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Alumni Excellence Awards: Terp Legacy Award Winner Margaret Moose Swallow '75

Alumni Excellence Awards: Terp Legacy Award Winner Margaret Moose Swallow '75

Margaret Moose Swallow '75

By Andrew Faught

Every year, people around the globe drink 400 billion cups of coffee.

Thanks to Margaret Moose Swallow ’75, millions of women who help drive the industry—nearly all of them in developing countries—are finally reaping the rewards of a $495.5 billion industry that, as an exported commodity, is second to oil.

“Women haven’t had a voice,” says Swallow, a former associate director of food and beverage for the consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble. “They’ve been invisible. The good news is that’s changed over the last 20-plus years.”

Swallow spent 23 years at P&G, starting in 1979 as a brand assistant for Folgers coffee, a job that focused on marketing. Two days after her 2002 retirement, she launched a second career, becoming executive director of the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI).

The nonprofit helps coffee farmers in developing countries—30% of whom are women—produce higher-quality beans. That, in turn, has translated into higher prices and more economic prosperity.

Growing up with eight brothers and sisters, Swallow looks at life from a “big family” perspective. “For me, everyone in the coffee industry are my sisters and brothers,” Swallow says.

She also co-founded the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), securing funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development to create the Women in Coffee Leadership Program for women in Guatemala, Nicaragua Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.

Women account for 70% of the production workforce, according to the International Coffee Organization. There are now 33 IWCA chapters around the world that teach women administrative, farming and agricultural skills.

Swallow didn’t set out to help remake the global coffee industry. When she enrolled at Maryland, she had no clear path. She decided to major in sociology.

“I didn’t go to college saying, ‘I’m going to be a doctor, lawyer or a research scientist,’” she recalls. “I didn’t have a clue, but I figured it would be something involving other people, and that’s what sociology is.”

One of her Maryland professors saw something more, and suggested that Swallow consider applying to Harvard Business School. Her response was incredulous: “I said, ‘Is that before or after I go to the moon?’ That was how real it was to me.” She did apply and was accepted, obtaining her MBA in 1979.

Swallow, of Southgate, Ky., says it was her time at Maryland that first gave her a window on the world.

“What I love about the University of Maryland is that it’s a large organization, and it’s incredibly diverse,” she says. “It was a microcosm, with lots of different people, a lot of different experiences and a lot of different skin tones.”

Although Swallow retired from CQI in 2006, she continues to advocate for women across the coffee supply chain. She also helped to establish the Alternative Break Program at UMD, allowing students to spend school breaks helping out at the Los Andes Coffee Farm in Guatemala.

Some of her recent work includes volunteering for the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity (CCRE), a nonprofit established after the 2020 death of George Floyd. CCRE seeks to ensure a “racially diverse and equitable coffee industry.”

For Swallow, who takes her coffee with a splash of cream, the drink is more than just a hot morning comfort: “Coffee connects us, coffee brings us together.”


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