OXFAM recently published a report looking at the 10 biggest food and beverage companies climate practices called “Standing on the Sidelines”. The data collected from these ten companies reveal a threatening cycle of emissions and environmental damage – that while agricultural yields and prices are drastically affected by volatile climate crises, they are at the same time contributing to greenhouse gas emissions that create the volatile climate. This report shows that our food systems are ultimately flawed if they don’t take future production sustainability seriously and responsibly. Creating markets and incentives for sustainable food production is more important than ever to ensure that our food production is part of the problem rather than the solution. Ethical businesses that put sustainable values into practice like the cooperative-owned import company Ético, and the hundreds of companies that purchase from farmer cooperatives that practice reforestation, carbon sequestration, and soil conservation are actively working to reduce that blue slice above that represents industrial agricultural production emissions from the biggest ten food and beverage companies in the world. Studies such as the Rodale Institute’s paper on Regenerative Agriculture show there are concrete actions that farmers can take to reverse the negative impact of food production. What else can we do to build and support the supply chains that value regenerative farming practices to make them the leading examples in the food and beverage industries?
This year Social Business Network and the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Coop are excited to announce two scholarships for high school graduates from Achuapa, Nicaragua to attend the National Institute for Higher Learning in Oriental Medicine (IESMO). The Japanese-funded University offers an accredited five-year program in acupuncture and shiatsu massage. For decades the farmers Cooperative has supported a small acupuncture clinic to provide alternative healthcare options to residents, and seven years ago offered the first scholarships to two young women from rural communities to study in the capital. One of them has returned to Achuapa as a licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine, where she has worked with the cooperative to expand the clinic and stock an herbal pharmacy. This year she also taught an introductory course in herbal medicine to a group of women in the Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women Initiative.
Along with the expansion of the clinic in Achuapa and the decision to offer another round of scholarships, awareness of holistic alternatives to mainstream medicine is gathering support in Nicaragua. As private reiki, massage, and acupuncture clinics spring up in every major city, the Ministry of Health trialled the inclusion of one natural medicine practitioner at public clinics in Managua. The new program has received strong positive feedback, with many residents choosing to use massage or acupuncture as a treatment on the public health system. The Ministry of Health recently announced a plan to open a position for a natural medicine practitioner at clinics in four other cities in Nicaragua, creating even more job opportunities for graduates of IESMO. The farmers coop in Achuapa realizes that this growing demand for alternative health care doesn’t only provide the opportunity for them to support young people on a career path in natural medicine, but also opens up a new local market for farmers to grow and process herbs for natural remedies.
The first recipient of this scholarship is Diosmara Rayos, 19. Diosmara is a bright young woman who has shown her dedication to studies for many years: without an available high-school near her rural community, she left home at 14 to attend the high-school in Achuapa, where she graduated at the top of her class and then studied English for two years at a community college in Esteli before hearing about the scholarship for Oriental Medicine. She comes from the small community of La Arinconada in Achuapa, a land cooperative formed during the Agricultural Reformation in the 1980’s. She became familiar with oriental medicine when her mother began treatment for a life-threatening illness at IESMO, where she was treated by Japanese doctors for over nine years. Diosmara says she was inspired by her mother’s experience to study acupuncture and massage. We are very proud of her decision and thrilled that at the end of her first semester she is among the top students in her class!
Women’s empowerment, gender equality, climate change, sustainable agriculture, and the future of our food systems are topics that deserve the increasing academic and media attention they are increasingly receiving. For academics, ethical business entrepreneurs and development professionals this means a constant growth of new resources to track impact and share political, economic, and educational strategies that bring together our common goals. A new collaboration between “Feed the Future,” the US Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative has announced a new index that will add to the resources publicly available.
The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) claims to track women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas, including relative empowerment to men in their households and communities:
- Time Use
The case studies for the base-line survey work for the index were conducted in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda, and the brochure claims that 19 countries will initially be included in the index. Although it is great to see resources directed toward understanding and improving the role of Women in Agriculture by these development organizations, this is by no means a strictly developing world issue. As organizations such as the Women’s Food and Agriculture Network in the US and the Women’s Food and Farming Union in the UK demonstrate, women have been and remain a vital force in the success of food production around the world, and deserve recognition and equal resources for their work. The increasing attention on the role of women in agriculture will hopefully expand to include a look at the empowerment struggles of women world-wide as stewards of the land and essential contributors to the future of our food.
Social Business Network and Ético bring actors together from every link of the supply chain to build mutual understanding and drive innovation and social change. An integral aspect of this work is good communication, often involving translation, deep levels of cultural understanding, and use of clear images. A high dose of creativity helps of course! Here is a beautiful example of how Social Business Network partner Thanksgiving Coffee uses imagery to educate their consumers about the many production stages in their coffee supply chain:
Make sure to check out the Spring 2014 issue of the Fair World Project’s publication For a Better World. It features an article by Social Business Network director Nick Hoskyns on the Roots of Revolution, and photos of the fantastic ladies of Wikilí, Achuapa and one of the first cupping labs build in the hands of coffee producers. You can also read the article online, spread the word – the revolution for a better world continues!
In January Social Business Network’s director Nick Hoskyns traveled to Uganda and Rwanda with the Thanksgiving Coffee Company to visit several coffee cooperatives.
Nick brought his expertise in cooperative development to help deepen the relationships between the coffee growers, cooperatives, and buyers and resolve some transparency issues. He reflects afterward on the relevancy of his years of experience in Latin America in other continent, showing the universalism of cooperative business model. “Uganda and Rwanda are beautiful and fascinating in their own ways with a lot of potential and really wonderful people.”
