Sustainable Living Promoter, Entrepreneur, Taylor Mork
Taylor is head of C2C's New York office, and focuses on programming for retailers and consumers, as well as global supply chain (seeking out new coffee origins for C2C!).
Originally from Southern California, Taylor has lived and worked in New York City, London, UK and two towns in Uganda.
Taylor holds a B.A. in International Sustainable Development from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, and, before starting Crop to Cup, held client development positions in London and New York with Cal Safety Compliance Corp (CSCC) - an ethical supply chain consulting and auditing company. There, Taylor helped to build and manage ethical sourcing programs with respected brands and retailers in Europe and the US and also performed factory audits for human rights issues in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
Prior to working with CSCC, Taylor co-founded DevelopNet Iganga - a non-profit community center and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) resource hub that supports over 200 community-based and nongovernmental organisations in Iganga (Eastern Uganda).
Serious, intentional and focused is how I would describe Taylor Mork and qualities that, I would assert, have been instrumental in his success. But what really stands out about Taylor is his commitment that – if you can do better, you should. Taylor strives to do better while challenging other to do the same.
DR: Tell me about your life and your work.
TM: I have always been interested in domestic politics and when I started studying sustainable development at NYU, its not that I got disinterested in domestic politics but I found a much bigger meaning out there - there was still a segment of society that needed assistance to move up so that they could help themselves.
When I started looking at jobs, I discovered that there is enough out there, both professionally and personally, that you can always be doing something better. You can be contributing to something greater through your work. Since then I have been looking for opportunities. I shy away from anything that I don't see as improving something. Starting a company that was contributing somehow, helping both us and our communities, was pretty simple really.
After having lived in Uganda, I knew that I would need to do something that involved that region…
TM: Because I had developed a real connection the people that I had met there. We worked with some really good people. I have seen the problems that Ugandans face but I have also seen what we can do to fix that. There is just no reason for me not to continue that. If I would have left there and continued working at my other job, I would have felt that I had sort of left behind some work that I had started, especially in the coffee industry. There is just a lot of work to be done.
DR: If I am just somebody who likes to drink a good cup of coffee, why would I be interested in your coffee as opposed to another cup of coffee that tastes just as good?'
TM: Because you can easily improve someone else's life just by drinking our coffee.
The goal is to make it easy for coffee drinkers to do something good and to make an improvement in other people's lives. Every bean that we sell, every wholesale client that buys a pound from us contributes to the success of a farmer in Uganda. Their financial reward is connected to the selling price. If they had a choice, people would most likely not opt for it - the choice to pay a little extra…
DR: Most people would opt for that?
TM: No. I'm saying that most people would not opt to pay more.
DR: Would not opt for that choice?
TM: Well within certain communities they would, yes. Overall, people are looking for a good product at a good price and that's what we have to provide. It's not like we are raising the price and people are forced to contribute. We have developed a model that intrinsically with every purchase people get to contribute.
DR: I have always believed that I have a self interest in supporting what is good for someone else and having that be enough of a reason for participating in something. Do you find that people respond to you in that way?
TM:People like to know who is producing their coffee and they like knowing who is involved in the supply chain and that, through their purchase, they can do something better. We're not trying to go for the Folger's base.
DR: If you just operated under the assumption that the only obstacle to your success was people's attention spans, what is it that you would want people to know about Crop to Cup?
TM: That you have the option. And, it doesn't necessarily have to be more expensive, but you always have the option to do something better. If you educate yourself on the products that are out there and what is behind a particular product, you'll discover options through certain products to do something good. We are trying to offer just one of those products.
Personal connection is also a very strong motivator. Faces, communities, families -- these are actual families farming our coffee and there are livelihoods behind our coffee and people can support this.
DR: What are you most satisfied about right now?
TM: I am satisfied to have built something that seems to be working and resonating.
Having lived in Uganda, I have seen a lot of things that didn't work. I am just grateful that what we are doing has worked. Seeing that things are working and that we are able to pick up larger clients is really powerful. I am satisfied that people are actually interested in this sort of thing.
Working for yourself is a great feeling, too. You might be working until two in the morning or every weekend, having little time for vacation, but it is rewarding. Seeing that farmers can run their own businesses as well, without having to leave farms and go work in the capitol city and have their children live on the street, is satisfying. We are empowering ourselves and we are empowering other people to run their own business. Entrepreneurial farmers is what we look for.
DR: What do you believe most to be true?
TM: That when somebody is provided with an option to do something that will improve someone else's life, they will always choose what will improve someone else's life as long as you make it easy. When people really have to put themselves out, they won't. We all have two sides - a self interested side and an altruistic side.
DR: So if you remove the barrier of someone having to be concerned about their own survival, then people will opt for the option that allows them to help someone else?
