Tag Archives: Education in Nicaragua

Father Fernando, 1934-2016


The inevitability of mortality is no solace when we lose someone whose life has transcended the usual boundaries of what it is to be a human being.  We know that whatever one’s legacy is to be, it is certain to come in time, whether we are prepared for it or not.  When we learned the news of Father Fernando Cardenal’s illness several weeks ago, there was collective hope and prayer that his time had not yet come and that he might recover to extend the remarkable legacy of his life.  But it was not to be.  Despite several rallies in recent days, Father Fernando died Saturday, at age 82, an age that belies the enormous impact of his life.

Neither this site nor this writer can pretend to adequately express what Father Fernando has meant to a world which refuses to see and people who ignore the truth of the poor.  (There are ample locations to learn of the Nicaraguan priest’s background and life story; visit them, and understand the kind of person the world has lost.)  He became the voice and patron of the impoverished, in many ways at the cost of his own vocation and voice.  Indeed, he was expelled from the priesthood for his continued educational work with a revolutionary regime which in the 1970’s overthrew the longstanding Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua.  Such was his commitment to those who possessed no voice of their own.  (And such was his commitment to his faith, that he earned his eventual reinstallation to the priesthood years later.)

His story, recounted in part in the recent autobiography, Faith and Joy, (and assisted by WPF colleague Mark Lester and Kathy McBride), is a life lesson to make even the most egocentric among us re-think our  own journeys and legacies.  But such was Father Fernando’s gift, to speak for the poor, and for the rest of us, in ways that could touch us profoundly.  I met with Father Fernando on four separate occasions.   I can share without shame that upon each occasion, the passion of his words and the depth of his dedication to “the small people” prompted tears-  of joy, of admiration and of self-reflection.  For Father Fernando, his calling was crystal clear: “I cannot accept that people live this way.  As a human being and as a Christian, I cannot accept it.  It has to change.”  I found it an impossible perspective to refute.

Even at his age of 82, it was still too soon to say good-bye to a life of such inspiration.  We needed more of him, more words of hope and perseverance for the poor and more words of encouragement and for introspection among the rest of us.  We all conduct our life journeys with too little of either, and now one of the important instructors of our consciences is gone.  Take a moment to learn who he was.  His loss begs for for prayer and remembrance….
Mi esperanza... Fernando

(“It is my hope that the young people return to the streets to make history.”)                                                           -Father Fernando Cardenal

Wealth of Nations

Too bad that Adam Smith was so narrow in his focus when he wrote his famous book revered still today by so many modern economists. Of course, that focus was quite deliberate on his part, as he sought to educate us about the behaviors of monies and economics, labor and markets.  But An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations has had the residual effect of leading most serious students of the work to believe that, indeed, wealth is measured by purely economic metrics.

That’s too bad, because our reality is so much broader than that.  Our wealth is measured on a number of scales, each of which might be said to be as or even more important than the money metric.  As our modern society careens its way to ever more spending, debt, consumption, environmental degrading and even planetary threat, we eventually understand that our lives are made up of more than monetary accumulations.

That truth has been embedded in the work by Winds of Peace over its entire history, though perhaps in evolving forms.  We have spoken of development in terms of holistic well-being, considering the intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, occupational and physical dimensions of peoples’ lives.  We have accentuated the importance of transparency, integrity, gender equality, stewardship and collaborative work as means of enriching lives.

It may be self-selection, then, that has led me to read the book, Prosper!, authored by Chris Martenson and Adam Taggart. This intriguing work includes a more fully-descriptive detailing of eight forms of capital, a concept I first encountered at a workshop which Martenson and Taggart facilitated  last Spring.  The concepts resonated with how I have viewed Foundation core beliefs and the book now provides a refreshed and broadened perspective about forms of capital and the compositions of true wealth, and why they transcend the traditional view of what constitutes wealth.

In summary, the eight forms of capital are likely familiar to everyone, but perhaps not in the sense of wealth-building.  But reflection upon the eight elements quickly affirms their importance and their essence to our wellness.

