While we’re busy preparing for the second Certificate Program for rural cooperative members and managers, technicians, second-tier coop representatives and others, the focus is on methodologies. After all, we’ve spent portions of the past ten years describing organizational strengthening techniques used successfully in the U.S. in hopes that it might spark interest in the Nica countrysides. Now that rural producers have asked for greater detail about initiatives like open book management, Lean continuous improvement and organizational transparency, the workshop facilitators are eager to deliver such particulars.
As mentioned here previously, Winds of Peace will have the great good fortune to present Brian Kopas and Alex Moss, gentlemen whose organizational experiences in the fields of organizational Lean and open book management are extraordinary, and therefore of great potential application to this Nica workshop. They possess enormous knowledge and practical experiences, they have already provided materials for the introduction of their topics, they are counseling us in our respective workshop presentations and they will be huge resources for the inevitable questions and challenges that are encountered during the workshop. (Where people are intent upon learning, their questions and challenges are essential.)
But as I consider the wealth of knowledge that will be available to our audience in September, I am cognizant of another critical piece to the process of teaching and growing an audience: the vision.
Underlying all the operational processes and applications, there must be a vision, a mission, a purpose, a theme for the hard work that the attendees will encounter if they seek to bring an entirely new basket of ideas to their farms and coops. There must be a core principle that can re-direct and drive the improvements consistently, even when the newly-acquired skills might occasionally seem to become stale or seemingly inapplicable for some reason. In moments of frustration or temporary setback, that motivator can keep an organization together, to persevere and regain solid footing for the next advance in their collaborative strength-building.
Some organizations employ a vision, a stated “picture” of what the future might be like. Others prefer the idea of a mission, an intrinsically important undertaking whose outcome has the capability of delivering fundamental, positive changes. Still other groups elect to use the language of values, citing social or moral tenets that shape their beliefs and actions. But whatever words are used, the reality is the same: in order for human beings to change, to adapt, to move from their comfort zones, they universally crave a “cause,” a fundamental, personal reason to do that which is difficult to do.
In the case of the very successful Panamanian cooperative La Esperanza de los Campesinos (the Hope of the Peasants), that bedrock upon which their success has been built is in the historical presence of Fr. Hector Gallegos, whose spiritual and liberation theological teachings centered the coop members. (See “A Cooperative That Regulates Markets” by Rene Mendoza.) For a company like SRC Holdings in Springfield, Missouri, the birthplace of open book management, the bedrock was the liberation of employee thinking and intelligence through information sharing and involvement. For Winds of Peace Foundation, the bedrock has been the liberation of financial assets to address the dangerous gulf between the poor and the wealthy. Initiatives come and go, but the calling for the each of these organizations survives because of the depth of its existence. These organizations must do what they do. It is in their organizational DNA.
The coops represented in the Certificate Program will need to identify and embrace their own “calls to being. ” For some, the cause is already deeply engrained and sustaining the direction of the members. But for others, the identification might be less certain and less steadying. Maybe it has never been articulated in terms of a vision. Perhaps there are several purposes that have been embraced by the members, with no single mission emerging as the great unifier. In some cases, maybe the issue has never even come up; coop membership was simply a way to access funds for the next planting cycle. Whatever the case, every coop will require something to hold onto when the vagaries of weather and middlemen and coyotes of the marketplace interject their disruptions into plans for prosperity. What will the coops bedrock prove to be?
When Brian and Alex bring their skills to the Certificate Program, it will not be due to monetary gain (they receive none) or for notoriety (the program will take place in the deep countryside, away from media notice). They will present no political cause, no self-service nor personal advantage. They will spend more than an entire week out of their professional and personal lives because of deep-seated values that inform their senses of servant leadership and responsible stewardship. The lessons and know-how they teach may change between September and the next time they are invited to work with such an audience, but the reasons for accepting such an invitation will not. It is, after all, who they are.
Sometime during that first week of September, we’ll be interacting with some very eager Nicaraguans who know precisely who they are….