2018 Berkeley Haas commencement speakers: Fair Trade & Back to the Roots

Fair Trade Certified CEO Paul Rice, MBA 96, will be the speaker at the 2018 full-time and evening & weekend MBA commencement, while alumni entrepreneurs Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, BS 09, co-founders of Back to the Roots, will speak at undergraduate commencement.

The full-time and evening & weekend MBA commencement will be held at 2pm Friday, May 18, at the Greek Theatre.

The undergraduate ceremony will take place at 9am Monday, May 14, also at the Greek Theatre.

Paul Rice, MBA 96

Paul Rice, CEO of FairTrade
Paul Rice, CEO of FairTrade

Rice is a pioneer in the Fair Trade certification movement, a third-party process that sets standards for the way coffee is produced. He founded Nicaragua’s first Fair Trade cooperative for 3,000 organic coffee farmers, aiming to create fair prices and decent working and living conditions for workers.

After earning his MBA, Rice launched Fair Trade Certified in an Oakland warehouse and brought the FairTrade certification into the mainstream. Since then, he has expanded the certification to other product categories.

Rice earned the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship and was named one of the world’s top 40 Social Entrepreneurs by the Klaus Schwab Foundation. He is a Berkeley-Haas Executive Fellow.

“Paul is the consummate Berkeley Leader,” said Dean Rich Lyons. “He has made it his career to better the lives of farming families around the world, and he continues to push the boundaries of Fair Trade into new product categories. I’m proud to call him one of our own.”

Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, BS 09

Back to the Roots co-founders

Arora (left) and Velez (right) came up with the idea for urban mushroom farming in one of their Haas courses. They tested growing oyster mushrooms in coffee grounds, sourced from local coffee shops, and sold the mushrooms to local stores and restaurants. Oakland-based Back to the Roots quickly expanded to selling mushroom farm kits and home herb gardens at retailers from Costco to Whole Foods. Today, the company also provides low-sugar, organic breakfast cereals to public schools in New York and six other cities.

“Nike and Alex exemplify our Defining Leadership Principles in all their work, making them genuine Berkeley Leaders,” Lyons said. “They are also a great team. So, in true Berkeley Haas fashion, we questioned the status quo and invited both to share their inspiring story together at commencement.”