By Adeney Zo
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
“I was a victim, I became a survivor, and now I’m an advocate for women, minorities, and social justice,” Iczel Santizo, a 2010 Master of Public Policy alumna, summarizes about her life’s experiences.
Santizo is the co-founder of Kishé Foods LLC., a US-based social enterprise created with the goal of gaining support for fair trade coffee as well as self-sufficiency for small-scale farmers and, in particular, women in the industry. Many factors inspired Santizo to start this company, starting from her personal experience with poverty as a child.
Santizo was born in Guatemala and grew up in a world of hardship, violence and turmoil during the country’s civil war.
“There was domestic violence in my home. There was also violence outside of my home, as Guatemala suffered a 36-year civil war that began in 1960, and ended in 1996. My father was a university professor, which led to death threats against my dad, my mom, and the children,” Santizo details.
Santizo’s family briefly moved to the United States to escape the war and allow her father to earn his Master’s degree, but they eventually returned following the end of the war. Santizo decided at this point to pursue a career in the medical field and went into medical school.
“After my first year of school, I interned for one month at a government-run regional hospital in Huehuetenango, where I saw many people die due to preventable diseases and poverty,” she said.
This experience would later inspire her to direct her studies toward combatting poverty in Latin America.
Santizo left medical school in 1996 and moved to the United States for work purposes but eventually decided to resume her studies, earning first her BA and then her Masters in Public Policy at UCLA. For her Applied Policy Project, Santizo and her partner, Monica Gudiño, chose to focus on Guatemala and the topic of violence against women. Santizo and Gudiño traveled back and forth between Guatemala and the U.S., reaching out to family members and various contacts in order to gather information about this issue.
“One of the most important things I learned while doing this research is that if you empower women economically, the violence decreases for women, and their children,” Santizo explains.
Following her graduation, Santizo began working for Chrysalis, a non-profit organization focused on “Changing Lives through Jobs.” She describes Chrysalis as her “first direct experience with social enterprise.” However, health issues forced Santizo to quit her job in 2012 while simultaneously, and unexpectedly, opening the gateway for Santizo to found Kishé Foods.
“While I was home recovering, [my brother-in-law] Juan Francisco asked me if I could support their project — Kishé,” she said. “They’d been planning it in Guatemala. However, they needed someone to help them execute it in the U.S.”
Though Santizo initially had limited knowledge about the coffee industry and factors of production, she agreed to support her brother-in-law in this grassroots project.
The coffee industry is one of the largest in the agricultural sector, and while the demand for coffee is high, farmers have little control over price and revenue from their coffee beans. Santizo aims to change this by equipping small-scale farmers with the resources and medium by which they can earn their fair share of income.
“Kishé is a US based, producer owned social enterprise,” Santizo said. “Kishé sells organic, fair trade Guatemalan specialty coffee from 3,800 small producers. Our coffee is locally roasted in North Hollywood.”
In addition to helping small-scale farmers, Santizo continues to focus her goals on empowering women to gain equal footing in the coffee industry.
“We [Kishé Foods] offer single origin, and woman-grown coffee, as a third of our producers are women,” she explains.
Following the recent launch of Kishé Foods, Santizo has been busy gathering support and publicity for the company. However, she is still actively involved with the Luskin School and attends as many Schoolwide events and activities. Santizo also is an annual Luskin donor, and her 2011 monetary gift made it possible for a new social justice prize for best MPP Applied Policy Project concerning race/gender to be formed. Previously an anonymous gift, this is the first year her name will be associated with the prize.
“I’m very excited that the Luskin School is moving into a more global perspective, as I believe that many current issues are global in nature,” she said. “I am happy with the direction things are going and look forward to seeing the school grow.”
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