The hiatus here over the past couple of weeks has been the result of spending time in Nicaragua, participating in the second Certificate Program for development of rural producers and their counterparts in commercialization and credit. With so much information and context to consider, reflection and writing are crowded out in favor of absorption. Seven days of presentations, applications, ideas, questions, analysis, laughter, sharing and learning (from one another) was consuming.
I’ve had ample time to sort out my various reflections about the week spent among the rural participants, and I’m sure that some of those images will show up here in the weeks to come. But as I recall the week in its entirety, there is one observation that rises to the top of mind above the others. It is the matter of commitment.
Imagine for a moment what it would require of you to leave your home and your work for six full days (eight if you count travel to and from the conference site) to attend an educational workshop. To further complicate the matter, the work that you will leave behind will not be performed by anyone else. It is time-sensitive work, agriculture, which will consider no excuse if it is not done on time. It is your only livelihood.
The conference site itself is a long way from your home, a location to which you will likely travel for hours by crowded bus. Once at the site, you will be housed in dormitory-style, rustic quarters, but the outdoor toilets are really not more than twenty-five yards away. Access to sinks and showers is shared, so the earliest risers have the best chance at access.
These are the accommodations that will be yours for an entire week as you learn materials that are quite foreign to your experience; the facilitators will be requiring you to get out of your “comfort zone” every day. Most of the instructors do not speak your language, so you will be receiving their information through translation. Furthermore, the instructors are not even from your own country, so the cultural, social and educational norms they bring are not your own. They have brought books with them, which, though translated into your language, you may or may not be able to read, given your previous educational experiences. You know few of the other participants, perhaps just the one other person from your own business.
This, then, is the context of the Certificate Program held from September 5-10 at the foot of Peñas Blancas, home of the GARBO Cooperative. Yet despite the need to come to terms with inconveniences which might keep most of us away, forty-five producers, technicians and funders attended this second gathering of organizational innovation. Their mere presence was an astonishing testament to a desire to learn and implement new ideas in a world that, at times, is changing as quickly in rural Nicaragua as anywhere else in the world. No one was present because they had to be; they participated in the 9-hour days of presentations and exercises because they had committed themselves to learning something new, to improving upon what they have practiced for generations, to becoming someone different.
Perhaps a part of that commitment stemmed from the presence of several unusual “teachers.” My own face and voice has become familiar to at least some in the audience, but I was accompanied by two new faces, friends/colleagues from the U.S. who brought a unique and valuable bundle of organizational development experiences with them. Brian Kopas is a former teammate from Foldcraft Co., the leader in our efforts for implementing Lean Manufacturing there, a continuous-improvement-by-method. one of the main hallmarks of that company’s success in recent decades. Alex Moss is President of Praxis Consulting Group, one of the truly personal and high-values consulting firms in the U.S., and an outstanding teacher of open-book management cultures and practices.
Imagine for a moment what it would require of you to donate an entire week of your life to helping complete strangers grapple with the difficulties of organizational strengthening. You will need to seek time off from your “real work” to make the journey. To further complicate matters, you will receive no monetary compensation for your time and there will be no prospects of financial gain in the future from this endeavor. You will be required to travel for a day-and-half to reach the conference site. You will be addressing an audience which does not speak your language. Your accommodations will be modest but comfortable, as long as you don’t drink the water.
There is but one motivation to compel people like Brian and Alex, as well as the participants in the Program, and that is the notion of commitment. The attendees were as committed to learning as any group I have encountered in the U.S. in over 45 years. The commitment on the part of Brian and Alex, to bring their expertise to a part of the world where it is sorely needed, is a statement of faith in stewardship and sharing, an unselfish giving that flies in the face of today’s headlines of self-centeredness.
There was a lot more going on in the Certificate Program that week; I look forward to sharing it with you. But for me, the overriding truth of the week emerged from the strength of its commitments….