TM: Yeah. You can even see the self interest in that. People get satisfaction in helping others. People give donations because it feels good so in a way, that is being self interested.
Crop to Cup is managed by Jakob Elster and Taylor Mork, in Chicago and New York, respectively.
We met in 2003 during the ‘International Studies, Organizations, and Social Justice” program at the School of International Training Switzerland. We share a common drive ‘to help where needed most’ and this led both of our individual studies to focus on various regions in Africa, and afterwards, for us to work in Uganda.
There we met good people doing good work, but challenged by a lack of communication or access to information. Our partners, a local NGO Forum, asked us to help them found a nonprofit internet café and community center, now called DevelopNET Iganga (www.dnetiganga.org), to develop information systems, training programs and technical competencies of development organizations working in the area.
4 years later and counting, we now fondly refer to this project as D’Net. (you can help us continue this work by contributing at www.dnetiganga.org !)
During our time with D’Net, we were asked to the Bugisu Cooperative Coffee Farmers Union, and stayed on for 8 months to develop the nonprofit specialty coffee exporter, Main Traders Ltd. Daily business, stays up on Mt. Elgon, and formal interviews with farmers gave us greater appreciation of the challenges of becoming a commercial farmer.
Working to increase farmer income, we were frustrated when we saw that value created at the farm-level was absorbed by intermediaries. Observing many failed projects & promises, we struggled to find an alternative and incorruptible way to add value to coffee.
Our ‘ah-hah’ was that the farmers’ desire & that of the conscientious consumer were one and the same: the fastest growing segment of the specialty market will pay more to know that its purchases get back to the farmers. Farmers and customers are thirsty for contact with each other: farmers seek information and recognition from consumers, whereas consumers seek authenticity and accountability from their suppliers.
This led us to realize that farmers can be their own best advocates, just as the conscientious consumer is the best advocate for sustainable coffees, and this is the basis of our goal, Consumer Certification.
Fresh from D’Net, we were aware of the transformative potentials of rural technology, and we are now developing a ‘tool kit’ for the farmer entrepreneur. By introducing a web-enabled business model to a global commodity trade that dates back to the early 1600s, , we hope to introduce a new brand of consumerism, one that empowers the far-ends of coffee’s supply chain by bringing closer together the ultimate producer and the ultimate consumer.
I am always amazed at the number of people who are willing to give extra donations. We have a place on our website where you can donate more than the five percent of the purchase price that we automatically provide. When we were starting out we had over sixty percent of our customers who chose to donate more because we make it really easy.
DR: I think that human beings are naturally inclined to be caring.
TM: You quickly realize that something that you have that you give to someone else is usually not putting you out that much. We are very materialistic people but once we part ways with something, I don't think we miss it much. It's not easy for people to let go but after you let go it's not as bad as you thought it might be.
Initially when we built our model we thought that people would be interested in making more of an effort to log onto our website or really learn more about our projects and choose to be directly involved in making decisions about how money could be used in communities and how coffee could be improved and how farmer's lives could be improved. We were taking it too far at that point. We assumed that people had more free time and that someone would sit down at their desk in the morning and spend two minutes finding out what their coffee purchases did. We quickly found out that this is not the way it works. We had to make it easier for people. We are all busy.
DR: I think when you can tempt people to take a minute to listen to what it is you have to say, they will more than likely discover that certain things are more relevant to their lives than they imagined they would be.
DR: What do you hope for?
TM: I hope that consumerism can be turned into more of a personal experience and that people will start to buy products for more of an actual reason and not just for the product itself. I hope that people will start buying products for what the product has done for someone's' life before it got to them.
DR: If there is something that I can do, especially if I can do it without really thinking, that can contribute to someone else, than I am in…
TM: I think that attitude can change the way we consume.
DR: I have a sneaky suspicion that as a society we are moving in that direction. It feels like that's the next horizon and I'm excited about that.
TM: We are definitely riding a wave.
We are far from the only company doing this kind of thing. There is definitely a push for us to be more sustainable in our choices.
DR: What do you "know now" that you wish you "knew then"?
TM: Being idealistic without having experiences and an education is not enough.
We were very idealistic when we started. We thought that all we needed was energy and devotion and we would get great work done. We quickly found out that you need to work with government, other businesses and consumer habits. We would not have been able to do that without outside expertise, without having to stop for a bit to rethink and relearn. We came into this relying too much on idealism.
DR: Do you think that being "too idealistic", not knowing what you know now, ultimately served you?
TM: Oh yeah. We are definitely still true to our ideals. If we had not gone into business with our ideals than we would have followed the track of wherever business took us. If I were to do it all over again I would do it the same way. I would start with the ideals and learn along the way but, I might take a bit more time to take a lot of the other factors into consideration.
DR: What is the wisest thing that you have ever told yourself?
