restaurant industry, a business plan was no problem.
But then the wheels started turning.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, water is like 98 percent of what coffee is, therefore it makes sense that I kind of use my charitable work and link it into the shop,’ even before it opened,” he said.
Photo: Russell Hayward
The charity work through Water is Basic could be woven into the world of coffee farming -- something Hayward didn’t know much about before his visit to Rwanda.
Since that visit, he’s taken the humanitarian effort to coffee-producing regions around the globe that are recovering from crisis. Ascension has done work rehabilitating coffee farms in South Sudan, Rwanda, Nepal, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and more.
“We use our agricultural knowledge, inherent business travel, and profits from coffee sales to holistically restore communities in otherwise inaccessible corners of the world,” the Ascension website reads.
Now, the project is called the Ascension Foundation, aimed at helping farmers at every level achieve their goals.
“We’re not just talking about poor people here all the time, we’re talking about people who just need some extra information, that need access to markets,” Hayward said. “It seems immoral not to use our access and our knowledge and our marketplace to help these people.
“It became part of what Ascension’s all about.”
“The beauty about the coffee business is that you can go back to the very source … and help that product develop from the very start, bring it hear and roast it out in the roastery and then brew it in the shop, the same product that you saw in the tree when it was this big. It’s pretty amazing.”