Closing in on nearly 50 years of collaborative work for the common good, Jacinto has served as the coop’s manager on seven different occasions, and still works to teach and advise it younger members. He is gifted with storytelling ability, his voice carrying the gravitas of experience and age, his eyes reflecting the sparkle of youth and exuberance. Among the stories that he shared with the members of our dialogue was one about Father Hector Gallego, and the unlikely beginnings of the Esperanza Cooperative.
“One day in 1968, I was walking along and saw a stranger riding a mule. He reached out his hand to greet me: ‘I’m Santa Fe’s priest,’ he told me. ‘I don’t believe you, priests only greet rich people,’ I answered him. He said: ‘There’s always a first time…. I want to invite you to a meeting this Thursday.’ ‘I don’t have time for meetings,’ I said, lowering my head. ‘No? Those are the very people I’m looking for, people who don’t have time,’ he told me. And he left me bowled over. I went to the meeting. I saw him greeting children and that impressed me. We sat down in a circle.What I saw and heard that day, made me think differently. That day I changed forever.”
“We woke up to the injustice of the wages, the fraud that the stores pulled off with the weighing of the products and their prices. So we decided to form a cooperative. But how could we start a cooperative if we did not think we had any resources? So Fr. Hector threw out a 5 cent coin in the middle of where we were seated, and asked, ‘How many pieces of candy can we buy with that coin?’ ‘Five!’ we responded. Others present looked in their pockets for a 5 cent coin. And others as well. The priest held up 10 coins and said that we had enough for 50 pieces of candy and sent a young boy off to buy them. It was 12 noon, we were all hungry. That same boy passed out the candy to the 50 who were present. The priest asked us again, ‘what does it taste like?’ Someone shouted, ‘it tastes like heaven!’ The priest concluded, ‘that is how cooperativism is done.’ The next week a group from Pantanal bought 1 quintal of salt to sell, and in El Carmen each person began to save 10 cents a week. That is how the hope of the peasants got started, our cooperative.”
Father Hector eventually was “disappeared,” never seen again nor his body ever recovered. I found it interesting that Jacinto, in telling this story, never added the fact that the priest had been a guest at Jacinto’s home at the moment of the abduction. I suspect that omitting that detail keeps the focus on the part of the story that Jacinto wishes to emphasize: the priest was taken in the dark of night, but his lessons about humility, cooperativism and stewardship continue on as lights in each day. In Jacinto’s thinking, the story is all about the man and his message, and not the details of a midnight atrocity.
Jacinto says that his job is to keep telling the tale and teaching the cooperative youth the profound lessons of the humble priest, that cooperatives can be life-saving structures when they are founded upon and operated for the common good. Even as an elder of the cooperative, his appetite to represent the lessons of Father Hector pushed him to board a plane in Panama City, fly through the questionable skies of Hurricane Irma, visit the foreign land of the U.S. for the first time, navigate a language barrier and offer himself as a testimony to successful cooperativism.
I never met Father Hector Gallego. I never even read much about him before the last several weeks. But I feel as though I somehow know exactly what kind of a man he was….
I spent the better part of last week with colleagues and guests at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis. The annual gathering features recent Nobel Peace Prize laureates and many others whose passions are about peace-making. In this year’s edition, Winds of Peace was invited to host a dialogue about the potential impact of cooperatives on post-conflict societies. In the session, our colleague Rene Mendoza offered his research conclusions about what constitutes strong cooperatives, how all of the “actors” in the cooperative chain sometimes unknowingly contribute to a lack of fairness to the small producer, and how Fair Trade isn’t always fair.
Our session featured representatives from all quarters of the coffee cooperative chain: producers, buyers, roasters, funders, cooperative associations, consultants and even academics. They came from Europe, Central America, South America, Canada and the U.S. We sought as many perspectives as we could find to consider the research and join in the discussion about where and how improvements might be made on behalf of the small producer, and in the process contribute to better chances at creating more peaceful societies. The gathering was an impressive one, made even more so because of the intensity that they brought to the Forum: these were people who were serious about the topic and, especially, to the notion of contributing to peace.