TM: Take a step back.
One of the most difficult times that I have had with my work was getting really frustrated with how slowly things were working - this was in Uganda when I was working with the non-profit. I hurt so many people around me and I hurt the project that we were working on by not slowing down and not accepting that things can change but sometimes they change slowly. I wasn't like an angry person or anything, it was just that my mode of operation was about trying to push things way too quickly and as a result, I wasn't taking a lot of other things into consideration.
DR: Do you have a global perspective about who you are?
TM: Of course. I don't think that where we are right now is affecting the entire globe but I think we are building a foundation to be able to move the globe in a better direction.
I think that building a business with the intention to scale up is important and if you aren't scaling up and benefitting more than just yourself and one small community, than you are doing yourself and the world an injustice because we can all learn from each other's lessons.
The whole idea of even our Internet project at the beginning was to benefit from others and what others had accomplished before in other developing countries and to share what we had done well. I think we have always taken that approach and we think that this is a model that we can take around the world.
DR: I think that each one of our lives has a global impact, it's just that some people will choose to take responsibility for that and some people won't. Some people will ultimately have a negative impact, some will have a profoundly positive impact. I just don't happen to believe that we have a neutral effect or no effect.
Those of us who are willing to see themselves as someone whose life makes a difference somehow on a global level, are people who end up with an opportunity to do something really meaningful.
TM: The fact that we all have a choice to buy a cup of coffee that is actually helping somebody or the fact that we can we can choose to buy a cup of coffee that, might be produced in an unsustainable way, that a farmer is actually earning less money than they need for their family to survive - yeah. I think we have a choice. We can purchase a product that could help someone or that could possibly hurt them. If a product isn't helping it is likely hurting so why not make the choice to do something better?
DR: There is a book that you have to read called Power vs. Force by David Hawkins. He's the director of The Institute of Advanced Theoretical Research. He talks about his findings regarding levels of human consciousness and refers to the various levels of human consciousness as energy levels - Death is the lowest energy level at 0 energy level points, and the highest level of consciousness is Enlightenment, which is 700 - 1000 energy level points. Just hovering near Death in the energy level spectrum is Shame, which is the energy level that is associated with such dangerous behaviors as brutality, paranoia, bizarre crimes including serial killings. Just above Shame is Guilt which weighs in at 30 energy level points. Guilt is responsible for behavior such as remorse, self recrimination, masochism, being accident prone and suicidal tendencies.
On the other end of the spectrum, just after Enlightenment, is Peace with 600 energy level points assigned to it and, according to Hawkins, to reach this level of consciousness is very rare, attained by 1 in 10 million people. The experience at this level is blissful and people who calibrate at that level are known for having made major contributions to society.
I'm going somewhere with this…
Just under Peace and on the way to Enlightenment is Joy at 540 points and just before Joy is Love with 500 energy level points to claim.
Hawkins' study reveals that all levels below 200 energy level points, which include (in their respective order):
Shame (20), Guilt (30), Apathy (50), Grief (75), Fear (100), Desire (125), Anger (150), Pride (175),
are energy levels which are destructive of life in both the individual and society at large.
All levels above 200:
Neutrality (250), Willingness (310), Acceptance (350), Reason (400), Love (500), Joy (540), Peace (600), Enlightenment (700 - 1000),
are constructive expressions of power.
So here's the thing - 200 energy level points is the breakthrough point for human beings. 200 is where we break through and level 200 is Courage
Courage is where we breakthrough, as human beings, from destructive living to constructive living.
And one last thing,
His study also reveals that 85 percent of the world population calibrates below 200 energy level points; yes! 85 percent of the human beings in the world operate below the level of Courage. In other words they're operating at a destructive level of consciousness and 2.6 percent of the population is responsible for 72 percent of societies problems. That leaves the 15 percent who are operating between level 200 and 700; the 15 percent who have caused a breakthrough in living constructively. And, he concludes that were it not for the 15 percent of the world population that calibrates between 200 and 700, between courage and love -- human kind as we know it would self destruct; would cease to exist. We would literally destroy ourselves!
TM: Does he point out that getting to 200 isn't even that hard? I mean we all have our personal challenges and there are some things that are just beyond our control but 200 hundred is still a failing grade on the scale of 0 - 1000.…
It seems like once you hit 200 the wind can take you from there.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
TM: Hmm. I figure I will probably be dead at that point and I try not to think about death...
I am a big promoter of helping people get to a point where they can help themselves. Once someone is able to grasp the bottom rung, they can climb up the ladder themselves. There is no point in being remembered for helping someone get from the bottom of the ladder to the top because people can do that for themselves.
I'd like to be remembered for starting something that took off and for helping an extremely large population do something better for themselves.
I'd like to be remembered as someone who helped a group of people get to a level where they can help themselves.
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