It is a morning ritual for thousands of Americans, a gateway into the day, the warm cup over which they connect with others. But for drinkers of Pura Vida, that cup of coffee is also a ray of hope for at-risk children in the impoverished and struggling neighborhoods of San Jose, Costa Rica, and across the United States.
While some socially responsible businesses are able to boast a charity- or justice-oriented mission that grows out of their established consumer base, Pura Vida is an example of a for-profit business that was developed explicitly to support a religious and social mission.
In Spanish, "Pura Vida" has a double meaning. In street parlance, it means "cool," "awesome," or "great." But it also translates as "pure life" in English. Founders John Sage and Chris Dearnley seek to embody both meanings in the company's products, marketing, and social justice activities.
Pura Vida was founded in 1997 by Sage and Dearnley, who had met 10 years earlier when they both joined the Graduate School Christian Fellowship at Harvard Business School. After graduation, the two went their separate ways—Sage to work for Microsoft and into the high-tech start-up world and Dearnley first into business consulting and then, in 1995 after becoming an ordained minister, to Costa Rica, where he started a Vineyard church.
But the business school friends stayed in close contact, each looking forward to their annual get-togethers. In July 1997, relaxing by the pool after a round of golf in San Diego, Dearnley found himself telling Sage about the work he was doing in San Jose with at-risk youth, providing meals for the hungry and reaching out to struggling children. The work was rewarding but the group was financially strapped, Dearnley reported.