Prosper does include Financial Capital among the eight components, covering the realities of income and expense, debt and money.  There is no attempt in the book to diminish the reality of financial needs in our lives, only an attempt to put them into a different context.

Living Capital is the land, the trees, water, the soil, the other living creatures with whom we share the earth, and our own bodies and physical health.

Material Capital is made up of our tangible possessions like our homes, automobiles, building materials, tools, stored food, computers.

Knowledge Capital includes the things that we know and events we have experienced, and our abilities to apply that knowledge to the issues of our lives.

Emotional and Spiritual Capital refers to our capacity to adjust to the changes in our lives, the way we respond to events and conditions, the calm and centeredness with which we come to terms with both internal and external challenges.

Social Capital refers to our private and public relationships, the people in our lives who are family and friends, with whom we exchange favors and care, for whom we are willing to give of ourselves.

Cultural Capital is made up of the fabric of the communities in which we live, the stories, songs, habits and histories of the people in our midst.

Time Capital is just that: the time that we are allotted in our lives to accomplish and experience whatever it is to which we aspire.  It’s a finite, ever-depleting commodity, the amount of which is unknown to each of us, and therefore of immense value of itself.

For each of us, we possess more of some kinds of capital and less of other kinds.

The consideration of these eight forms of capital has given me occasion to affirm my own thoughts about wealth. Our continuing partnerships with rural Nicaraguans affords the opportunity to observe more distinctly the various forms of capital at work in their lives.  They may possess very little in the way of financial capital, but in fact may hold exponentially greater capital in the form of Living or Social or other assets.  And since the various forms are fungible among themselves, the wealth of rural Nicaraguans (or other financially impoverished around the world) may be far greater than we think, maybe even greater in some instances than that experienced here in the United States: I know who is hungrier, but I’m not sure who is the better nourished.

None of this is meant to diminish the impact of extreme poverty on those for whom Financial Capital is but a dream; indeed, a human must survive before it can thrive.  But at this time of year, when our priorities seem to be focused so predominantly on frenzied consumption of financial resources, awareness of our “other” capital accounts can serve as an important distraction.  It’s a pause that might call into question how we “invest” for our futures….


Body of Knowledge

I’ve been making entries in this space since the Winds of Peace website came into being; my earliest entry dates back to January of 2007.  I don’t often go back in time to read what was on my mind back then, partly because I’m prone to wince at some of the inexperience and naivete reflected in those early days, but mostly because my views are different today than they were eight years ago.  In fact, the context of the country has changed.  Our partners have changed.   It’s a different world than it was.  The Foundation has evolved.

One of the most significant changes has been the work we have undertaken with Dr. Rene Mendoza Vidaurre.  I have referenced him here many times in recent years, describing the one-on-one work that he has done with our partner cooperatives, Indigenous groups and others.  Rene is a tireless pursuer of healthy development for Nicaraguans.  He is a co-founder and former director of NITLAPAN, the University of Central America entity which is the leading research organization in the country.   He has worked extensively in the rural sectors of Nicaragua, where development efforts are particularly difficult and few resources are available.  He has created and conducted scores of workshops to help strengthen organizational effectiveness and sustainability of the coops.  This year he created and conducted The Cooperative Certificate Program, a six-day holistic, intensive, residential workshop designed primarily for rural producers.  Earlier this month, Rene completed a week-long visit to the U.S. to study organizational strengthening techniques in venues including Springfield, MO, Minneapolis, MN and Boston, MA.

The significance of Rene’s involvement with WPF is that he has brought an intensive research focus to our work.  With more than 30 years of experiences in the Foundation’s history, Rene is synthesizing those experiences with current realities to generate perhaps the most extensive, research-based thinking and writing about Nicaraguan rural development.  In an age of global economic interdependence and enormous economic uncertainties, access to fact and successful practice are more important than ever to aid organizations operating anywhere in the world.  It might be said that, at one time we were primarily placing funds.  Today, we are acting with perspectives of knowledge and specific purpose that are true to the Nicaraguan context.

