As the owner and CEO of Peace Coffee, Humphrey School alumna Lee Wallace (MPP '05) aims to make the world a better place, one cup of coffee at a time.
Her efforts to promote fair trade practices while growing a successful business have earned her the University of Minnesota's Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest award the University presents to alumni.
The Humphrey School was planning to recognize Wallace during its annual Public Leadership Awards dinner this evening (April 14), but the event has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. We look forward to celebrating her achievements in the near future.
The award recognizes alumni who have attained distinction in their field, profession, and/or public or volunteer service.
Wallace is an internationally recognized trailblazer in organic, ethically sourced, sustainable coffee. Peace Coffee, based in Minneapolis, works with remote coffee farmers in 11 countries to support cooperatives that pay industry-leading prices to producers. Peace Coffee is sold widely in area food coops, grocery stores, and four retail locations.
Dean Laura Bloomberg calls Wallace a “remarkable pioneer” in fair trade, sustainable organic farming; employee-friendly workplaces; and community involvement.
“At the Humphrey School, we promote global perspectives, stakeholder engagement, and the notion of ‘leading together.’ Lee models these ideals, aligning business goals with social and environmental good in concert with customers, coffee farmers, employees, and other key partners,” Bloomberg says. “Lee’s achievements – locally, nationally, and internationally – are beyond outstanding.”
At the Humphrey School, Wallace says, she learned that “it takes healthy public institutions and business and nonprofit sectors to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.”
She continues to use that lesson today to guide her company. “I need to provide consumers with a delicious product and growers with a fair wage,” says Wallace. “It’s underscored by what I learned at the Humphrey School.”
Wallace says she long has been interested in the intersection of money and mission. “That’s why I got an MPP and not an MBA,” she says. “I’m agnostic about business structure, but I’m passionate about using entrepreneurial skills to fuel your mission.”
Wallace says the opportunities at the Humphrey School advanced her ability to work in important ways.
“I came out of the Master of Public Policy program having done so many different things over just two years. My toolbox was so much bigger,” she says. “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.”
Wallace earned her bachelor’s degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, and worked for several years in community organizing and development before attending the Humphrey School.
After earning her master’s degree, Wallace was asked to serve as interim CEO for Peace Coffee. “I fell in love and the rest is history,” she says.
In 2017, Peace Coffee became a certified B Corp, recognized as a business that balances purpose and profit. B Corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.
Wallace purchased Peace Coffee from the Institute on Agriculture and Trade Policy in 2018. She has steered the $7 million company through years of double-digit sales growth, despite a crowded coffee market. Wallace 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.”