We heard stories from peasant farmers and the nature of perseverance. We listened to the findings about premium payments in the Fair Trade and Organic markets and how that money often never reaches the farmers who grow the crops. We heard stories of progress, for women, for peasant farmers, for struggling organizations attempting to fight the currents of political and monied interests. We learned about the importance of transparency, of walking in another’s shoes, collaborative work, the importance of “the common good.” And we felt the passionate undercurrent of an eclectic group of people seeking, in their own way, a means of peacemaking.
And then there was the news coverage this week at the U.N.
The President of the United States openly taunted the leader of North Korea, in front of the rest of the world, by referring to him as “rocket man.” In the same breath, he stated flatly that, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Later in the week, the leader of the free world, in addressing African leaders, twice referred to the African nation “Nambia.” Unfortunately, there is no such country. The chief peacemaker in the world did not know the name of the country to which he referred.
In quoting the President I imply no judgment as to his intelligence or the soundness of his political strategies; all persons on the planet can judge for themselves the appropriateness of the President’s position. I only note the stark contrast between last week’s energies toward building peace, and this week’s headlines threatening an annihilation.
Son to his Father: old man, you are not making money on the blocks of sugar; you are just doing it to work.
Father: Yes, I was raised in this and I miss it.
Mom: And where do you think our clothes come from, this roof … and part of the food? From sweating over these blocks of sugar!
(Conversation with peasant family, Yoro, Honduras, 2017).
Sugar cane was domesticated 10,000 years ago on the island of New Guinea. It came to the New World based on slave labor and environmental degradation between 1425 and 1493. Slavery began to be stopped in 1807 when England prohibited the slave trade which happened through the purchase of slaves in Africa with sugar itself; at that time more than 11 million slaves had been brought in, more than half to sugar plantations (R. Cohen, “Passion for Sugar” in: National Geographic). These plantations were established at the cost of dispossessing the indigenous populations of their land. With sugar cane we see that “a lot of water has passed under the bridge” – more than water, human blood.
In Central America part of the elite continues in the sugar industry with enormous human and environmental costs (see case of Guatemala: Labrador, Villagrán, Sánchez y Alvarado, “El cartel del azúcar de Guatemala” in: El Faro 25-4-2017, https://elfaro.net/es/201704/centroamerica/20091/El-cartel-del-az%C3%BAcar-de-Guatemala.htm). In the face of this reality, peasant and indigenous families have included sugar cane in their family strategy for self sufficiency and income generation. Does sugar cane allow them to resist? Is this sugar cane, that has planted so much death, also an instrument for life? We argue that if families organize to add value to their sugar cane, they can resist dispossession, remain in their communities without being driven to migrate, and at the same time contribute to environmental sustainability. Consequently, in this article we describe the peasant perspective on sugar cane, the dispossession that they have suffered, their viability, and the challenges that accompanying these processes of repossession imply.
When peasant families see themselves forced to migrate, they tend to take with them some sugar cane plants, and other families even take the sugar mill. The families get to the mountains or places where they can buy less expensive land. There they start to produce corn and beans, they establish their banana plants and sugar cane, they preserve patches of forest for wood and firewood, and they raise small livestock (poultry and pigs) and 2 or 3 cows. Their strategy is to diversify and reduce risk: the forest for wood (home construction, fence posts) and firewood for the kitchen and the oven of the sugar mill; they plant corn, beans and bananas to ensure their food; they grow sugar cane that they turn into blocks of sugar for their own use (to sweeten coffee and natural juices, make honey, pastry, coconut squash, mangos with honey, fritters, corn bread, and liquor – and as young D. Mejía tells us “the recipes of my grandmother are the best with brown sugars”- and for selling it. The sale of the blocks of sugar during a good part of the year, and the sale of 2 to 3 cows a year, is cash to cover other needs (salt, soap, matches, etc) and to buy “new clothes.”
Due to their distance from the market, the idea of the peasant families is to depend as least as possible on outside products. That is why it is easier to take blocks of sugar out to sell in the towns to generate income, than bunches of bananas or corn. Taking 100 lbs of brown sugar blocks generates a little more than double the income of 100 lbs of corn. In addition, sugar is one of the crops that are least affected by diseases or insects, and once established, requires little work and can resprout year after year for more than 50 years. So it is that wooden mills and then iron mills emerged, along with the sugar cane, powered by a team of oxen, and in some communities by a motor. In some communities the blocks of sugar are the only way to connect to the market and get some cash.