Many of the recent findings and observations about current context in Nicaragua can be found in Rene’s many weblog entries, featured at this website.  If you’ve entertained a curiosity about the Nicaraguan realities with which Winds of Peace has operated over the past 30 years, you will find Rene’s writings insightful, candid revelations about the challenges and importance of financial aid.  If you work with a foundation or other agency tasked with providing such aid, you will find Rene’s discernments and conclusions to be perceptive resources for consideration in your grantmaking or lending practices, because they reflect the entirety of Nicaraguan realities: financial, historical, political, social, religious.

From time to time I receive feedback on some of my entries here.  I’d be equally interested to hear of reactions to the in-depth work that Rene has undertaken in the name of compassionate research….


Making Sense of Synergy

I’ve written here in the past about the Winds of Peace vision of a “Synergy Center” in Nicaragua.  I’ve described a facility owned and operated by a U.S. college or university but partnered with the Foundation to access its research and experiences with rural development, its connections with grassroots Nicaraguan organizations, its history with the University of Central America (UCA) and its activities as a funder within the country.  We continue to refine the vision and search for the right education partner in the U.S.

In the process, we’ve shared the concept with lots of folks, both in the U.S. and Nicaragua, seeking to fully consider all of the cultural, social, national and financial aspects of such an initiative: the undertaking requires us to do a great deal more than simply provide funding for a building.  To be done effectively, the Synergy Center demands careful and comprehensive thinking about the needs and the expectations of all parties, with special reflection about Nicaraguan context.  Upon hearing the Synergy Center concept, interested parties have been intrigued and energized by the idea, recognizing intuitively the benefits of such a collaboration, whether in Nicaragua or anywhere else in this very complex and conflicted world.  The Synergy Center is seen as a bridge among people; there are never too many bridges.

Given the Foundation’s interest in sharing the vision and spurring thought and comment about its intentions, the Foundation’s Nicaragua Director Mark Lester focused on it during a breakout session on November 8 at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C.  The topic of Mark’s presentation consisted of the rationale behind the Synergy Center concept and how it fits intricately with the call for all of us to be seekers and creators of justice in the world.  The forum is an ambitious one, and Mark’s contribution is a clear statement of the Synergy Center’s keystone ideas and purposes.

Due to our periodic mentions here about the Center and its possibilities, I’ve included a YouTube link to Mark’s presentation.  It takes about 45 minutes to watch, but maybe it’ll give you a sense of a new bridge being built just as so many others seem to be crumbling around us….


Ten Years After, Part 1

There must have been some kind of special “karma” in the air last weekend.  I had an urge to listen to a record album (yes, the kind that are played on a turntable) from the 60’s by a group called Ten Years After, and featuring a song entitled, “I’d Love to Change the World.”  After listening to both sides of the 33 1/3 RPM, I realized that both the song and the group hold special meaning this week: today, October 1, I have worked with Winds of Peace Foundation for ten years.  And naturally I have honed a deep yearning to change the world!

Ten years ago I left my role as corporate CEO with no plan about what I would do for my “next chapter.”  I had two kids in college and two more headed that way, a nice home with its accompanying mortgage, a desire to distance myself from the obligations of corporate demands (both personal and philosophical), and a need to search for meaningful work that was closer to my passions and compassions.  Firmly believing in the shelf-life of a CEO, I chose an early retirement on September 30, an option some companies afford to folks who are not old enough for Social Security but who are old enough to recognize when it’s time for a change.  I had no plan or prospect in mind.

I became involved actively with Winds of Peace the following day. Having served on its Board of Directors since its inception in 1980, I was familiar with its mission and history.  And with one of its founders, Harold Nielsen, in the hospital with pneumonia at age 90, I might have been the most logical and available person to step in on a temporary basis.  But within a week, I recognized the work as something I wanted for my “next chapter.”  By the time I could visit Harold personally later in that week, he apparently had come to the same conclusion.  He offered me the opportunity.  I jumped at the chance and have never looked back for even a moment.

