Alumna Lee Wallace Aims to Create a Better World, One Cup of Coffee at a Time
“It takes healthy public institutions and business and nonprofit sectors to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.”
That is what Lee Wallace (MPP ’05) said she learned while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs—and what she continues to use as her guide today as head of Peace Coffee. Her company works with remote coffee farmers in 11 countries to support cooperatives that pay industry-leading prices to producers.
“I need to provide consumers with a delicious product and growers with a fair wage,” said Wallace. “It’s underscored by what I learned at Humphrey.”
Wallace said she long has been interested in the intersection of money and mission. “That’s why I got a master's degree in public policy, not business,” she said. “I’m agnostic about business structure, but I’m passionate about using entrepreneurial skills to fuel your mission.”
Wallace said the opportunities at the Humphrey School advanced her ability to work in important ways.
“I came out of the MPP program having done so many different things over just two years. My toolbox was so much bigger," she said. "I learned to wrestle with the big questions about how we create a better future and how we leverage the resources we have to improve our world.”
After graduating, Wallace was asked to serve as interim CEO for Peace Coffee. “I fell in love and the rest is history,” she said.
Peace Coffee is sold widely, in food coops, grocery stores, and three retail locations. In 2017, Peace Coffee became a Certified B, public-benefit corporation to solidify its commitment to its growers and the environment. Public-benefit corporations pay taxes and can make a profit, but owners commit to doing social good and shareholders understand that the company may at times value social principles over profits.
Wallace purchased Peace Coffee from the Institute on Agriculture and Trade Policy in 2018. She said sales are growing more than 10 percent annually despite a crowded coffee market. The company expects revenues to top $8 million in 2018. She attributes this success to a holistic understanding of mission and money.
Wallace is also a faithful donor to the Humphrey School. “We all have a responsibility to support the next generation of leaders in Minnesota,” she said. “We need to pay it forward.”