Table 1. Transformation of brown sugar block (20 tons / mz)*
L / block
$ / block
Sale (load of blocks)
Weeding (1 mz)
Guide for oxen (load)
Team of oxen (load)
Cutting cane (mz)
Transporting cane (ton)
* 20 tons of sugar cane in 1 mz (0.6988 has) = 33.33 loads of blocks, 1 load = 48 blocks, 1 block= 3 lbs. ** L750/load of blocks; price varies between 700 and 1000/load. L = lempiras, currency of Honduras
Source: based on family producers of cane and with/without mill (Yoro, Honduras)
Table 1 shows its profitability. A family with sugar cane, a mill and a team of oxen could generate income of 13,533 lempiras (balance of 9,600 + 2000 transportation + 3,333 team of oxen – 1,400 for weeding). A family with sugar cane, but without a mill and oxen, that turns in their cane so that it gets processed and they get half the value in return, gets L10,500 (half of L25,000, minus 2,000 for the transportation of the cane). If that same family with a mill takes on the cost of the weeding, leading the oxen around the mill and the cooking, their income increases. Both families get more income as they produce more than 20 tons per manzana.
Pressure combined with dispossession
Living in these communities for 25 to 30 years, families now feel pressure on their economic strategy (income diversification and generation), social strategy (sharecropping relations and sharing labor – mutual support) and political strategy (decisions and autonomy). The “domino effect” of the so-called agricultural frontier is being felt (see: Maldidier, Ch., 2004, “agricultural pioneer fronts, the crest of a far-reaching wave”). The land is tired and its productivity is declining, it needs to be fed, which in turn creates pressure for financial resources to buy fertilizers. Because of world sugar demand and how lucrative it is for the oligopolies, large sugar cane, african palm, rice, and extensive ranching plantations require more land and more water, and that pressure is being felt in the communities whose families at times of greater economic fragility (e.g. sickness of a relative, indebtedness, lack of water), or when the pressure suffocates them (e.g. plantations that close off the road to a community), are left with no choice but to get rid of their land. The sons and daughters who form their own homes press for their inheritance, with the consequence being that the areas per family are getting ever smaller. And the milling of the sugar cane begins to suffer from a scarcity of labor: the work of the ox guides and the cook is hard, from midnight to 9am, because the workers, with the passage of time, take advantage of other opportunities like working in sawmills, coffee fields or migrate in search of other opportunities.
Slowly the sharecropping relationships get eroded and the capacity to decide gives way to the force of the market that comes in with different consumer products, with different labor relations, with credit that finances mono-cropping, with the “deadly embrace” of expensive farm inputs and low prices for peasant products; this is when the population murmurs, “our money doesn´t go very far”. Also state law imposes taxes and restricts the use of their forest areas, while the laws do protect the sugar industry. So human groups, like an ear of corn that shells itself when it loses one kernel, cede their places and go off to other land or become workers. That is why we do not find mills close to the cities; they get farther away tas the “domino effect” intensifies. That is when the profitability of Table 1 gets complicated, because it begins to operate less frequently.
In the last 15 years this practice of establishing oneself, and being forced to migrate to the mountains, appears to be facing drastic changes. Practically speaking there are no more mountains to go to, which is why that escape valve is now being shut down. So increasingly the population migrates to the cities and leaves the country. But at the same time countries like the United States are closing their doors to migrants. The paradox is that that “domino effect” that starts from the demand for sugar mediated by oligopolies, on the one hand expels the peasant families from their land, and on the other hand, they are rejected by the metropolis. This is the second “deadly embrace.”
Adding value to the product in an associative way
How can you resist for more than 25-30 years and stop the “deadly embraces?” The COMAL Network is trying one way, where the peasant families organize into associative enterprises to add value to the sugar cane, producing granulated brown sugar (See: “Eco comal, una marca campesina que cobra auge” in: Diario Tiempo, 4-8-2015).
