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Moka Origins

Moka Origins

2019 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Prize Winner

2019 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Prize Winner

An image of founder Jeff Abella with community members.

How chocolate and coffee are driving empowerment in rural African communities

Moka Origins co-founders Jeff Abella and Ishan Tigunait met over a decade ago through their work together for an international humanitarian organization called the Himalayan Institute. While working with farmers in Cameroon, their shared passion for social impact and community development drove Jeff and Ishan to explore ways they could add value to the farmers’ cocoa crops — traditionally considered poverty crops. They decided to take a more personal stance when they co-founded Moka Origins Farm in Cameroon in 2015, a farm that would provide farmers good wages generated from chocolate and coffee products.

What is the inspiration behind Moka Origins?

Jeff: The idea arose when we started looking at how farming can be the difference between poverty and living a dignified life, allowing families to put their kids in school and giving them access to basic necessities like clothes, food, and medicine.

Ishan: We found that people aren’t looking for a handout; they want a leg up to find their own strength and prosper, which is what we’re helping them do. As part of our business, we offer a dimension of technical training and provide them with sustainable market links and networks so they can continue to thrive.


How does your business model work to support the farmers?

Ishan: We use fair trade product sources and direct trade practices (which means the farmers know how they will be paid, often two or three times the commodity price), and because we own our own farm, we are able to invest back into the farming sector and community.


How is creativity an important part of your business?

Jeff: Once we brought back backpacks of cocoa beans to the States, we fell in love with the artisanal craft-making of chocolate. It was a lot of experimentation at first, but it fueled another excitement for the creativity of it all and allowed for some really special and memorable experiences as we were getting our business off the ground.

Ishan: I think creativity flows from the passion we both have about making a human impact. We weren’t looking to leverage a commercial advantage when we were exploring African farming communities — we were looking to share a human experience, and when we found it, it provided a very natural outgrowth. When we follow our natural passions and we try to find ways to make a meaningful impact, when we have unique human experiences and share them, it feels a lot less like work, and it feels like we can be whoever we wish to be. You start to see obstacles as learning experiences, and it makes you more resilient.


What is the value you bring to your customers?

Ishan: We have a strict policy about referring to our customers as “partners” with the intention of making them part of the life story of the product at Moka. We value our customers and believe they are looking for a high-quality product with a whole other layer of social impact, rather than a commoditized bulk product.


3 Small-Business Tips for Success

Navigating the path for your small business is a constant learning process. Here are Jeff and Ishan’s biggest takeaways for success.

  1. Play to Your Strengths
    Know your weaknesses, but don’t dwell on them and don’t let them defeat you. Identify with them in a way that you can polish them up and go in on the areas where you feel most competent.

  2. Have Passion and Commitment
    When you believe in what you do, your obstacles turn into strengths, and you’re not easily defeated. And without passion, you’ll tire very easily and very quickly.

  3. Be Authentic
    Create a story around authenticity. There are people that you’ll look up to and those you’ll want to emulate. Then know who you are and tell that story — your story — authentically. It can be your greatest advantage.


FedEx Small Business Grant winners like Jeff and Ishan are doing great things in their businesses and their communities. See more inspirational winner stories and get insights for business success from past grant winners, plus other entrepreneurs and small-business experts.