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Three Questions with IWCA Executive Director Blanca Castro

Blanca Castro

IWCA Executive Director Blanca Castro. Courtesy photo.

When International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) Executive Director began her job years ago at the Guatemalan coffee association Anacafé, she knew next to nothing about coffee. 

“I just pretended that I was a connoisseur when I asked for an espresso in fancy restaurants,” Castro recently told Daily Coffee News. “That was it.”

She now credits her many mentors in coffee with helping to shape her career, yet those mentors might also point to Castro’s fervent curiosity and eagerness to learn. Every time Castro was asked if she wanted to visit a farm, she jumped at the chance — so much so that a boss once questioned her enthusiasm. 

“I told him, ‘How am I going to promote something that I don’t know?’” she recalled. “The best thing I got from Anacafé was the immersion with coffee producers, because I am a true believer that they do miracles.” 

IWCA coffee

Castro exudes a similar passion when she talks about women in coffee. Her eyes light up and her speech quickens as she shares numerous stories of women who are breaking down barriers and fighting for equity in their own countries — like the women in Ethiopia who overcame institutional resistance to launch their own ICWA chapter.

During her tenure as the chapter relations manager from 2016 to 2023, Castro played an instrumental role in growing the IWCA, a nonprofit supporting the work of women throughout the coffee industry that last year celebrated its 20th anniversary. During Castro’s time as chapter manager, the organization grew from 15 national chapters to 33. 

Castro also helped the organization attend an international meeting of the International Labor Organization, supported efforts to learn more about microloans and how they may be beneficial to women working in coffee, and encouraged the group to promote gender equity efforts in consuming countries, as well as producing countries. Castro was appointed as executive director of IWCA last fall. 

“I was honored,” said Castro, “especially because I knew that it was a hard decision for them.” 

As director, one of her first acts was to appoint Orieta Pinto and Teopista Nakkungu as the regional coordinators for the group’s two largest geographic areas, Latin America and Africa, in order to support the growing organization. 

Since one of her primary goals is to connect women, it was fortuitous that the historic IWCA convention of 2023 took place shortly after her appointment — and in the genetic birthplace of coffee, no less. 

“Sitting in the convention of IWCA in Ethiopia, with all the ministers there and having all the women being recognized in their own country, under their own terms, it’s proof that what we are doing is the right thing,” Castro said. “Women are gaining space, and they’re gaining more recognition.”

Here’s more from DCN’s recent conversation with IWCA Executive Director Blanca Castro (answers have been shortened for clarity):

What about coffee excites you most?

The people — the connection that is created through coffee, the human side of coffee — that’s what excited me the most. Social and environmental changes can be done through coffee people. 

What about coffee troubles you most ?

People. We need to take better care of the people because without the people, we won’t have coffee in the future. 

There is a danger if we don’t take care of coffee. The danger is when people are not paying attention to the agricultural world. The earth is producing so much, but at the same time, it’s being abused. Going back to coffee, we are taking things for granted. People go to the market and the supermarket and think “Voilá, just like that, everything will always be there.” We need to be careful. 

What would you be doing if it weren’t for coffee?

Diving. I am a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) divemaster, and I would be diving all over the world. That was the business that I opened with my ex-husband. We opened a diving school.