The Café Cocano Fair-Trade coffee and St. Thomas University partnership is a leading model for thoughtful community-university-wide collaboration.

Cafe Cocano Fair-Trade Coffee Partnership – 2018 Awardee

The Café Cocano Fair-Trade coffee and St. Thomas University partnership is a mutually beneficial initiative that leverages university research and teaching, in a variety of disciplines, into long-term, Haitian-led, sustainable coffee development in Haiti’s poorest region. Unique to the project’s model is an interdisciplinary “scaffolding” of engaged scholarship opportunities, all focused on addressing specific needs of the project as defined by the coffee cooperatives’ members.

Concrete faculty/student research projects, intensive internships, community-based learning courses, and volunteer opportunities all take place within this context – thus augmenting the depth of student learning possibilities, while supporting the cooperative’s local leadership and increasing community impact.

A key element of the St. Thomas University/Café Cocano Partnership is the recognition that if universities are to leverage their minimal resources into true community impact, the “unit of analysis” must shift from “program-to-community,” to “university-to-community.” That is, individual university programs will always have a limited impact in their community engagement due to their disciplinary nature (and often, they will have a limited lifespan due to faculty/staff turnover). University-wide initiatives, however, afford wider opportunity for engagement to faculty and students, provide infrastructure for long-term, deep change, while bringing a variety of academic and student resources to the project.

In this case, St. Thomas University has been able to enhance student research, internships, and courses in a variety of disciplines; has developed students’ global civic consciousness; and has  developed strong relationship between the university and its partner coffee farmers – all while supporting Haitian-led, long-term social entrepreneurial development in Haiti.


Program Design

How long did it take to launch the first iteration of this program?

  • More than 12 months

How much annual funding do you receive for the program?

  • More than $15,000

The key players, strategists and supporters involved in creation and implementation include:

  • Staff
  • Faculty
  • Administrators
  • Students
  • Alumni
  • Community members

The program is designed to impact:

  • Staff
  • Faculty
  • Administrators
  • Students
  • Alumni
  • Community members


At St. Thomas University, a five-fold “scaffolding” of engagement opportunities has been developed that leverages a variety of faculty research and student learning opportunities into project needs, while providing increasing levels of engagement for students throughout their academic career. These include:

  • Faculty/Student Research Projects in plant science and coffee market research
  • Intensive Student Internships in sales, marketing, and accounting
  • Full CBL Course Offerings in social entrepreneurship
  • Partial CBL Course Offerings in varied disciplines
  • Volunteer Opportunities, where students and community members get a first-time experience with the projects. As part of this, 30+ delegations have travelled to Haiti, and over 1200 students have been involved in the collaboration

In Haiti, the partnership is showing significant impact. It is providing coffee farmers in Haiti’s poorest region with a fair/direct trade export mechanism for the first time in history, with the co-op earning 300% more, per pound, in coffee revenue than they were earning prior to the partnership.

  • Over 160,000 lbs of coffee has been exported by the cooperative in the last 5 years.
  • Over 300 families/2000 individuals in the NW Department of Haiti have been employed by the cooperative.
  • The cooperative has planted over 120,000 coffee saplings and shade trees (supporting economically incentive reforestation in one of Haiti’s most deforested regions).

Finally, COCANO has been recognized by the National Association of Haitian Cooperatives as a leading new cooperative.


For more information, contact:

Anthony Vinciguerra 

Coordinator, Center for Community Engagement, St. Thomas University

[email protected]

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