Category Archives: Cooperatives

UK Nicaragua Embassy teams up with Social Business Network

The UK Embassador meets with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva board of directors, representatives of organized groups of rural women, and SBN in October 2013.

The UK Embassador meets with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva board of directors, representatives of organized groups of rural women, and SBN in October 2013.

Social Business Network is thrilled to have the support of the UK Nicaraguan Embassy, who recently awarded us a grant to deepen the impact of the Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women in agricultural cooperatives.  The grant will be used to pilot the next phase of development in the women’s empowerment initiative with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative, focussing on cultural and entrepreneurial education for women.  The initiative began three years ago and the ongoing funding, generated entirely through incorporating the unpaid work contribution of rural women into the costs of the cooperatively produced sesame oil and coffee, has largely been invested in savings incentives and technical assistance so that rural women have access and support to participate more fully in the local economy.  The support of the UK Embassy provides the cooperative with the means to push the initiative forward in its development, providing a core educational course in cooperativism, entrepreneurship and gender equality; additional skills-based workshops; marketing support; and the creation of a mural in the center of town recognizing the unpaid contribution that women make to community and family well-being.  This initiative has already become a model for other agricultural cooperatives, who adapt the principles to their own communities and contexts.  We are excited to see this initiative move forward and know that many other communities will also benefit from seeing the results of the additional support of the UK Embassy.  You can follow the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative’s achievements and other great initiatives in Nicaragua on the UK Embassy in Nicaragua’s facebook page.  Adelante!

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When failures matter more

This year Nicaragua hosted the 2013 Human Development and Capability Association’s annual conference.  The three day event was held in the University of Central America and the participants represented a diversity of organizations and universities from 44 different countries.  The final speaker of the conference was Joshua Cohen, an American philosopher and professor at Stamford University.  His talk focussed on his experiences bringing together students from CA and Nairobi to design mobile technology innovations that address health and human development.  His examples included several pilots that failed – point being, it’s important to fail and learn from your failures so you can apply that to your next pilot.  As long as your keep trying, you will have success.  

In the Q&A, Social Business Network’s representative at the conference asked Cohen why it is acceptable for individual startups or pilots to repeatedly fail, while other models of business development such as cooperatives are written off when they fail.  While unfortunately Cohen agreed but couldn’t offer any further insight, it is worth considering when analyzing supply chains.  Many critics of Fair Trade, for example, will cite a failed cooperative business as proof that the model doesn’t work.  But how often do you read that private corporations are an inadequate model for development because one goes bankrupt?  We are quick to forgive or blame individuals for embezzlement, tax evasion, or bad management, but when the same problems occur within a cooperative or social business setting the structure is often scrutinized rather than the individual.  

Founding director of Social Business Network, Nick Hoskyns, talks about the importance for there to be a reason for a cooperative.  Because of the inherent egalitarian structure, cooperatives are often seen as an appealing method for social development.  But problems occur when the formation of the cooperative is seen as the end rather than the means to the end – with the goal being creating a successful business.  Cooperatives that are formed for the sole reason of bringing people together to raise themselves up out of poverty rarely succeed. Cooperatives are successful for the same reasons that private businesses are – they produce a quality product for a growing market.  And they fail for the same reasons that private companies fail – market shifts that make the same product cheaper from another source, bad management, or poor leadership.  successful cooperatively owned brands such as Ocean Spray, Cabot Creamery, and the Co-operative in England are not exceptions to a rule, they are examples of good business ethics and skills applied to a model that builds leadership and democracy, and encourages equal wealth distribution.

 

Women from the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua

Press Release – Successfull Celebration of Women’s Empowerment Initiative in Nicaraguan Supply Chains

First-ever initiative to count the unpaid work of women in agricultural commodity production is successful in Nicaragua 

Ético: The Ethical Trading Company Ltd., British NGO Social Business Network, and Nicaraguan farmer cooperatives celebrate the ground-breaking innovation to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.

 Ético: The Ethical Trading Company and British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains. Traditionally, the price for commodity products include only direct input and labour costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work which is done mainly by women.  This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production and one that should be valued and remunerated. This initiative was presented on July 3, 2013 to a group of 100 invitees, including representatives from Fair Trade companies Twin, Equal Exchange, and Liberation Nuts, the Nicaraguan Embassy, UK Government officials and Tesco.  The event was organized by Ético and Social Business Network, with support from Hoare’s Bank, the Bulldog Trust, and Raleigh International.  The speakers explained the pilot stages and preliminary evaluation of the initiative with small-farmer sesame and coffee Cooperatives in Nicaragua.

