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UBC Sauder Master of Management students propel JusTea's international expansion

Although JusTea is a small-scale operation just now, students from UBC Sauder’s Master of Management program have been helping the Vancouver-based social enterprise make a big impact on impoverished rural communities in Kenya.

JusTea aims to create sustainable employment and fair wages for Kenyan tea farmers by buying tea direct from the people who grow it. The project is the latest brainchild of veteran entrepreneur Grayson Bain, founder of Vancouver’s Rocky Mountain Bicycles. JusTea has five full-time employees in Canada and five in Kenya.

To expand the company’s reach, JusTea identified a need to move into international markets outside of North America. The Community Business Project that forms part of UBC Sauder’s Master of Management (MM) program provided the perfect opportunity to get some help with this process.

Challenging experience

“We did a presentation at UBC Sauder, explained what we are about and gave away some free samples directly from Kenya,” says Grayson. “We really wanted to make sure that the students would derive value from it so we took care to provide an opportunity that would be challenging and a good learning experience.”

Christina Lupieri, who got her undergraduate degree in International Relations from UBC, was one of the four MM students who worked on the project. She says that the experience did not disappoint.

“I liked the fact that JusTea is geared up to become a social enterprise as opposed to a purely not-for-profit organization and I felt that the project was unique in that we would get to be involved in the core work of the business,” says Christina. “I also love tea!” 

The students were asked to research international markets in an effort to increase JusTea’s sales. They picked 12 countries and presented research into each. JusTea then narrowed down the countries to Germany, the UK and China for the students to do further work on.

By the end of the six-month project the team had developed a valuable database for potential sales as well as relationships with a wide variety of like-minded businesses that they felt had synergies with what JusTea was trying to achieve.

Collaborative effort

“It was definitely hard work and we had to make calls at all hours to reach people in Europe and China,” Christina adds. “But I think that our courses at UBC Sauder really helped us understand JusTea’s mission and ask the right questions at the beginning of the project so that we could produce better work for them.”

Their efforts were certainly appreciated.

“The thing that impressed me was that the students were willing to push back,” says Grayson. “Instead of just thinking about how to get the highest mark for the least amount of work, they really took this project on and made something of it. I felt they had a real sense of ownership and were willing to work with us collaboratively to make sure both parties derived the maximum amount of benefit. I would for sure get involved again.”