There have been many affirmations about that decision.  The first was that I continued to work with founder Harold and Louise Nielsen, two of the most genuine and selfless people I have ever known.  (Harold was the wise  and entrepreneurial founder of Foldcraft Co., my firm of some 31 years.  Louise was his wife and co-conspirator, as Harold would say.)  The second immediate affirmation  was in the person of Mark Lester, the Foundation’s “feet on the ground” in Nicaragua, a most exceptional man, a student of and advocate for development in the country, and one whom I had met years earlier during my first visit there.  The third affirmation emerged a bit later, during my ensuing visits to Nicaragua when I was able to meet face-to-face with the potential and actual beneficiaries of the Foundation’s work.  This was where the true richness of the work has been experienced, where the longing to serve meets the hunger and thirst of people who are living their very lives on the edge of collapse, continuously.  These and other affirmations are endless and continue to this day.

Ten years is a long enough period to measure any organization´s impact and progress.  Over the past ten years alone, WPF has issued grants totaling over $2MM, loans totaling $7.6MM and maintained a loan default rate of just over  2%.  It has partnered on more than 300 agreements representing thousands of families.  It has underwritten scores of organizational and technology workshops as its focus has become focused on a territorial strategy.  The Foundation has added primary, secondary and university education as additional focal points for funding and development.  We have accompanied.  We have researched and written.  We’ve been busy.

The past ten years have brought about change in the lives of our partners, as well.  Access to capital in some of the most rural settings of Nicaragua has been a critically important element of life for those served by WPF.  For some, it may have meant survival.  The accompaniment in organizational development by our colleagues has illuminated some dark places where myth, falsehood, forgery and undereducation have festered for generations, rarely permitting the light of opportunity to foster growth.  Women’s voices have been heard.  Students bloomed.  People wept.  And smiled.

Well and good; the actions behind these measures what WPF has been called to do.  But there have been personal impacts, as well.  The past ten years have also rather dramatically changed the way I personally experience the world and its complexities.  I have come to understand how incredibly difficult it can be to “give away” resources.  Not the physical distribution of them, but the ways in which such work must be done to achieve meaning and impact; the presence of large amounts of funding does not guarantee success in the move away from poverty and marginalization.  Sometimes it even contributes to the problems.

I have experienced the importance of accompaniment.  I am still surprised and moved by the importance of our accompaniment with partners.  There is a feeling of strength on the part of rural peasants knowing that they are not entirely alone, that someone else knows of their existence and plight.

I now know the face of the poor.  I have established relationships, friendships, partnerships with individuals, real people with real families and real problems.  These are not statistics or photographs, but real human beings for whom my empathy and concern runs as deep as for any member of my community, my neighborhood, or other niches of my life.  That has changed me, as it would you.  I now personally understand why Harold and Louise Nielsen were so easily moved to tears when talking about this Foundation’s work.

In ten years’ time, Harold and Louise have both passed away.  Our focus has both broadened (with the addition of education and research) and narrowed (with the emphasis on a specific territory).  Our processes have sharpened, with the involvement of our three Nicaraguan consultants and their personal commitments to WPF work, and our own experiences in nurturing healthy organizations.  The presidency of Nicaragua has changed, the country’s relationships within the international community are different and so is the landscape within which development must conduct its efforts.

But the poverty remains.  The Nicaraguan poor are as omnipresent as ever, perhaps not in every statistical metric, but certainly according to any reasonable measure of basic human needs.  And therein lies our work agenda for the next ten years, which I’ll envision in Part II of this message, next week….