The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua.  Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labour in sesame production.  Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labour (eg. cooking food for field labourers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labour input in sesame.  The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives.  The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labour organisation, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez.  Photo Credit: George Selwyn

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez. Photo Credit: George Selwyn

The event on July 3 demonstrated the transformative power of integrated supply chains.  It was held at 2 Temple Place and chaired by Albert Tucker, Director of Social Business Network.  The opening speech was given by Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor Elect of the City of London and Trustee of Raleigh International, whose inspiration to support the event came from a visit to Nicaragua in 2012 where she was present at a meeting of women participating in the initiative.  She spoke of the impact that listening to the women’s experiences working with the program of the cooperative, and concluded, “That’s why… I will also be a champion for the unpaid work of women.  I think it has huge applications across the developed world as well as in the developing world.”  A vivid account of the different types of unpaid work which women do in Nicaragua was given by Julia Perez, of Achuapa Nicaragua, and Liberty Pegg, a former volunteer with Raleigh International. Catherine Hoskyns explained the initial calculation of women’s unpaid labour in sesame production and its significance, and Felicity Butler gave her first findings about the impact of the initiative. She is researching this through her Ph.D. at Royal Holloway University, which funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Body Shop.   Rachel Lindsay, representative of Social Business Network in Nicaragua, gave an overview of how this concept has been piloted in coffee sales and the support it has generated from the entire supply chain.  Christina Archer, Senior Buyer for Community Fair Trade Ingredients at the Body Shop, gave a testimony, emphasising that “This initiative does also make really good business sense, and strengthens the sustainability of supply chains… Our brand is about building self-esteem and empowering women, be they the women who use our products or the women in our supply chains”.  The event was concluded by Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, who emphasised that when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change.   He emphasised that it was not easy to get this far but “with such good collaborators, many of whom are present, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade”.  He also credited the cooperative organisations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.

Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women

This summer Social Business Network and Ético will be celebrating our initiative to Recognize the Unpaid Work of Women in ethical supply chains.  Our pilot programme began in 2009 with the first-ever cost structure for an agricultural product that included economic remuneration for the traditional labor of women.

Much of the work women do in the production of agricultural commodities does not receive the recognition they deserve and is very often not remunerated.  These activities may be directly linked to production such as winnowing crops after they are harvested, safely storing crops at the home, and preparing food for field workers, or indirectly related to family production like fetching water, firewood and caring for children and elderly.  These are tasks that most rural women do regardless of whether their families grow crops for export, local sale, or autoconsumption.  Therefore, the value of the unpaid work of women has been calculated into the cost structure of our products and is included in the cost paid to the producer Cooperative.  The Cooperative uses these funds to empower women through making organizational, financial, and educational resources available to them.  Three years after the start of our pilot project, participation levels of women in the farmers cooperatives has risen sharply.  During a recent evaluation of the initiative with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua, both women and men involved in the implementation were asked what the programme has accomplished since it’s inception.  Here are some of their responses:

  • a better relationship between women in rural communities (una mejor relación entre mujeres en las communidades)
  • women are taken into account (las mujeres son tomadas en cuenta)
  • more active participation by women (mejor participación activa de las mujeres)
  • development of creative potential in rural families (desarrollo de de creatividad en la economía familiar)
  • independence and security of having savings in their name (independencia y la seguridad de tener ahorros en sus nombres)
  • more women are joining the cooperative as full members (más mujeres se están uniendo a la cooperativa como socios)
  • other organizations are beginning to recognize the work women do (las mujeres son mas reconocidas por su trabajo de otras organizaciones)
  • a positive example of development for youth and the next generation (buen ejemplo para las/los hijos y jovenes y herencia generacional)

Social Business Network has partnered with trade companies, volunteer organizations, farmers cooperatives and universities to make this initiative possible.  Through our work this initiative has sparked lengthy passionate discussions about the roll of women and how to effectively recognize their contributions to society.  The academics we work with even raise the question of whether the unpaid work that women do in consumer countries has been successfully recognized yet?  This innovation in ethical trading clearly strikes universal chords. While it has been enthusiastically supported by buyers in several continents, it continues to be an organic development that offers as much through it’s process as with it’s results.  We are looking forward to celebrating these achievements and the bright future this programme has as it expands to help more rural women reach their full potential in their communities.

A Smorgasbord of Hoopla

certified-stampWhether you are a farmer, manufacturer, exporter, retailer or consumer you have undoubtedly been faced at some point with a decision regarding the many different ethical or environmental certifications.  The growth of certification has followed the growth in centralized distribution and global trade of products.  As the sheer number and variety of products available to consumer multiply, companies and consumer advocacy groups are using an ever increasing number of certifications – and their requisite symbols – as tools to differentiate products on the shelf and, through their intended implementation, affect positive changes in the lives and environments of the producers.

Historically certifications have been driven by consumer groups searching for a product that meets certain standards of production.  Supply follows demand – so once there is a demand created, producers need to be found who will opt to comply with the standards, either for ethical or economic reasons.