Table 2. Transformation of granulated brown sugar (20 tons / mz)
Granulated brown sugar
Purchase sugar cane (ton)
Labor (hrs work)
* 1 ton sugar cane = 240 lbs (60% granulated brown sugar 40% crumbs). Exchange rate $1 = L23.3
Source: Records of the granulated brown sugar processing plant of APROCATY (Yoro, Honduras)
In the municipalities of Taulabé, Jocón and Yoro in the last 5 years 100 peasant families that have sugar cane on their diversified farms have organized into 3 associative enterprises. With the support of international aid, they have established 3 processing plants on their farms. Even though their yields vary between 60 to 72% of granulated brown sugar, the calculations in Table 2 are encouraging, even based on the lowest yield. Let´s take a look, a member family sells 20 tons of of sugar cane at L8,800; and then, depending on the policies of the organization, that member family has the possibility of accessing part of the remainder of L5,753 that their sugar cane generated in the organization. In only 3 years, on average in these experiences, the difference of the “value added” is noticeable.
The outlook that they offer us is even more interesting. According to the table the costs are 81.8% of total sales, and to the extent that they grow in volume and yield (let´s say from 60% to 70% of granulated brown sugar), those costs drop from 81.8% to 70%, then the remainder will go beyond L10,000 and also $0.10/lb. This is the commitment of the three organizations.
Going back to the communities, specifically Laguna de la Capa (Yoro) which was already on the outer limit of the 25-30 years, the impact of the processing plant made itself felt. When the APROCATY organization began, the prices for the blocks of sugar were falling below L500/load (48 blocks), the cane fields were being lost and all the symptoms described in section 2 began to appear. “The ear of corn was beginning to lose its kernels” . The entry of the production of granulated brown sugar helped raise the price of cane and blocks of sugar to L700, 800 and even L1,000/load of blocks, because a good part of the sugar cane was turned into granulated brown sugar, which put sugar blocks into short supply. This slowly began to re-energize the production of sugar cane as part of the diversification systems of the families, promoting the consumption of an alternative product to refined sugar, and a production alternative to the human and environmentally degrading practices of the sugar industry.
In spite of the short time line of these experiences, they teach us that it is not just a matter of adding value to the sugar cane and generating profits, but learning to cooperate under associative and business rules. For example, knowing the principle of accounting identity, where the expenses of a business are accounted for separately, understanding that the more effective the organs are (board of directors, committees, assembly) the more efficient the business is that transforms and sells the products, and regulating the use of the profits so that they contribute to the sense of ownership of the members of their organization, and that at the same time allows the equity of the organization to increase. They also teach us that there are risks in the future: that the aforementioned initiative might end up promoting monocropping of sugar cane and erode the peasant-indigenous resistance strategy; that a group might take over the business; that the administration might run the organization behind the backs of the members…
The challenge of accompanying these processes
To manage the risks and create conditions to make the expressed goal viable, it is important to start from the experience of the peasant-indigenous families themselves. They have learned that they are going to make the changes IF they have long term allies – in the good times and in the bad times. The COMAL Network is an expression of that commitment. That committed role, nevertheless, faces enormous challenges, three of which we will introduce here.
For centuries peasant families have counted on the organization and self sufficiency of their extended families. Getting this commitment to scale up organizationally for an effective resistance that would take them beyond the threshold of the 25-30 years implies overcoming centuries-old, deeply rooted institutions. “Yes, I was raised in this and I miss it”, the phrase from the Father quoted at the beginning of the article, means that the practices that he learned and the institutions (e.g. extended family, exclusion of women from the inheritance and from organizations) in which he was raised are going to persist, and even “will be missed.” In this dialogue, the son as well as the father ignored the fact that making blocks of sugar is profitable, as part of a diversification strategy, for 25-30 years. How to understand those perspectives in their contexts in order to accompany them is a monumental challenge for any external ally, because you have to study those realities and ask about alternatives, something difficult when we are accustomed to provide standardized solutions for any situation.
Peasant distrust toward outside actors, particularly merchants, is another institution deeply rooted because of centuries of plundering. Now that distrust is expressed as: “we will go to the meetings if they call us.” This assumes that the one calling the meeting is the external actor or a local person with the aura of being the representative of the external actor, and that they are not going to take the initiatives to call their own meeting and meet on their own. Getting the rules (statutes) and democratic mechanisms of an organization to be followed and used, as a way of “calling your own meeting”, is another challenge for any organization accustomed to going out to the communities and being “the big man” with resources in hand.
