I figure the timing might be interesting.
The following was first posted as a part of a larger piece here back in May of this year.
So here we go...
As a warning, I am 100% confident that I’m going to manage to piss off a lot of you at some point in this. Please understand that what I’m writing here is not only just my own opinion on things but that it’s entirely not personal and not directed at any person or people.
Specialty Coffee in the US – thoughts on the community, the people and the structures.
So we need to shake things up. How?
Well… the SCAA needs to change (first and foremost). I have a ton of respect for the employees of the SCAA. Folks like Michelle Campbell are the life’s blood of this industry. But the current governance, board and committee setup is severely broken. To a large degree it seems to be geared around protecting existing power bases and reputations and egos – around supporting and abetting conflicts of interest… in other words, it is your traditional profoundly corrupt political organization. There are some people involved who are trying to change things – there are some good politicians. But they are the exception.
As a result of the corruption and political nature of the organization, you see things like the institutionalized lack of interest in communication with and education of the consumer base. You see things like the pandering to certain vendors and the undue influence of certain vendors and organizations. You see stagnation in programs and offerings. You see an organization that is not leading the industry, but rather trailing the industry (and in the cases of the quality focused coffee companies, doing so rather severely).
These are all bad. And they are all a profound failure of the mission of an organization like the SCAA.
Given this, we really need to see not just a change in personnel at a governance level but also some structural and procedural changes as well.
I had some hope with the recent elections, but even that was (honestly) a long-term and incremental change that was unlikely to solve anything in the immediate future. Now that the results have come out, it is clear that nothing is going to change in the near future. As one person said, “the trouble with the old guard is that they all vote.” So now what do we do? People have to change. It didn’t happen in the election so I guess it’s going to have to happen in a bit less orderly of a manner.
When it comes to structure and procedures, we really need far more transparency and far more accountability. There is a Kremlin-esque quality to the SCAA that is really disturbing to me. The people working in this industry tend to have no idea what the SCAA committees and boards are doing, what the goals are – and there is little or no accountability when it comes to results. This then creeps out throughout the industry and infects all other organizations. As a result, the USBC ends up being incredibly secretive, political and insular. I’m afraid we could even end up seeing the same thing happening to the BGA.
Reading back through this I realize I sound very angry. And that isn’t quite true. I’m frustrated. I feel like there is so much potential in this industry and so much energy and passion in the people in the industry. But I feel like the organizations and structures that are in place to support, promote and represent us are failing to help us all get where we need and are instead creating a junior high school sideshow drama that is getting close to the point where quality focused companies have no choice but to simply jump ship.
Honestly – given the caliber of people in this industry – we deserve better.