Individual certifications exist within a global socio-economic context that is rapidly changing.  Movements that begin with a specific cause and have grown rapidly find it increasingly difficult – or costly – to maintain their initial standards.  As an intermediary between links in a potentially lengthy supply chain, certifications need to maintain minutely detailed rules and records.  Even defining what you wish to enforce or promote may take years!  As any ecologist will tell you, rapid growth is unstable, and as certain certifications gain popularity (and profitability) standards are adjusted, fees are hiked, and consequently new certifications arise as central groups of consumer or producer advocates fraction in their attempt to maintain their original values in a new socio-economic context.

supermarket-aisle-grocery-store-shopping-cart-Favim.com-475341Many of the current debates around certifications focus on the labels of finished products, and the dilemma of the well-intended shopper faced with a befuddling array of different symbols at the grocery store.  How can they know which product has the best impact on the world? But the increased number of certifications presents producers with even more difficult decisions – often costly and risky.  The cost – both in time and money – for different certifications needs to be weighed by each producer against the potential market.  Sometimes this means a double risk – first if you are certified whether you will make the associated costs back through the difference in sales, and once you have promised a certificated product to a client, whether your production will meet the certification rigors.  Depending on whether your market is international, national, or direct to your consumer your choices for certification vary.  Not certifying at all is sometimes the best economic option – which is why a rise or fall in certifications doesn’t accurately represent an actual rise or fall in certain farming or trading practices.

In response to changing standards in widely recognized certifications such as organic and fair trade, peer-based alternatives and producer driven initiatives such as the Certified Naturally Grown and the new Simbolo de los Pequeños Productores are arising. In a market historically driven by consumer advocates rather than producers themselves, these certifications may be conduits for  empowering change. However, the growing list of certifications that producers are faced with begs the question, are certifications still the best means for enacting social, environmental and economic change through trade?

Launching the Sucre

The Bolivarian Trade Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) recently decided to launch the SUCRE in Nicaragua within the next two months.  The SUCRE is a virtual currency named after Antonio José de Sucre, a Venezuelan independence leader who was a compatriot of Simón Bolivar.  The participating countries, which include Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica, created the SUCRE with the hope of stabilising regional economies and further distinguishing ALBA trade agreements from the dollar-based FTAA that it was created as an alternative to.  In Nicaragua, the currency will be used for bookkeeping and to allow the country to keep fewer dollars in reserve to back up international trade.  It was first used in isolated trade agreements between Ecuador and Venezuela in 2010.  The launching of the SUCRE in Nicaragua is similar to that of the European union adopting the Euro, although there is not yet a hard currency.  The SUCRE marks another initiative for the autonomy and fuller empowerment of traditional producer nations.

Coffee Rust and Industry Responsibility

It remains to be seen exactly what the impact that the coffee rust fungus will have on the Latin American coffee industry for the 2012-2013 harvest, but estimations have been made of damages up to 40% and millions of US dollars in losses.  Coffee rust is the fungus Hemileia vastatrix that infects the leaves of coffee plants, creating yellow spots on the surface of the leaves with rust-colored spores on the bottom.  The fungus causes leaves to drop prematurely, leaving bare branches.  Spores spread through water contact, infecting new leaves through splashing rain or dew dripping down the leaves and wind that carries the spores from one plantation to another.  Reproduction is accelerated by high temperatures, with the life-cycle of the fungus ranging from 10 to 30 days.

Latin America has been plagued with coffee rust in the past.  The fungus first appeared in Brazil in 1970, and quickly spread through South and Latin America.  Today it is established in nearly every coffee growing region of the world.  Although there is no one factor that the current epidemic in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua can be attributed to, excessive rains and poor cultural management certainly play a role.  The quality of crop management can drastically reduce the impact that coffee rust has on a harvest, through the annual employment of good agricultural practices such as renovation of older plants, pruning, proper shade management, and adequate fertilization.  Many studies – as well as our direct experience – have shown that there is a direct relationship between the social organization of farmers, the quality of technical advice they receive, and their management practices.  In order to support coffee farmers and maintain a healthy and sustainable coffee market in the future, the industry needs to address this epidemic in a holistic way, by recommending technical changes in agricultural practices as well as tailoring business practices to strengthen economic and social relationships within the production chain.

Addressing Climate Change – Epidemics such as this in every agricultural crop are exacerbated by extreme climate conditions, such as excessive rainfall, constant high temperatures, and storms with high velocity winds.  Buyers can support farmers who provide raw agricultural materials by supporting initiatives to reduce the environmental and economic impact of climate change, such as reforestation projects, and regional initiatives to increase biodiversity and food security.

Long Term Contracts – working together with organized producer groups to sign long-term contracts gives farmers the opportunity to look for additional long-term financing locally or internationally that can help them finance crop renovations and implement better management practices, reducing their vulnerability to both epidemics and economic changes over the long-term.  It also creates an incentive for purchasers to support farmers with short-term solutions for issues like the rust epidemic that may vary from year to year.

Play an Active Roll in Creating Feedback Loops – purchasers can play a central role in connecting isolated producer groups and facilitate information exchanges to spread the adoption of innovative responses to diseases and pests.  successful structural innovations such as different financing arrangements or changes in the base organization can also have a direct impact on management practices, and regional or even international exchanges between producer organizations can help younger or faltering organizations evaluate the best possible strategies to address their specific needs.  Facilitating information exchange within producer groups strengthens the industry as whole while offering the most potential benefit to the more isolated and disempowered producer groups.