Country Context

Colombia is a ‘middle income’ country, but that status masks a marked inequality in income distribution and life circumstances across the different regions of the country. Beset by decades of internal conflict and a complex array of economic forces that constrain the capacity for action, Colombians have nevertheless had a long history of innovative problem solving when it comes to devising strategies to address rural well-being.

One exemplar of this has been the coffee industry.  ChurchSunset_PacoraCaldasOver the last 90 years, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) has provided leadership in all facets of the coffee industry, leading out Green Revolution development processes at the production end and shaping international markets at the consumption end.  While the FNC can be faulted for paternalism and sacrificing ecology for productivism, nevertheless it is undoubtedly the coffee regions that have experienced the highest rates of rural human development under the UN definition of that term.  But in the last 25 years, the FNC’s political-economic model has become destabilized through globalization and neoliberal policies.  What has emerged is a differentiated market in which producers strive to place their coffee in both commercial and specialty markets and companies large and small strive to secure access to the coffees that fit their preferred flavor profiles.  The challenge facing the country is how to sustain the gains that have been made in the coffee regions, adapt to the new market conditions, and strive to overcome the profound limits on well-being that have been the product of inequality and violence.

Partner Organizations

The Colombia IFP will work with Cooperative Central de Caficultores de Huila (COOCENTRAL) and Sustainable Harvest, a Portland, OR based green coffee import company.  COOCENTRAL has over 3800 members, mostly small farms who together produce over 35 million pounds of coffee in the south-central Department of Huila.  Through COOCOOCENTRAL farmers have access to conventional and specialty markets.  They’re able to take advantage of diverse certification initiatives (eg, Fair Trade) and the coop provides technical and social support services.  

Sustainable Harvest has developed a rigorous trading system that connects producers to roasters through transparent terms of trade.  Called Relationship Coffee, Sustainable Harvest creates venues for buyers and sellers to engage directly with each other, tracks and assembles data to measure the effect of these relations in producing communities, and works with producers to develop more effective organizations to improve the quality and marketability of their coffees but also for pursuing community well-being.

Project Based Work

COOCENTRAL and Sustainable Harvest have partnered with a major global coffee corporation to pilot a project focused on women coffee farmers.  The pilot proved to be successful and has been extended for two more years.  Modeled on Sustainable Harvest’s work in Rwanda (GPIA grad Ashlee Tuttleman was part of that team) the goal of the project is not just to provide technical training and support but to lead to the creation of a branded line of coffees in which the women have a direct stake.  Currently 300 women are participating but that number will be growing during the next stage of the project.

5COOCENTRAL, as the partner on the ground directly engaged with the farmers, has asked the New School to work on two issues.  One is focused on social research and organization and the other is media production and capacity building.

First, while the project has many metrics for improvements in coffee quality, technical efficiency, costs/benefits and so on, there is relatively little data being collected on the process of empowerment.  What are the factors that help women to overcome the multiple obstacles that have been imposed on them so that they emerge as leaders within their communities and beyond? How might the coop and other institutional actors better identify and nurture these so that more women are empowered to find their leadership skills and assert themselves within their communities?  Previous IFP work on women’s participation and empowerment within community building initiatives will provide a jumping off point for this project.

Second, one subsidiary business of the coop is a hotel and tourism packages.  While the hotel is successfully operating, the coop lacks the requisite skills to fully build out a media platform for telling the story of the hotel and the coop and advertising the packages. Previous Colombia IFP works in a different region generated 4 IFP and 3 PIA reports on the prospects for community-based tourism in Colombia.  This work included a significant youth inclusion and youth media component that we would seek to replicate and expand.  

Both of these projects will require substantial engagement with community members, co-op staff, and other local actors.  The end deliverables will be reports, multi-media presentations, films, or other products as negotiated with the Partners.  We also anticipate that this work will lead to further New York based project work with Sustainable Harvest building out the consumer research and marketing efforts in the United States.  Students participating in this IFP should do so expecting to get started on their capstone projects whether these are theses, practica, films or other products.

Faculty Leader

Chris London grew up in the specialty coffee industry as his parents were coffee roasters. Over the last 30 years he has been involved with Colombia and coffee in diverse ways.  Academically his masters and doctoral theses were based on fieldwork in Colombian coffee towns.  Even his undergraduate thesis was a study of coffee in Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea.  He worked as a policy activist in Washington DC with an organization promoting third party certification and labeling of “sustainable coffee” (Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, etc).  This involved developing collaborative initiatives with NGOs, producer organizations, both large and small coffee businesses, and policy agencies such as The World Bank and USAID.  Finally, he is currently working on a documentary film about the new realities in the Colombian industry that have emerged as a result of globalization.  


Conversational competency in Spanish is needed for participation in this program. Students need to be able to read, with the occasional help of a dictionary, official documents such as development plans and program reports. Capacity to read academic texts is valuable. You also need to be able to verbally express yourself and convey basic ideas. Being able to order drinks and snacks or ask directions is not sufficient.

However, there is some potential for flexibility in the degree of Spanish competency required. Should a student bring a particularly deep experience, skillset and desire to work on these projects, some allowances could be made for what would otherwise be an insufficient grasp of the language. 

Living in Colombia11

The accommodations in Colombia are TBD.

Some work will be conducted in the coop offices but will also involve considerable time spent in the countryside. All necessary precautions will be taken to ensure a safe and rewarding experience in Colombia.


The Colombia program will approach the problems of theory and practice in an integrated fashion. Students participating in the program will conduct research and engage with the community and organizational practice in small urban and rural settings. The presumption is that good practice requires good theory and good theory is an outcome of good practice.

Program Info and Requirements

  • Begins: 1 June 2018
  • Ends: 31 July 2018 (Dates may change)
  • Open to: Graduate and Advanced Undergraduate students from The New School as well as other universities
  • Supervisor: Chris London
  • Language Requirement: Spanish (conversational proficiency)
  • Required course for New School Students: If accepted to the program students in a course of their choosing must commit to focusing their course projects on Colombia.  The parameters of these project must be approved by the IFP Colombia Supervisor.  All students, whether in the New School or other universities, must participate in the no credit IFP Seminar.
  • Syllabus: Forthcoming