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How a Small Village Farmer Inspired Hugh Jackman to Challenge the Coffee Industry



n many ways, actors are entrepreneurs. With deep care for their craft, they work hard to deliver audiences a unique experience. They must also learn to roll with the punches-ignore the flops, and hope the next one's a hit. When superstar Hugh Jackman and his wife Debora-Lee traveled to Ethiopia (known as "the birthplace of coffee") in 2009, they weren't sure what to expect. They were invited by World Vision, one of the world's largest non-profit organizations, to see the progress of a community development project. Dukale's Dream, a film directed by Josh Rothstein and opening in select theaters this Friday, documents Hugh's self-reflective journey.



While in Ethiopia, Hugh met Dukale, a young, local coffee farmer. The two hit it off immediately, sharing a number of common values, including a tough work ethic and close bond with their respective families. In time, Hugh discovered the obstacles that small coffee growers face on a daily basis. Dukale's initial problem-lack of access to the market and big buyers-was indicative of a much larger issue. Dukale was creating a great product: premium coffee beans harvested using environmentally friendly methods. But as a small business owner, the odds were stacked against him: From distributors to local cafes, the practice of Fair Trade-trade in which fair prices are paid to workers in developing countries-was not a priority.



To help combat this problem, Hugh started Laughing Man Worldwide, an organization that provides farmers like Dukale direct access to the market. In addition to selling only fairly traded coffee and tea on their online website, Laughing Man has opened two NYC coffee shops to rave reviews. But Hugh didn't start the company with the hopes of stuffing his pockets: As part of his ongoing commitment, Hugh contributes 100% of his profits to the Laughing Man Foundation, which he created to support educational programs, community development and social entrepreneurs around the world.



The film is a great look into the complicated world of coffee production and selling, and the people behind the process. It also documents Hugh's transformation into an accidental entrepreneur, as he tries to make a small difference in that world. While watching the film, I also discovered the following three lessons, which can be applied to any business owner:


1. When true entrepreneurs see a problem they can solve, they don't stand by. They do something to fix it


After returning from Ethiopia, Hugh and his family decided to make some practical changes, including a pledge to drink only fairly traded coffee. But it wasn't enough. Hugh explains: I couldn't just watch it. I couldn't just talk about it. I needed to actually dive in and enter it [the marketplace]. I needed to enter the marketplace in some way in order to connect these dots. And it just became clear that the best way to do that was to start a coffee company.



Laughing Man's stated goal is to respect the work of organic coffee farmers, and pay fair prices for their beans. As their following grows, it becomes obvious that many are willing to pay for such a product.


2. The small things count


Dukale had no idea what would result from his initial meeting with Hugh; in fact, he didn't even know who the actor was. Nevertheless, he treated the stranger kindly and hospitably, inviting Hugh to enjoy some of his best coffee with him. The scene where Dukale and Hugh plant two new saplings, and Dukale names them after Hugh's children, is a key moment in the new relationship. Similarly, while visiting Ethiopia, we see Hugh put forth extra effort to relate to the locals. When he takes the time to learn a few words in the local language, the people are all smiles, obviously charmed by this simple gesture.



In my experience, I'm always amazed at how often business owners fail to show basic hospitality to clients they're trying to land. Or how many international executives fail to learn a few expressions in the language of a desired partner. These actions take minimal effort, but their effect is priceless.


3. Craft your story, and tell it well


The saying goes: People do business with other people, not other businesses. It's no mistake that Laughing Man's best selling coffee is called Dukale's Dream (and that's before the release of this film). Modern marketing is all about how you tell your story. Invest in hiring people who can tell it well, and your target audience will be naturally drawn to your company.



Dukale's Dream is an inspiring story of hard work, determination, and doing what you can to help others. As Dukale and Hugh work together, they teach a new generation of entrepreneurs to challenge the status quo.

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