In spring 2016, Starbucks launched its first single-origin specialty coffee from South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This coffee was produced with support from a partnership known as Kahawa Bora—a value chain development intervention (VCDI) combining a coffee corporation (Starbucks), a celebrity (Ben Affleck) and a development agency (USAID). Moving from disengaged cause-marketing to engaged development interventions, these types of partnerships promise to help beneficiaries, provide good feelings to consumers and promote the brands of corporations and NGOs. This paper applies a value chain approach to the concept of ‘Brand Aid’ as a modality of development intervention to parse the possibilities and limitations of involving corporations and celebrities in development interventions and to address a considerable research gap on the local effects that Brand Aid partnerships have on their intended beneficiaries in the global South. On the basis of original data from fieldwork in DRC, a desk study and interviews with stakeholders of the project, we compare Kahawa Bora’s formation, development and outcomes to those of a more traditional and less glitzy VCDI that has been operating in the same areas of Eastern Congo. We find that Kahawa Bora has attracted considerably more attention than other VCDIs, with little to show in terms of coffee supply and tangible benefits to farmers. We conclude that while Brand Aid forms of VCDIs promise to ‘work aid out of business’, they actually serve the interests of business and celebrities, while their actual impact on the ground is limited and uncertain.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: 16. October 2020
- Brand Aid
- Global Value Chains (GVCs)
- Celebrity humanitarianism
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)