A Note from Ric Rhinehart

Dear Coffee Professional,

You’re hearing a lot about unification.

You’re attending webinars and in person meetings; reading articles, letters, e-mails, and social media posts and discussing unification with your fellow members in all of these forums. You’re engaging with staff and the Board, gathering information, asking questions and reviewing the benefits and challenges and reflecting on your business. As SCAA’s Executive Director, this inspires me. Thank you for your due diligence and for participating actively in this opportunity to be a part of history.

The very reasons that drove the SCAA and SCAE boards to consider this possibility are in front of us today. Coffee is by nature a global product, and at the SCAA we have been engaged with the entire value chain for nearly three decades. That value chain is threatened on all sides, and if we are to continue to drive the value and values of specialty coffee, we must confront the threats. The boards of both organizations have voiced their strongly held belief that we are far better equipped to face those threats as a united association, that our resources are greater, our voices are louder, and our economic impact is more profound.

Last year in Atlanta, Georgia, the annual gathering of the volunteer leadership, committee and council members, board members and staff of the SCAA took place in July across three memorable days. This meeting, the Strategic Leadership Summit (SLS), is dedicated to furthering the volunteer work of the organization and coordinating it with the staff work executed along with the vision of the board. Each year this gathering produces not only a tremendous amount of work, but reconnects the active volunteer base with the leadership and the staff in profound and moving ways. On this occasion, the more than 150 people involved were asked to join a deeper conversation around the value of unification with our counterparts from Europe as a path to more effectively addressing the pressing issues the global specialty coffee sector faces.

Over those three days, all of those involved had the opportunity to offer their best thinking on the concept, and an expert group of meeting facilitators worked diligently to craft a safe, open and inclusive environment where all ideas were heard and considered, where all perspectives were able to be fairly viewed, and where the board and staff were able to gain tremendous insight into the hopes and dreams that those present have for our industry and our association. All of this open, transparent, and inclusive work led the board to seek professional guidance on exploring the feasibility of such a unification, and the value it could deliver.

The board, working in tandem with representatives from the SCAE, issued a request for proposals for a consultancy to conduct a feasibility study, and in August of last year engaged with a group of highly qualified specialists in strategic management, a second group of trade association specialists, and a legal firm specializing in non-profit structures. These consultants immediately set to work in three distinct work streams. First, they surveyed SCAE and SCAA members to get a sense of the membership’s position on this question. The response was overwhelmingly positive from both groups. Next, they studied the experiences of dozens of other non-profit organizations that had faced similar situations to ours, and analyzed the best practices that led to success and identified the cautionary notes that were harbingers of failure. Finally, the legal team dug deep to explore the best structures available to drive forward an internationally focused trade association aimed at impacting the world in a positive way.

The boards of both associations worked through the details of the path forward recommended by the consultants, adapted some key concepts and structures to meet the unique needs of the specialty coffee community, and put forward a plan to unify in a manner that could deliver exceptional value to our members, and that could create the possibility of confronting the impacts of climate change, economic imbalance, labor shortages, dramatic demographic shifts and other near and long term threats to our existence as an industry. That plan was reviewed, revised, questioned and ultimately ratified by both boards of directors in their individual board meetings. In May of this year, the SCAE membership voted overwhelmingly to move to a unified organization, and now the SCAA membership has the opportunity to do the same.

The world is a constantly changing place, and we must always adapt to those changes. There are those in our community who would stop in place, unwilling or afraid to confront those challenges. They have worked to drive fear, selfishness and misinformation into this voting process. Don’t let them. This is your association, and you have told us over and over again that our core values revolve around inclusiveness, sustainability, respect for the producer, stewardship of our environment and a willingness to position specialty coffee as a unique product that connects rather than divides us.

A vote for this unification is a vote for a better future. Thousands of volunteer hours from both organizations have been devoted to making it a reality. A vote for unification is a vote of courage, a vote of belief in what we have built together, and a vote in support of leadership you have elected to serve the organization. A vote for unification is a vote for access to new markets to source and sell products or services, and a vote in favor of a sustainable global value chain.

This process has been inclusive, thoughtful, open, transparent and aimed at a better coffee world since its beginning – it is nothing short of inspirational. I hope that you share in this inspiration and feel the potential it represents for the future of coffee, so that you may confidently vote to approve SCAA’s unification with SCAE.

I encourage you to click here to cast your vote now.


Ric Rhinehart
Executive Director, SCAA