2013 Leadership award winner for Business Leadership

Shawn Askinosie

Askinosie Chocolate, Springfield, Mo.
Business Leadership

By building a renowned single-origin chocolate company with a core focus on community outreach, Shawn Askinosie created a new corporate model that has the potential to change the way people do business.

By Denise Shoukas


Working for 20 years as a defense attorney gave Shawn Askinosie decades to work on social justice issues. But when the time came for a career change, he knew his next move would involve two things: artisanal chocolate and serving the community. He launched his company in 2007, and today he trades directly with cacao farmers across four continents and shares the profits from the chocolate made with their beans. He also works with the farmers on post-harvest techniques and pays above the rate of fair trade prices.

Considered partners in the business, the farmers and the 13 fulltime employees at the factory in Springfield, Mo., take part in the company’s Open Book Management, wherein Askinosie shares the company’s financial information. Askinosie also teaches his partners financial literacy and explains how each person’s work affects the success of the business. In 2011 Askinosie was named “One of 14 Guys Who Are Saving the World” by O, The Oprah Magazine; in 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in public affairs from Missouri State University in recognition of his contributions.

Creating a new business model has had its challenges. “We’re swimming against the current of traditional business practices that think philanthropy must be separate from the core business,” he says. “But it’s more fulfilling this way, it’s more fun and the people that are in your organization find it more rewarding to focus on something bigger than profitability.”

Today, Askinosie Chocolate has 500 retail accounts with about 20 products—many of them award-winners—including single-origin chocolate bars, chocolate nibs, baking ingredients and bulk items.


Askinosie has continually looked for ways to educate people about his social passions. He started Chocolate University to inspire and educate local Springfield students about social entrepreneurship and the world. Recently, he brought a group of high-school students to Tenede, Tanzania, where they met with cacao farmers and worked on a self-sustaining school-lunch effort and assisting in implementing a video learning program. Chocolate University funded the first computer teacher, the first textbooks and a deep-water well for the village, and implemented the Empowered Girls club, aimed at increasing the retention and graduation rate of female students.

Going Forward

As a way to combat hunger, Askinosie Chocolates partners with parent-teacher associations in the countries where beans are sourced to create products to support local school-lunch programs. A great success is Tableya, a traditional Filipino hot chocolate beverage tablet created by the PTA members in the local cacao-growing community. The profit from the product provides 185,000 lunches to kids who would otherwise go hungry. “We’re expected to get a new shipment of Tableya soon that will allow us to move to phase two of that program, which is supporting locally sourced foods and local economies,” Askinosie adds.

Askinosie says the leadership award reminds the team that they are on the right track. “When a lot of things go wrong and equipment breaks or the countervailing pressures are strong, things like this fill our sails and remind us of why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Learn more about the Leadership Awards and the other winners, honorable mentions and nominees at specialtyfood.com/leadershipawards.