Dear Jack


Jack Stack, Author of The Great Game of Business
Jack Stack, Author of The Great Game of Business

Dear Jack:

It’s been a long time now since you authored the book, The Great Game of Business, back in 1992.  I remember reading it entirely in one afternoon, I was so excited about what it described!  You folks at SRC were actively doing what we at my company had only dreamed about: creating a business of owners.  Your impact on our company made a tremendous difference in the worklives and outside lives of lots of people.  And I’m writing now to tell you that I’m seeing the possibilities once again.  This time, it’s in the rural communities of the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua.

If I was excited to come across your book in ’92, then I felt positively ecstatic a few years ago to discover that it had been translated into Spanish.  We immediately acquired copies and began the advocacy for open books as a means to cultivate long-term, sustainable development.  We shared the idea with established coops, with development agencies, a national association of cooperatives and anyone else who would listen.

But the reaction tended to be the same as that which you originally experienced when first sharing the notion with companies here in the U.S.: leaders saw it as a threat, managers could not accept the possibility of broad-thinking peasants, and in our case, there may have even been some nationalism at work as Nicaraguans may have doubted the applicability of a North American business invention.  So we simply continued to reference the concept with groups as we interacted with them, we continued to tell the story of the transformational potential of open books, and hoped that the seeds which were planted might take root.

Then, last month, I think we may have achieved a breakthrough of sorts.  Winds of Peace Foundation provided the major underwriting of a “certificate program” for cooperatives.  The participants were mostly rural producers and members of cooperatives, with some development people, as well.  Some of them had heard us talk about open books previously, but only in a generic way.  This time, they were exposed to more detail and actually performed some exercises to illustrate the process.  By going slowly and with care, many of them seemed to warm to the belief that they could and should “know their numbers” and the processes behind them.  (Their excursion into open books has even been written up by researcher and certificate program developer Rene Mendoza, in the magazine, “Confidencial.”)

I wonder if you knew back in 1992 that the idea of open books contained as much transformational power as it has proven to hold.  You wrote about empowering people and changing their lives at work through open books, you wrote about companies harnessing resources that were previously dormant, you even wrote about the intrinsic impacts that this kind of participation engenders.  But could you have foreseen entire cultural shifts that could result?  Did you contemplate what it might mean in changing the dynamics between the “gatekeepers” of knowledge and the producers who often naively relied upon them?  Having the book translated into other languages constituted a step of faith in that direction, but did you actually anticipate that rural cooperative members- often uneducated and inexperienced- could take control of their organizations that had long been under the influence of other voices?

In Nicaragua, some of our partners are beginning to rethink the cultural norm of autonomous leadership that has existed for generations.  They have begun to experience a confidence in both their need and ability to know the critical equations of their businesses.  I know that you might identify with the feelings I had when visiting one cooperative, exploring with them the reasons for their success when so many of their neighbors were struggling.  The reasons were many, but when they reported having read your book (which we had earlier placed with them) and having implemented some of its lessons, I knew that the magic of the game was as real in Nicaragua as it has been in the U.S.  More importantly, they did, too. If you really did anticipate the universality of open books, then you are, indeed, prescient.

As with any methodology that shakes up the status quo of authority, knowledge and position, this process will take time, repetition and success in order for it to take hold as a new way of life.  You have preached that reality continually from your own experiences.  Winds of Peace will need to stand with the early adopters of open books and provide the necessary resources for continued training and access to experienced voices.  But if the commitment is there, we will be, too.

I can only hope that the cooperatives who show interest in embracing open book management can create the kind of network among themselves that you were able to create with open book organizations in the U.S.  That opportunity for organizations to come together and share their experiences, their difficulties and their solutions have really helped to expand the open book reality.  Those networks have made it easier to deal with problems and false starts before they become too big to handle.  Being available to one another is not only a help to those who are struggling, but also to those who are succeeding, still wanting to achieve more.

So thanks again.  Your idea worked for my former company over the years and now stands the chance to work transformations once again, this time in a more difficult context.  But great ideas have a way of surviving even the most challenging circumstances, and my belief is that one of your many future site visits just might include a stop in Central America, to see the Nicaraguan version of Le Gran Juego de los Negocios…. 