Member families in organizations with important physical investments tend to hunker down and prevent the entrance of new members. They do not allow even their sons to join the organization, much less their daughters. It will be difficult for organizations to respect their democratic mechanisms in their statutes if there are no changes in the heart of their families, changes in equity in terms of inheritances and in decision making where the mother and the offspring participate like the father. Without members that are experiencing changes in their families, it will be difficult for the organization to make progress. This is the third challenge for any ally organization.
In conclusion, sugar cane came into Latin America spurting human blood and subduing nature, a practice continued today under “modern clothing.” In the face of this, as the Mother at the beginning of this article would say, granulated brown sugar is more than the block of sugar, and the block of sugar is more than sugar cane, it is “sweat”: work and life. Behind it are peasant-indigenous families that are organized around blocks and the granulated brown sugar, while at the same time they are going deeper into their logic of “not putting all their eggs in the same basket.” Will it be possible that they might begin to express a path for transforming peasant-indigenous products as they transform their families and their organizations toward greater equity?
 René has a PhD in development studies, is an associate researcher of IOB-Universiity of Antwerp (Belgium), a collaborator with the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS cooperative; email@example.com. Hector is an agronomist, coordinator of the Technical Unit for Business Consultancy of the COMAL Network, and technician-expert in the transformation of granulated brown sugar; firstname.lastname@example.org
Can I vent here? I think management protocol says that leaders shouldn’t use venues such as blog sites or other organizational media outlets to vent their personal irritations. I understand that. But in this case, my personal irritation has to do with a Winds of Peace initiative, so maybe it’s OK. I guess I’ve already begun to rant, so bear with my frustration.
As in past years, the Foundation is supporting the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, to be held in Minneapolis on September 13-16. This year will be a little different for us, as WPF is contributing not only financially to the Forum, but is also leading one of the “high-level dialogues” being offered on the first day. The Foundation is bringing six cooperative members to the Forum from their homes in Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Panama and Guatemala. They will join an important discussion about the role of cooperatives in helping to establish and maintain peace in post-conflict societies. We’re excited about the topic!
In addition to the panelists, the Forum is interested in inviting other key players in the cooperative chain of commerce- buyers, fair trade certifiers, organic certifiers, retailers and funders- to join in the discussion. The purpose is to identify where we might collectively contribute to the success of the small, rural producers and the coops to which they belong. In too many instances, initiatives aimed at helping the small family farmers have become coopted by other objectives and a host of “middlemen” out to game the system.
To that end, we have identified key organizations which have significant impacts, and which seek to strengthen these small farmers as a major objective. Indeed, many are important friends of the farmers. To make an invitation for their attendance at the Forum, WPF agreed to send out a “pre-invitation” letter to the key players identified, as a way of introducing the idea of this collaborative effort and offering a “heads-up” for the forthcoming, more formal invitation from the Forum itself. In most cases, we already had identified a name or two from the organization, but in some instances we had to research a bit and make an educated guess as to an appropriate individual. (My hands are starting to quiver; I think this is where I begin to feel frustration.)
All that I seek is a name and an e-mail address. I have nothing to sell, no political agenda to push, nothing subversive to drop in anyone’s lap. I simply have an invitation to offer, for something that is essentially at the heart of what these organizations are professing to do: help the little guys. But the road to contact in some of these well-known and widely-praised organizations is as impassable and impossible as some of the roads in the Nicaragua outback.
First, there is the receptionist. The receptionist wants to know why I wish to speak with Ms. X. I explain the somewhat lengthy story about the Forum and the invitation. This is met with the explanation that Ms. X AND her assistant are out for the day, and that I should try again tomorrow. (I wonder if she might have told me that in the first place.) When I call the next day, I reach a different receptionist, and she, too, wants to know in great detail why I wish to speak with Ms. X. After reciting the details all over again, she passes me through to the administrative assistant.
Unfortunately, the assistant is not at her desk, and I am invited to leave a voice message. As much as I don’t wish to do this, I am reluctant to waste this opportunity to connect, for which I have now worked so long. So I share the story once more to voicemail, and respectfully ask for a return call so that I might elaborate or answer any questions. I leave my phone number twice, just to be sure that I can be reached. But, as you might have guessed, there has been no call. Eleven days later, I have had no response.
