Sustaining Connection: IVLP Alumni Fosters Nairobi – Seattle Partnerships

2016-06-22 (2)Vava Angwenyi is the Founder and CEO of Vava Coffee, a social enterprise in Nairobi that seeks to improve conditions in the coffee industry and create sustainable livelihoods for the workers and communities working in the industry. In July of 2015, Vava visited Seattle as a participant of the Department of State Sponsored International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) as a part of the prestigious African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). Since then, Vava has made multiple return visits to Seattle, and in turn developed a strong network as well as relationships connecting Seattle to her work in Nairobi.

On her fourth visit to Seattle in the past year, Vava has surpassed any previous record for an IVLP participant returning to Seattle after their initial visit through the program. “It was always a dream to come to Seattle – given the coffee connection and growing entrepreneurship scene,” Vava reminisces about her orientation at the Department of State, before the start of her four-week journey throughout the U.S. last summer.

AWEP home hospitality

Home Hospitality with Vava and AWEP participants in 2015

Through the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), 14 AWEP participants visited Seattle in July of 2015 to explore women’s empowerment and make connections with local entrepreneurs and small-business owners within their respective industries. In addition, participants engaged in a community volunteering activity, cultural and site-seeing activities, and sat down for dinner with different families in the Seattle area. Ultimately, the local program serves to create global to local connections with visiting participants and Seattle’s citizens.


Through the program, Vava was introduced to Atlas Coffee Importers, a specialty coffee importer headquartered in Seattle. Like Vava Coffee, Atlas also seeks to improve conditions in the coffee industry, motivated by the slogan: “What’s good for business should be good for the entire supply chain.” After a short meeting with Atlas’ Founder, Craig Holt, the two discussed the importance of healthy and sustainable supply-chain management in the coffee industry, and Vava knew that the relationship was one she hoped to continue: “it became clear that our purposes and missions had the same goal, and we could really team up.”  Since their initial meeting, Vava has continued to work with Atlas and looks forward to introducing her coffee to the Seattle market in the near future. She was able to return in mid-November to complete a Q Grader course to advance her professional qualifications in the coffee industry, and enhance the quality of her product.


Craig Holt of Atlas Coffee, Vava, and AWEP 2015 participants take a tour of the Atlas Coffee facilities

As part of the cultural engagement portion of the IVLP project, Vava and three other AWEP participants were invited to the home of a local Seattle host family for dinner, great conversation, and an evening of laughter. In-depth discussion on politics, pop-culture, religion, society, and business ensued, and by the end of the evening a deep connection had been formed. She stayed in touch with her host family, and during her second visit to Seattle, Vava stayed with them and was introduced to Nancy Chang, Executive Director of Reel Grrls and Founder of Skate Like A Girl, at an informal dinner. They talked about leadership and the role of women in society in both Seattle and Nairobi. To this, Vava had a response, “Girls aren’t getting exposed to bold leaders and active role models in my community, and I want to be that for them,” which transformed into a table-wide discussion on supporting girls and other women in their efforts to become bold leaders.


Grrrls Run This! seeks to amplify the voices of bold young women in global conversations through media training and storytelling.

Out of this discussion, Vava and Nancy formed Grrrls Run This! with the goal of increasing opportunity and amplifying the voices of young women in Nairobi in global conversations through storytelling and media-making. They have plans to launch a pilot project at the end of June, and envision expanding the program to eventually include a cross-cultural exchange between young women in Seattle and Nairobi. Since forming Grrrls Run This! Vava has returned twice more, and has continued to seek avenues to engage with the Seattle community around women’s leadership and self-empowerment.

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Vava gives a keynote speech on Women’s leadership and self-empowerment at  OneVibe Africa’s Madaraka Festival 2016

On her most recent visit to Seattle, Vava connected with other local businesses that share similar visions – she is currently developing a partnership with Uncle Harry’s Natural Products, a woman-led company based in Redmond, introducing a coffee-themed scrub to their product line and hopes to have some of the revenue support Grrrls Run This! In addition, earlier this May, Vava was a keynote speaker at OneVibe Africa’s Madaraka Festival, where she spoke on the importance of self-empowerment and women in leadership. The festival celebrated women’s leadership and empowerment, and featured local and African-owned businesses like Café Avole, a new Ethiopian café in South Seattle that will be selling Vava Coffee in store.

The various projects and initiatives that have grown out of Vava’s initial visit to Seattle through the IVLP are wonderful examples of the power of public diplomacy, and showcase how creating sustainable connections between international visitors and local community members can be a catalyst to grassroots innovation, and finding collaborative solutions to global issues. Follow us on twitter at @wacseattle for access to more stories from our visiting delegations, and stay tuned for updates as the World Affairs Council’s Joelle Klein visits Nairobi to meet with IVLP Alumni and witness the launch of the Grrrls Run This! initiative in late June.

Written by: Joelle Klein, International Visitor Program