Independent consultant with 30+ years of experience in sustainability, David Rosenberg has been on Algrano’s board of directors since the beginning and was already an advisor to the founders before the platform was launched. As he steps down, we celebrate his contributions and drive to bring further diversity to the company.
As companies evolve, there is a constant string of changes. Algrano is no different. The platform has been hugely improved since it was launched in 2015, we have seen members of staff come and go, and we’re always improving the strategy and business structure to meet the new challenges we face. A type of change that users are less aware of is when a member of the board of directors leaves. Board members act as a compass for a business and their vision is key to shaping its future.
Before the board, David co-founded UTZ Certified and worked as ECOM's Sustainability Advisor (Photo: Algrano)
Pressing the gas pedal on supply chain disruption
David’s sustainability journey started as an outdoorsman in the United States. He landed a job as the Head of Sustainability at a supermarket chain in the Netherlands, where he was one of the founders and later the Executive Director of UTZ Certified. Then, as Sustainability Advisor at ECOM, “I hired a guy named Gilles Brunner”, David recalls. According to him, Gilles was “deeply passionate about making the concern for farmers more meaningful”. In Brazil, “Gilles discovered that what we were doing simply wasn’t enough and what farmers really needed was a better way to sell their coffee”.
David has been a trusted advisor to the founders of Algrano since before the company was launched in 2015. At a time when Algrano was just a business idea, Gilles and Raphael Studer invited David to invest and join the board, which he did. "David's pioneer experience in the coffee industry with the early set up of the sustainable label UTZ has been a source of inspiration for me. It reinforced my conviction that the coffee industry can lead the way towards more sustainable and inclusive global supply chains," says Gilles.
Better buyers and better growers for a better environment
“I thought then and believe now even more that Algrano is on to something interesting about disrupting the inherent information imbalance in the way in which supply chains and businesses work,” David starts. “By empowering farmers, we are actually doing what I set out to do [in his career]: creating business models that work for people and the planet. For me, Algrano is one materialization of a business model that can really work for businesses and the planet,” he stresses.
As someone who is dedicated to the environmental and economical sustainability of supply chains, David believes that the coffee industry needs more and different solutions for its many challenges. This is where Algrano comes in. “There is an implicit relationship between better buyers, better growers and a better environment,” he says. ”When we do direct trade, we enable a dialogue between buyers and sellers. Sustainability tends to matter to buyers, so this dialogue is going to drive innovation and incentivise farmers to invest in better farming.” But let’s be honest: the promise of sustainability through better terms of trade is still only implicit. For David, one challenge for Algrano is to make that more explicit.
David with Gilles Brunner at World of Coffee in Berlin in 2019 (Photo: Algrano)
“One of the challenges we see in coffee is the consolidation of the mainstream sector, with big coffee houses buying smaller brands,” David reflects. “The consequence of this consolidation is that they are using and abusing their power by demanding onerous payment terms from producers. This means that everybody in the business needs to have deep pockets and scale to provide finance, further perpetuating the consolidation of the industry. This is not healthy and the industry needs to continue to create opportunities for small players to grow.”
The entrepreneur adds that this challenge might be overshadowed by the impacts of climate change. “The combination of these two things, consolidation of the industry and climate change, is going to mean that you need to have relationships with farmers to be first in line to get your coffee. It's a huge opportunity for Algrano but in a very challenging environment. It’s like a fight between David and Goliath,” he compares.
A trusted advisor in a multidisciplinary board
David’s drive and experience have made him invaluable to Algrano over the years. “I was really happy to support the founders as a trusted advisor when times were tough,” he says. Raphael adds that he was “able to put our small efforts in a bigger context and opened many doors”. For David, it was all about teamwork within the board and with management. “Everyone is invested and has a stake in it. We have so many disciplines at the table,” he says about fellow board members, who combine a wealth of knowledge in tech, e-commerce, finance and commodities. “The mix of different but complementary skills and experiences of the board has to be - and hopefully has been - useful to the founders.”
Talking to roasters during WoC and helping Algrano promote its mission (Photo: Algrano)
Despite the David-and-Goliathesque challenges ahead of Algrano, David believes that the company has two assets that are “really wonderful”. The first is a combination of humility and ambition on the part of the founders. “They are really decent people. As a result, they attract and hire really good people. It’s a marvellous thing to watch.” The second is the quality of the board. “It is made of highly qualified people with little ego. This is exceptional. There are plenty of companies where egos get in the way of everything. Kudos to the founders for having created that culture.”
Changing to embrace diversity
As a mentor in several start-up incubator systems, David continues to discover exciting companies pushing sustainability forward. “The coffee industry and the agricultural one more broadly have to be able to support farming that is restorative, regenerative and more equitable, making positive contributions to the big social and environmental challenges of our time,” he starts. “These are the big themes of the 21st century and it’s where I find my space to contribute.”
As he steps down to make space for Sara Morrocchi, David mourns leaving what was an “unparalleled learning opportunity” but welcomes Algrano’s move towards more diversity. “I firmly believe that boards need to become more diverse. We found an exceptional person to replace me who brings not only a deep knowledge of coffee, well beyond what can offer, but also a female perspective that has been missing,” he says. “I believe diversity in itself brings new perspectives to our thinking and decision-making and I believe that you have to put your money where your mouth is to make diversity possible. The change we want doesn’t come automatically. Sometimes, you have to give up your position to make it happen.”
We thank David for all of his contributions to Algrano and his 8+ years of continuous support, always putting what’s best for the company and our mission first. He will continue to be a part of Algrano as a shareholder and a friend. Our next post will introduce Sara Morrocchi. She shares some of her knowledge and experience, which will help take Algrano to the next level.