Coffee, Tea or Guayakí: A World Challenge Finalist

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s MPA Curriculum on a blogging series about “Sustainable Development.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Jenny Sant’Anna

Guayakí, the Sebastopol, CA based yerba mate and energy drink company, is more than a beverage company; it is a social enterprise with a mission to protect and restore South American rainforests and native communities. Alex Pryor, one of the Guayakí founders, shared that importing yerba mate to the U.S. is just an excuse for helping indigenous communities in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. But it is, of course, more than that. The sale of Guayakí Yerba Mate in the U.S. is the “market” in Guayakí’s innovative market-driven restoration model. Guayakí develops the U.S. market for shade-grown, organic yerba mate, and sources the product from communities in South America; thereby tying U.S. customer purchases directly to South American forest communities. The renewable income allows native communities to replant trees in their forest homes and improve their lives as well.

What exactly is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate is neither coffee nor tea, it is, well, yerba mate, the leaves from a small holly tree (Ilex paraguariensis) that grows in the Atlantic rainforests of South America. Yerba mate is traditionally served, or rather shared, in a gourd with a bombilla–a metal “straw” with a filter on the end. Guayakí describes yerba mate as having the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate all in one beverage.”

This summer, a team of graduate students from the Presidio Graduate School worked with Guayakí on an experiential learning project (EL) where we had the chance to delve into the work Guayakí is doing with an indigenous forest community in Brazil. EL projects are beneficial to graduate students because they allow us to see and experience the concepts we read and study about in class. We finished our EL project with a greater appreciation for the importance of genius loci, spirit of place.

Guayakí is developing a new relationship with a community in Brazil, and is discovering how different their situation and forest home is compared to the community Guayakí works with in Paraguay. Additionally, we heard numerous examples of what Guayakí has done and will do to obtain and enhance its social license to operate in these regions. Guayakí approaches its work with an incredible ethos of caring and patience. The effectiveness of many of the approaches and techniques we read about and discussed in the Presidio framework are put into action by Guayakí including acknowledging locals as experts, asking, instead of telling, how they can help, taking the time to understand the genius loci, and the importance of being humble in sustainable development work.

Guayakí has apparently impressed the judges of the BBC World News and Newsweek’s World Challenge as they have recently been chosen as one of twelve finalists. World Challenge is a contest that recognizes and features sustainable enterprises working at the grassroots level to develop innovations to address global issues of social justice and inequality. The contest is open for public voting until November 11th. For a truly inspiring ten minutes, visit the World Challenge website to watch all twelve of the finalists’ one minute videos. Be sure to check out Guayakí’s entry!

BBC World News and Newsweek’s World Challenge Finalists:

  • Guayakí is using market-driven restoration to improve eco-systems and help communities thrive in South American Atlantic rainforests
  • Hand to Hand is turning trash into gas and compost in India
  • UgaStoves helps make cooking more efficient and cleaner in Uganda
  • Recycla is safely recycling e-waste and employing ex-prisoners in Chile
  • El Nafeza Foundation in Egypt makes paper using traditional methods while employing women, many of whom are deaf and mute.
  • Shunran-no-Sato offers eco-tours to the Japanese countryside where young urbanites can come to reconnect with the land and traditional culture
  • Brooklyn Grange Farm is growing organic produce, raising chickens, and beekeeping on a rooftop in Queens
  • Snow Leopard Enterprises trains and equips women in Central Asia to make wool products such as felt as an alternative income source, helping reduce the incentive to poach snow leopards
  • Shiv Forestry helps keep rhinos from destroying crops by planting pungent herbs while also providing a cash crop for local communities in Nepal and India
  • Giveacar recycles donated cars in the UK and gives the money raised to the donor’s charity of choice
  • Vava Coffee works with small farms in Kenya to produce ethically sound and environmentally friendly coffee
  • Funky Junk created a market for the plastic bags blighting the country of Cambodia. The bags are crocheted into fashionable home goods and accessories

Jenny Sant’Anna is an MPA candidate in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School. Jenny is interested in all issues concerning ocean health. You can follow her Twitter account, Merbleue2050, or read ocean news, information and discussions at She enjoys a daily yerba mate, this week her favorite is Guayakí Mate Chocolatté.

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