I’m frustrated. So I turn my sights to another large, well-known entity within the development world, one that is known globally as a generous and active funder for the impoverished. Recognizing the absolute rightness of their cause, I have cause to hope for success. My first stop is the ubiquitous receptionist, who wishes to know if Mr. Y is expecting my call. I can’t imagine how he could be, since we have never spoken before, so the receptionist determines that I really need to speak first with Y’s administrative assistant. (I prayed that it not be the same one as the previous day. Is it possible that large development organizations share administrative assistants? Or do they just all come from the same schools?) When I reach this guardian of Mr. Y’s time, she, too, wants to know if full detail the nature of my desire to talk with Y. And after my lengthy-but-alluring description of the Forum and my case for eagerly desiring her firm’s possible participation, she informs me that Y is not available. She will be pleased to pass along my name and number. I could hear the deflation from the balloon I had so carefully blown up. In ten days’ time, I have received no return call, from either Y or his assistant.
I am not organizationally naive. I filled a CEO role in a manufacturing company for 16 years, so I know the demands on an executive’s time and energy. I know the competing forces that pull on busy people each and every day. I also know two other truths: first, courtesy is not passe´ and a return call from someone is always appropriate. (Isn’t that one of the roles of the administrative assistant? Or has that become too plebian these days?) Second, important opportunities and initiatives are not always going to be the province of big organizations with large fundraising budgets and lots of administrative staff. Sometimes, opportunity comes calling in unsuspecting ways and when we shut ourselves off from other voices, we shortchange the very populations we seek to serve. Indeed, the behavior contributes to the relative lack of impact we have on global poverty elimination. There is lots of money, plenty of ideas, and too little collaboration.
There. I’m done now and my hands aren’t trembling anymore. My experience is probably no different than ones you might have encountered. It’s just that in the name of peace-building and helping the poorest among us, I expect something more. Despite having been in this field for a dozen years now, I guess I’m still learning something new every day: for some groups, if it wasn’t invented here, it’s not worth knowing….
It’s June. The trees are leafed out, I need to cut my lawn at least once a week and summer seems as though it wants to stay around for a while. It’s what we in the north have pined for during the past six months. And all I can think about is Nicaragua.
I haven’t been in Nicaragua since February and likely won’t make another return trip until August. No farms, no cooperative counsel, no ownership enthusiasm, no face-to-face conversations with people who do not speak English, but who nonetheless speak “my language.” Memory of earlier trips fade over time and I begin to feel more and more distant from people who are the focus of our work and the hopes of sustainable Nicaragua. That exemplifies a problem, a big one for all of us.
Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it also creates distance. Physically, I am no further away from my Nicaraguan colleagues and acquaintances than I was upon my return from there in February. But the ensuing four months have distanced me, nonetheless. Obviously, I do not see their faces. I do not hear their voices or the anxieties within their words. They do not shake my hand in the morning or wish me a pleasant night in the evening. We cannot share meals together. I am not there to encourage and they may quickly forget lessons shared. We are… apart. Despite my heartfelt desire to be a resource and a friend, the time and distance erode the intensity of our relationship. I’ve experienced the phenomenon before.
In 2000, my wife and I traveled with our four children (our two sets of twins) to the land of their birth, South Korea. One of the many blessings of that travel was the opportunity to meet with both sets of birth parents. The reunions were priceless, the time spent with these extended families were filled with emotion and love beyond our possible expectations. We became family with these South Korean kin; by the time of our departure from their country, we promised each other ongoing love and communication.
For a time, we kept our pledge to one another. From the U.S., we regularly telephoned long distance with the aid of an interpreter. (E-mail was not yet the readily available tool that it was to become.) From Korea, we received gifts and photos. Christmas featured gifts in both directions. The bonds remained vibrant. But in time, they grew less frequent. Our kids grew into busy young people already pressed for time and energy. Birth families likely grew increasingly frustrated with time lags and difficulties in translating letters. And eventually, not even the bonds of shared parenting and extended family could sustain a continued embrace.
It’s perhaps an obvious reality that time and distance intrude on the most sincere of desires and necessities. And if they can erode our intentions even with respect to those whom we know and love, we can only speculate about the difficulties in nurturing connections with those we do not know. I experienced it happening with South Korean family. I feel it developing with Nicaraguan friends. We become victims of our isolations.