Best Regards,


Steve Sheppard
Steve Sheppard






Against the Current

The salmon are one of our best teachers.  We watch the salmon as smolts going to the ocean and observe them returning home. We see the many obstacles that they have to overcome. We see them fulfill the circle of life, just as we must do. And if the salmon aren’t here, the circle becomes broken and we all suffer.
-Leroy Seth, Nez Perce Tribe

It’s a truth for many creatures of this earth that progress and success must be forged in the face of great currents.  As with the salmon of the Pacific Northwest, and the Native American peoples who relied upon them, their histories define the very idea of struggling against the tides.  And like their distant North American cousins, rural Nicaraguans have found themselves fighting against undercurrents from both within and outside of the country for generations.  Like the salmon, Nicaraguans have experienced swimming upstream as a way of life.  But unlike the salmon, Nicaraguans clearly see the possibilities in navigating a different way.

So when the plan was created late last year to have Winds of Peace Foundation underwrite a cooperative certificate program in Nicaragua, we readily endorsed the idea.  The notion of developing an holistic, best practices curriculum for rural producers engendered immediate enthusiasm because -maybe for the first time- a peasant cooperative population was being offered a menu of topics befitting any progressive North American business enterprise.  In addition, this program would consume an entire week of the participants’ lives, a block of time that by definition signaled a serious commitment to learning.  That willingness, along with the logistical reality of dormitory-style living quarters, suggested that the attendees felt the urgency and importance in making an offering such as this a seminal event.

Not least of importance, the developers of the program were proven leaders in their knowledge of both the materials and the

Rene Mendoza
Rene Mendoza

participants.  Dr. Rene Mendoza is a Nicaraguan researcher, teacher and writer, a co-founder and former director of the University of Central America’s well-known NITLAPAN research and development institute.  For the past  several years he has visited and counseled with scores of rural cooperatives in exploring their viability and sustainability in the face of global and national economic change.   He continues to present much of his research in the form of articles posted to this website.

Edgar Fernandez is a broadly-experienced rural development practitioner, a frequent collaborator with Mendoza and also a co-founder of NITLAPAN.

Edgar Fernandez (with Abemelet Rodriguez)
Edgar Fernandez (with Abemelet Rodriguez)

An exceptional analyst of organizational strength and weakness, Fernandez readily connects  with and engenders confidence in rural Nicaraguan producers.

Ligia Guitierrez is a psychologist and “firebrand” for helping rural populations-

Ligia Guitierrez (At right)
Ligia Guitierrez (At right)

especially Indigenous communities- to recognize their cultural heritage and powers of influence and self-destiny. In the face of growing economic disparity and marginalization of large sectors of the population, her lessons of personal integrity and self-esteem resonate with those who fear losing hope.

But participant readiness and facilitator expertise are only parts of a successful learning equation.  The other essential ingredient is a content that is both worthy of the interest and useful in its application.  Here, the magic of a week’s investment was evident from the earliest iterations of the agenda.

The modules of the week’s activities might have been copied from an advanced leadership training  prospectus:  Day 1- An important historical context for the current state of cooperatives;  Day 2- Organizational innovations (including open book management and Lean process improvement) from a North American employee-owned company; Day 3- Gender and the loss of relationships and resources; Day 4- Climate change impacts, current and future; Day 5- Spirituality in work; Day 6- Individual and organizational health.  (I may have more to say about any or each of these in future essays, but for now it is sufficient to recognize the scope of the program.)

In between the content-rich plenary dialogues, breakout discussions and creation of action plans, the days offered important opportunities for relaxing the difficult work of introspection and self-analysis.  There were songs sung, dance and music IMG_2535performances by participants and visitors, and an awe-inspiring hike to the topmost reaches of Peñas Blancas.  We tossed a ball to introduce ourselves to each other, threw wadded up paper at speakers and each other to stay positive in the face of the enormous challenges and laughed endlessly at one participant’s

Uriselda Lopez (Kept us laughing!)
Uriselda Lopez (Kept us laughing!)

uncanny ability to sound exactly like a crying child!  Indeed, all of the intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, occupational and physical aspects of our collective and individual wellness were fully in play during the entire week.  This was an exceptional educational event.

