After years as a criminal defense attorney, Shawn Askinosie decided to make a major life change—sparked by a love of chocolate. His venture, a “bean-to-bar” artisanal factory in Springfield, Mo., goes beyond making award-winning chocolate. Askinosie has infused every facet of his business with this quest: “How can I make an impact for good?”
He begins by making the best chocolate, using the best cocoa beans—directly sourced. Shawn travels worldwide to meet and partner with the growers with whom he wants to do business. He pays above fair-trade prices and profit shares with growers. An outgrowth of these relationships, he has initiated sustainable nutritious food programs in two communities.
In Malagos, The Philippines, the local PTA makes Tableya, an indigenous roasted cocoa bean beverage milled into tablets. They ship it, along with the cocoa bean order (no extra shipping cost) to Askinosie, who, in turn, sells the product to his customers and gives 100 percent of the proceeds to fund meals for the students in Malagos. To date, this has made 185,000 meals possible—in a self-sustaining way.
Askinosie’s outreach is global and local. His factory is in a yet-to-be revitalized district, near two shelters. “We wanted to be in the mix,” he says. Since 2007, he has hired women of Victory House, a jobs and alcohol and drug recovery program, to tie strings (taken from the shipped cocoa bean bags) onto the chocolate bar packages. He has opened his doors to the children staying at the Missouri Hotel, a program for homeless families, to tour the factory and see social entrepreneurship in action. He built a computer lab to give them a place to study.
These efforts led to his launch of Chocolate University with Drury University. Designed to inspire the students about business and a world beyond Springfield, the program works with three Springfield schools.
At Pipkin Middle School, Askinosie developed a cross-cultural exchange with a school in the Philippines. Via the Internet, students from both countries learn from and about each other.
Central High School students take an intensive training in the chocolate business—tasting chocolates and evaluating beans— and then travel to the countries of origin.
Thirteen students accompanied Askinosie and staff to Tenende, Tanzania, in the summer of 2012, where they met the farmers and families. They worked side-by-side in the community, digging a well, installing computers and bagging up rice. They talked with the young people, their peers, about their lives and aspirations.
“You don’t have to be a big company to make an impact, “ Askinosie says. “But, to be a social entrepreneur, that ideal must be incorporated into the whole fiber of the business.”
Understanding, goodwill and good works: Shawn Askinosie sees that they go hand-in-hand with the making of great chocolate.
Story by Nancy Vieanneau, a food writer in Nashville, Tenn. Recipe courtesy of Askinosie Chocolate.