Eat Chocolate, End Poverty: Modern Pioneer Tim McCollum’s Sweet Change

Levi Strauss & Co.
November 19, 2014

This is part of an ongoing series designed to feature people who are changing the world in their Levi’s®. Our Modern Day Pioneers are impacting everything from culture to social issues to the environment, and they’re challenging the status quo in a unique way. We hope these stories will inspire and empower you to live your life to its fullest in Levi’s. Have someone we should consider? Email us! Follow the Modern Day Pioneers series here.

Let’s be honest. All one really needs to do is taste chocolate to know that it must be a force for good. But Modern Pioneer Tim McCollum is working to make sure chocolate benefits far more than just our taste buds. The social entrepreneur is redefining chocolate’s manufacturing process to help alleviate world poverty.

After working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar, Tim was inspired to take action towards alleviating the poverty that he had witnessed first-hand while in the country. He and his future business partner, Brett Beach, spent a combined eight years on the island, developing a love for the nation and a commitment to someday finding a way to help the struggling population.

After returning to the U.S., McCollum never stopped thinking about how he could make the mission come to life. It wasn’t until six years later that a solution became clear to him. While cocoa was a major export for the island, very little chocolate is actually manufactured there. And Madagascar’s situation is endemic of a problem widespread across the entire continent. While 70% of the words cocoa is grown in Africa, it produces less than 1% of the world’s chocolate.

Together, McCollum and Beach formed Madécasse, a “bean-to-bar” chocolate manufacturer, specializing in unique flavors—Sea Salt & Nibs is a perennial favorite—all produced from start to finish in Madagascar. Madécasse partners with 200 cocoa farmers in the northern region of Madagascar and a factory in Antananarivo to help locals get a larger return on their export, empowering them with skills, training and higher wages. According to the company’s website, this approach has more than four times the impact of typical fair trade chocolate company.

Madécasse’s environmental achievements are also significant. The company protects 70,000 fragile cocoa trees through sustainable cocoa farming, and conserves the environment’s natural species by doing so. And to keep your sweet tooth happy, there’s a flavor bonus as well. The chocolate grown in Madagascar is some of the last genetically pure crop in the world, and most consumers can immediately taste the difference.

The company’s great work has not gone unnoticed. Madécasse was named a 2012 Leader of Global Change by the United Nations and Foundation for Social Change, and one of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company Magazine.

Unzipped asked Modern Pioneer McCollum for a few musings on his legacy and his Levi’s®.

What was your first Levi’s memory? 

I’m not sure if this counts, but my first memory was actually reading about founder Levi Strauss when I was in fifth grade.

What are you likely to be doing in your Levi’s?

Living! I wear my Levi’s seven days a week. The only time I don’t wear Levi’s is when I am exercising at the gym or sleeping. I have exercise pants and pajamas for those activities.

What projects are you currently working on?

Currently, we are redefining the American chocolate palette.

How did you get to where you are today?

I attribute 50% of it to hard work and good decision-making. And I attribute the other 50% of it to blind, dumb luck.

What legacy do you hope to leave in the world?

It’s like when you go camping—in your Levi’s jeans of course. There’s this unspoken code when you’re packing up camp: The next day, you should leave the campsite looking a little nicer than when you got there.