CHRIS DEARNLEY AND JOHN SAGE
BY CLARK BAKER
At Harvard Business School, John Sage and Chris Dearnley became close friends. After graduation with MBA’s in 1989, however, their lives diverged. Six years out of school, Dearnley forsook his business career and, with his wife, started a Vineyard church in San Jose, Costa Rica. Sage, meanwhile, began his marketing work for Microsoft and later Starwave. Sage admits that by 1997 he was “long on cash but short on vision.” Dearnley had the opposite problem: the funding from his family inheritance for his Costa Rican ministry—which brings food, medicine, drug rehabilitation, shelter, and job training to adults and children at risk—was running out.
Sage and Dearnley credit a moment of inspiration for changing their lives. They developed an innovative business plan for a non-profit internet coffee company called Pura Vida. Money from the sale of Pura Vida’s fair trade products, along with customer donations and corporate grants, help pay for ministries in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Chris Dearnley: While on vacation with my wife in Costa Rica in 1994, we heard that Vineyard was thinking of planting a church on the west side of San Jose. With a vision of starting a church in our hearts, we started a home group and began praying about how God wanted us to reach those in need. So, as an act of worship our church began FundaVida on alternate Saturdays to reach these kids in at-risk areas riddled with drug addiction, prostitution, and violence.
At a gathering of graduate school friends in San Diego in 1997, I shared how these kids were being touched, but bemoaned that we were strapped for cash and no longer able to sustain the program financially. I had with me a bag of coffee from Costa Rica as a present for each of the guys. “Hey, have you ever thought of creating a brand of coffee that would help support what you do in the lives of these children?” John Sage asked. I hadn’t, of course. But right there I thought we could call it Pura Vida Coffee because “pura vida” has a double meaning in Costa Rican Spanish: it means “cool” or “awesome” as well as “full of life” and “vibrant.” John and I literally sketched our ideas on the back of a napkin. When I returned to Costa Rica, I found a coffee supplier and we began putting out a product about four months later.
John Sage: After graduation, Chris moved to Costa Rica to plant a church and I worked for Microsoft in Seattle. On our visit in the summer of 1997 in San Diego, I was struck once again by Chris’s vision and passion for ministry, particularly to these kids, and how much he had sacrificed to see his dream turn into reality. In that moment God birthed the vision. “What if we started our own little company to sell Costa Rican coffee over the web and used the bags to share the story of your work with children?” I asked. “The profits could provide sustainable funding for your ministry.” Without any hesitation Chris grabbed on to it: “We could call the company ‘Pura Vida,’ which is how Costa Ricans greet one another.” I was so excited—it seemed the perfect combination of all my interests: technology, business, coffee, and ministry—so I was ready to get going.
Pura Vida Coffee is a for-profit company, but one that’s wholly owned by Pura Vida Partners, a 501 (c) (3) public charity. We wanted to create long-term value for kids and their families in coffee growing regions of the world. To use this profitable company to improve the living condition of growers, we’re committed to carrying only certified fair trade coffee, which means we pay a minimum of $1.26 a pound for the green that we buy. That’s at the beginning end; at the back end we put all of our profit back into benefiting kids in those regions.
The Pura Vida Coffee legacy was passed onto present ownership in 2004. The foundation turned into Pura Vida Create Good and expanded into coffee growing regions in Africa and South America. Despite a new name, it still maintains its philanthropic roots through partnering with FundaVida, Chris Dearnley’s non-profit, and expanding support to other non-profits geared towards helping at-risk children in coffee producing countries around the world.