At a time when our government and some of its population look to isolate our nation- to create greater distance and fewer collaborations to Make America Great Again- we would do well to recognize the realities of distance and time. They are already formidable enemies of peace and humanity. They siphon away touch and contact and emotion. They feed doubt and gossip. They sew seeds of suspicion. Our needs are not to withdraw even further from the presence of “the other,” but to draw closer.
At the very least, I’m determined to reach out to two families in South Korea. And to get back to people whom I know and care about in Nicaragua….
As a U.S. private foundation, Winds of Peace has been providing development assistance in Nicaragua for more than 30 years. Most of that time and effort has been rendered on the “inside,” hand-in-hand with the members of the cooperatives and associations and networks with who we have partnered.
It has been very personal work. We can describe the organizations. We can remember where they are and the circumstances in which their people live. We can name names. That accompaniment is a condition of our work, being “on the ground” where there is little access, few outsider visits and sparse resources. It’s being with partners on the inside, helping to find a small opening where opportunity might be waiting on the other side. It’s still our model, still the way that we will continue to work in Nicaragua. But we also have added a component to such work, this time from the “outside.”
The Nobel Peace Prize Forum is an event which Winds of Peace has sponsored for many years. The Forum exists as the only sanctioned event under the Nobel Peace Prize name outside of the award selection itself. Annually, it has brought together past peace laureates, activists, scholars and those working in their own ways and in their own niches for peace and justice, “on the inside,” where life is actually lived. This year’s Forum will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota during September 13-16. It will feature many stories of peace-building and human development. And it will include work underwritten by Winds of Peace.
In what is billed as a “high-level dialogue” session, major research and “inside” work on cooperatives will be presented by Foundation colleague Rene Mendoza. Rene is recognized as a development innovator and engages in “participatory action research” to facilitate actions by cooperative members themselves. Specifically, Rene will highlight the efforts and conclusions from cooperatives in various countries. And he’ll emphasize the importance and stabilizing impact of cooperatives in societies emerging from periods of conflict, and how their financial impacts serve as an essential ingredient for both economic and social well-being. He has also assembled a panel of six cooperative members from Central and South America to join in the conversation and share their experiences of cooperative life and meaning. Yet, that’s not the full extent of the session.
The rest of the invited audience will be comprised of individuals from cooperative-supporting organizations, entities which have in some way positioned themselves as partners with the small cooperatives, whether in the roles of funders, marketers, associations, Fair Trade and Organic certifiers, buyers, roasters or retailers. They are (hopefully) big names. The presentations are designed to invite dialogue with this invited audience about where the entire process chain is working well, where it isn’t, and how collectively all actors might make it more valuable to the essential focus: the producer and his/her family.
As a result of the discourse, the participants will be encouraged to arrive at an objective or change that might be affected during the ensuing 12 months, a plan of action which will be shared with the at-large Forum attendees. In 2018, some of those discourse participants will then return to the Forum for a report-out on success, and whether the conclusions and actions identified in 2017 really made an impact. It’s a very action and accountability effort, unlike many conference end results, and one that Forum organizers (and sponsors, like WPF) hope can bring real impact to cooperatives as major peace components. It’s “outside work,” changing the focus temporarily to the ambient world surrounding places like rural Nicaragua. Consider this blog entry as an invitation to experience at least this part of the Forum in the Fall.
Why? Because sometimes circumstances don’t allow us to achieve our needs fully by ourselves. There is not one among us who has reached full potential and well-being on our own. Sometimes, we require the intervention of “outside work….”
War is the continuation of politics by other means. Clausewitz (1780-1831)
My husband and son were killed in the war. I was left with a little bit of land. The cooperative was like my husband. I supported myself in it to raise my children. E. Terceros, producer, cooperative member, Nicaragua.
The stronger the sons and daughters are, the stronger the parents will be. Proverb in Rural Central America
War and peace are the continuation of politics by other means, we would say, hoping that Clausewitz would agree with the addition “and peace”. Countries with wars that sign peace agreements experience a period that De Sousa (2015) called “post peace accords.” It is a period of the continuation of conflict where different development paths clash with one another, and where associative organizations are an expression of that, and have the potential to make a difference. Under what conditions do associative organizations contribute to peace? What alliances are needed to make a difference? This text responds to both questions from the reality of war and peace that Central America experienced over the last 50 years.