You can read more extensively about the trip on Thanksgiving Coffee’s blog.
In this guest blog Social Business Network/Ético intern Nora Burkey applies the frameworks outlined in a classic text used in many business and development schools to form an analysis of Ético’s business model:
In their newly revised book “Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership,” Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal maintain that people live their day-to-day lives as parts of many complex organizations, from schools to sports teams, from families to the working world, and more. Cooperativization in Nicaragua is a very clear example of how people commit to organizations, and likewise Ético: The Ethical Trading Company provides another example of organization in the workplace, as it is a company 100 percent owned by organizations who work together. As a very innovative company that at its core is promoting a fairer model for international trade, how can Ético show that managing so many organizations and interests is not only possible, it is better?
As the United States has ruled that corporations may be considered people, at least symbolically, perhaps it is not so strange to consider Bolman and Deal’s point that companies or organizations need ethics, or a soul, to survive. They need a sense of identity. Bolman and Deal write,
Many would scoff at the notion that organizations can have soul, but there is growing evidence that it is a critical element in long-run success. A dictionary definition of soul uses terms such as “animating force,” “immaterial essence,” and “spiritual nature.” For an organization, group, or family, soul can be viewed as a bedrock sense of identity, a deep confidence about who we are, what we care about, and what we deeply believe in….Growing evidence suggests that tapping a deeper level of human energy pays off (p. 396).
Quite possibly it is the very soul of Ético that makes it function so well. Ethics, and giving voice to more people within an organization is not only moral, it is equally if not more efficient than power concentrated in the hands of one leader or one owner.
In their book, Bolman and Deal present four frames with which to look at and understand organizations. Their purpose in doing so is to help organizations better manage themselves, as “modern mythology promises organizations will work splendidly if well managed,” (p. 8). Although, they say, there exists book after book on how best to manage a company or organization, very few people understand the importance of joining solutions together and understanding organizations through many different lenses. This is critical, as organizations are made up of individuals who all see differently. Viewing Ético and the cooperatives they work with in light of the four frames outlined by Bolman and Deal gives a better sense of their function, mission, and effectiveness.
The structural frame emphasizes goals and roles for a unified strategy that produces output. The workplace can be viewed as a factory, whereby “the ethical imperative of the factory is excellence: ensuring work is done as well and as efficiently as possible to ensure high-quality output” (p. 400). There are many examples of high-quality, unique and individual output in the work of the cooperatives and Ético. The Body Shop (TBS) buys quality sesame oil from one of Ético’s shareholding cooperatives, Juan Francisco Paz Silva (JFPS). When the price of sesame rose in 2008, The Body Shop and the JFPS Coop renegotiated what the new price was going to mean, and in doing so authored the unique “Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.” As an additional example, cooperative members have created their own unique products, from sesame candy to hibiscus wine, all of it at a level of quality that both The Body Shop and small farming communities can be proud of.
In the human resources frame, the organization can be viewed as a family. Bolman and Deal write,
Caring—one person’s compassion and concern for another—is both the purpose and the ethical glue that holds a family together….A caring family or community requires servant leaders who serve the best interests of its members and stakeholders. This implies a profound and challenging responsibility for leaders to understand the needs and concerns of community members so as to serve the best interests of individuals and the community as a whole. The gift of the servant leader is love” (p. 402).
Both authors acknowledge that it seems strange to talk about love in terms of organizations, but maintain that a successful leader of an organization is truly a servant, and serves out of self-less love for the family or organization. The very structure of Ético relies on servant leadership. Historically, The Body Shop had been buying from the JFPS Cooperative before Ético existed. In fact, Ético was born when L’oreal bought The Body Shop to preserve the direct relationship between the JFPS Cooperative and the renowned cosmetics line. What this demonstrates is that Ético was born out of service to the cooperative when the farmers needed a new type of leadership to be able to continue working with a large multinational company.
In the political frame, the workplace can be seen as a jungle where there is a constant battle and the routine seeking-out of self-interested gains. “In a world of competing interests and scarce resources, we are continually compelled to make trade-offs. We cannot give everyone everything they want, but we can honor a value of fairness in making decisions about who gets what” (p. 403). Bolman and Deal maintain that leaders can ensure this type of justice in the workplace by putting power in the hands of employees. “People with a voice in key decisions are far more likely to feel a sense of justice than those with no seat at the table” (p. 403). In the cooperative model, members gets one vote no matter how much land or money they have, and no matter how much they supply to the cooperative. By working with cooperatives, Ético ensures that it works with the most marginalized groups, the smallest of farmers, giving them as much as say as those better off, creating a sense of justice in being a cooperative member.
Finally, in the symbolic frame , “An organization, like a temple, can be seen as a sacred place, an expression of human aspirations, and monument to faith in human possibility. A temple is gathering place for a community of people with shared traditions, values, and beliefs” (p. 405). Above all, workers must feel that the organization is doing something worth doing, that there is some significance to their work. As the founder of Ético has been with the cooperatives from the beginning, instrumental in their creation, Ético is an outgrowth of the existing family. Together, that family has many traditions. For example, each year the cooperatives and Ético share traditions, such as putting on an annual music festival, and so far these traditions have not been broken. There is a very real sense of community, and based on conversations with cooperative members, there is the belief that the cooperatives, as well as Ético, are there to help. The cooperatives believe in what they do and therefore members believe in them too.
Nora Burkey is currently a candidate at SIT Graduate Institute for a Master’s in Sustainable Development. She became involved with Social Business Network in August 2013 after connecting with Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, a trading partner of ÉTICO. She currently lives in León, Nicaragua, and plans to continue working with Dean’s Beans and Social Business Network on development projects into 2014.