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Coffee Equity Design Challenge



The Coffee Equity Design Challenge brings together an inclusive cohort of higher education students, faculty, staff, and coffee sector mentors in a collaborative equity-centered design and systems thinking process. Together, participants co-create meaningful ideas for how we may resolve a specific equity challenge for actors in the global coffee supply chain. The program is designed and facilitated by the Coffee Equity Lab at the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt University’s on-campus center for innovation, and with the generous, collaborative support of the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity (CCRE).

A sincere thank you to our early sponsors! 

Access to information and education is one of the greatest barriers to building a more equitable coffee sector for all actors in the coffee supply chain. As such, the inaugural Coffee Equity Design Challenge focuses on the following question:

How might we create new, or modify current, pathways for reliable information access, education, and/or professional development experiences in the coffee sector that circumvent current barriers to entry including, but not limited to, cost of participation, geographic location, language, gender, sexuality, and race, among others?

How did we arrive at this question? We interviewed a multitude of coffee sector professionals about their perspectives on equity challenges experienced by diverse coffee actors. We then generated a number of hypothetical challenge statements, requested feedback on preliminary drafts, and then arrived at the topic for this year’s program.


  • Engage students in learning about the complex issues shaping our world through the lens of coffee
  • Equip a new wave of equity-centered designers and systems thinkers with the tools needed to understand complex social-ecological problems and help resolve inequities both in the coffee sector and beyond
  • Foster a culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing in the coffee sector that prioritizes working collectively to resolve our greatest challenges
  • Co-create meaningful ideas for how we may better work together as a sector to resolve the equity challenge described above
  • Broaden our understanding of what we define as an “innovation” to include things like:
    • Accessible publications and media that broaden our understanding of the root causes and effects of complex problems
    • Different practices for building relationships and partnerships that synchronize meaningful action
    • Reimagined practices for achieving greater inclusion, collaboration and power sharing
    • Accessible, relevant high- and low-tech tools and technologies for diverse individuals and communities
    • Alternative models and practices for assessing and communicating our progress and adapting our practice
    • Better practices of knowledge sharing that support more coordinated resolutions to complex problems
    • And, generally speaking: programs, services, products, publications, purpose-driven business ventures, partnerships, or other interventions that help positively transform routines, resource access, mental models, power inequities, and/or values that hold the challenge in place.


The Coffee Equity Design Challenge is organized into two phases that coincide with the academic year.

Phase 1: Introducing the Design Challenge & Student Recruitment (Fall Semester)

  • Interested students participate in a Fall recruitment process. This includes attendance at public and private lectures, experiences, and workshops. Interested students may learn how to participate on the Student Landing Page.
  • Interested students and the broader public are invited to a public “Coffee Equity” lecture series that focuses on the challenge topic.
  • Students who wish to participate in the Spring design process submit an application. Learn how to apply here.
  • A coffee sector mentor network prepares to collaborate with student participants in the Spring design process.

Phase 2: 12-week Coffee Equity Design Challenge (Spring Semester)

  • Accepted students and coffee sector mentors participate in a 12-week, collaborative design process built around equity-centered design and systems thinking.
  • Participants co-create meaningful ideas for how we may resolve the equity challenge described above.
  • Teams and coffee sector mentors participate in collaborative feedback, collective action, and co-creation workshops to refine their ideas.
  • Student teams and mentors present their resolutions at a public, culminating event, the Coffee Equity Design Challenge Grand Symposium.
  • The Coffee Equity Lab, alongside student participants and mentors, then identify meaningful opportunities to carry forward proposed ideas



  • Visit the Student Landing Page to learn how to register to participate in the Fall recruitment process and apply for the Spring cohort.
  • Attend recruitment events scheduled throughout September, October and November. Learn more here.
  • Complete the Coffee Equity Design Challenge application, due in November. Application coming soon. Learn more here.
  • Eligibility Requirements: 
    • In the 2021-22 academic year, students must be currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate students at Vanderbilt University. In subsequent years, we will expand participation to students enrolled at other universities, both domestic and international.


  • Attend the virtual Equity in Coffee Speaker Series in Fall 2021. Registration now open here
  • Consider joining our mentor network if you have knowledge or experience to share about this year’s challenge. Interested? Fill out our CEDC Mentor Interest Survey here.
  • Attend the Grand Symposium in April 2022 and join the conversation. More details coming Spring 2021.
  • Become a sponsor. See our Sponsorship Levels here.
  • Perks for Getting Involved:
    • Advance your understanding of timely equity challenges experienced by people in the coffee industry
    • Build cross-sector relationships and your coffee network
    • Sharpen professional mentorship, leadership, and collaboration skills
    • Learn about equity-centered design and systems thinking through the Wond’ry Social Innovation Practice’s curricula
    • Be a part of helping build a more equitable coffee sector for all coffee actors
    • Raise your visibility as a coffee professional and/or brand who’s concerned about equity and justice in coffee


Does your company want to be a part of the movement to build a more equitable coffee sector for all coffee people? We invite you to consider becoming a sponsor of the Coffee Equity Design Challenge. We offer four sponsorship tiers, each with various perks, which our outlined in our sponsorship packet here. Interested in sponsorship but don’t see an option that fits? We’re open to a conversation! Please contact Hanes Motsinger, Co-Founder of the Coffee Equity Lab and Coffee Equity Design Challenge at