 The author has a PhD in development studies, is an associate researcher of IOB-University of Amtwerp (Belgium) and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS Cooperative R.L. email@example.com. This article, for now a draft, will be the basis for our presentation in the Peace Prize Forum to be held in Minnesota (September 2017).
Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the United States, which means that we have moved into late November and early Winter. It’s always a transition time, with the reds and golds of Autumn giving way to dormant brown and, eventually, snow white. Lots of people don’t care for November here in the upper Midwest of the country, but I love it. It’s another promise of change and of time moving on, hallmarks of getting out of the “comfort zone,” and that’s a good place for us to be. But this month has already presented a series of “moments” for me, three significant days in a row, even before the promise of turkey.
The first day of note was the U.S election. To my knowledge, and certainly in my experience, there has never been a contest as coarse, demeaning, undignified and as utterly devoid of fact as the election of 2016. Much has been written about the candidates’ behaviors by others (nearly everyone), but from the perspective of one rather ordinary citizen, I characterize the fiasco as an event which oozed disgrace and lack of civility at every turn. If this is, in fact, democracy in action, then my own sensitivities suggest that we search for an alternative form of government altogether.
Yet the discouragement and even despair that I felt during this election season is ironically what made the second day of my November journey stand out so brightly. On the day following the election, I met with both the Managing Director and the Program Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. We convened to meet one another for the first time, to talk about some of the new aspirations for the Forum and to discuss a potential presentation by Winds of Peace at next year’s assembly. The conversation was a stimulating and hopeful one.
I mean, how could it NOT have been, when elements of the discourse included the names of past laureates, the efforts being made around the world to convene peaceful resolution of conflict. Yes, members of the Tunisian Quartet, the 2015 recipients of the Peace Prize, would be in attendance. President Obama has been invited, in addition to his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is among the faculty at peace and conflict resolution institute in Hawaii. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will be in attendance, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. And many others, less celebrated and completely anonymous, will be present over those days to talk about their own initiatives and experiences with peace-building. Against the glow of enthusiasm and commitment of my hosts, a feeling of hope seemed to lift me a bit straighter in my chair. I walked back to my car with a little more bounce in my step, I think.
On the third day of this sequence, I was to speak to a University of St. Thomas class about the work being done by the Foundation, and how it mirrors, in many ways, the strategies and attitudes brought into play in my former for-profit organization, Foldcraft Co. I arrived on campus a little early, so I took advantage of the beautiful morning and walked around for a while, taking in the surroundings and feeling the promise that only a university campus can provide. Quickly I noticed the scores of banners hung around every sidewalk and building, which read, “All for the common good.” I was struck by the rightness and optimistic promise of that phrase and truly moved to see its presence everywhere. It was an advent to the class experience to follow.
The presentation went well ( I was told). The class participants were engaged and curious and full of outward excitement at ideas of organizational wealth-sharing, broad participation and transparency, collaborative work and rewards, and the practice of capitalism without distinction of class, the sanctity of human worth. The questions penetrated the essence of broad ownership and widespread involvement. The students were intrigued and enthused. I was pumped and energized. Together, we had a good time. After the class period, several students asked for my business card so that we might talk further about the marriage of business and social responsibility. On this day, I did not notice a bounce in my step as I walked back to the car; I rather had the sense of floating
Within the span of three days, I experienced the lows and the highs that I know are inevitably a part of our human existence. The outcome to all of it was simply this: I am reminded that the lows are to be found wherever we choose to see them. There are enough to bring the entirety of mankind to its knees and complete dysfunction. But just as assuredly, the highs are at least as numerous, and carry the potential to raise us above the mire of surrender. It’s a matter of where one’s gaze seeks direction. With heads down, we see the world as a dark place, indeed, and its paths lead to seemingly endless disappointment and loss. But there is a great deal more to seen with heads up, absorbing the brighter prospect, allowing us to see and draw strength from the hope that still does surround us.
All of which leads me to the fourth important day of this month, the one during which we are encouraged to be thankful for every blessing of our lives. What a great idea, gratitude. What a terrific posture for looking up, noticing the uplift that surrounds us, for acknowledging and embracing it, and for choosing to be the very engine for change, “all for the common good.”