By addressing all of the components of the Nicaraguan cooperative circumstance, this program and its presenters managed to identify and contextualize Nicaraguan realities and prospects in an important and unique way.  For perhaps their first time, cooperative members were able to behold their organizations, their mutual responsibilities to one another, the economic elements which are truly beyond their control and those which are within their influence, the nature of transparent and collaborative work and the research that underscores all of that. The lessons were difficult.  The truths were uncomfortable.  The currents undoubtedly prompted some to consider turning around and swimming away.  But the integrated view of their cooperative lives and an inherent drive to surmount obstacles like “it’s the way we’ve always done it,” or “we can never understand” allowed transformations to take place over the week.

Time will reveal which of these possible innovators will succeed in fighting the stream of status quo and in what ways.  Maybe like the salmon, there exists sufficient and innate will to complete the journey to which their lives are called, to fulfill the most basic needs for work and sustenance and dignity.  In a very real sense, without that chance the circle of their lives becomes broken, and we all suffer….

The "Others"
The “Others”

Very Cooperative

Winds of Peace Foundation has committed a great deal of time and resources to the study and development of cooperatives in Nicaragua.  Over the past five years alone, WPF has supported more than thirty coops; underwritten the cost of a half-dozen cooperative workshops for rural participants; commissioned studies about their history, makeup, the effects of climate upon them, and the context of coffee; and now partially sponsored an entire cooperative certificate program to continue teaching and to provide a tangible marker of achievement.  We’ve even pitched the idea for the creation of a “Synergy Center,” whereby WPF might partner with  a North American university to share its wealth of experiences and findings and provide a destination for students and delegations wanting to know more about the realities of Central American neighbors.

We’ve had some amazing successes.  We’ve also experienced some unexpected and disappointing defaults.  We’ve come to know a lot about Nicaraguan coops and what makes them work.  Yet, at the same time, we’ve had one organization- not even a cooperative in structure- that models the cooperative methodologies and successes as well or better than almost any other partner.  Yes, I’ve had another visit with ANIDES.

ANIDES has been guiding women of the rural communities of Matagalpa in the creation of small community banks in recent years, creating financial literacy, sustainability, independence and savings accounts for its participants.  The impact upon the lives of its members is palpable, not only in terms of financial strengthening, but also in quality of life and family.  WPF has admired the motivations and results of this group for years.  And now, ANIDES is proud to be reporting that these small community banks are becoming formally-registered cooperatives, with ten of the current thirteen banks in the registration process.  The objective is to eventually form a union of cooperatives once all registrations are complete.

These coops offer strengthened opportunities for their members to establish outlets for their small enterprises: crafts, bread-baking, small services and other commercial ventures.  These entrepreneurial efforts have created the financial wherewithal to “feed” the community banking enterprise.  The resources generated by these small enterprises often are used to fund significant events, such as the addition of indoor plumbing to a home, a water softener for cleaner drinking and washing water, or education opportunities for members’ children,  a dream that might otherwise seem very out-of-reach for these same families.

The legal cooperative status confers some technical advantages for the  women members: they will have access to joint banking accounts, easier accessibility to those accounts, greater security for deposits, cooperative education to further their understanding of collaborative advantages, opportunities to learn from one another.  The plan is to conduct monthly meetings among the cooperative delegates to consistently share experiences, problems, concerns, financial lessons and to celebrate what has been and promises to be a continuing success story in the rural countryside of Matagalpa.

The real value of these fledgling cooperatives, however, may not be in the technical or legal characteristics that registration will confer.  The bigger impact just may be on the lives and attitudes of those who have been willing to risk moving out of their comfort zones and into positions of learning and financial responsibility. For most, it’s an act of faith.  (By comparison, imagine yourself voluntarily signing up for a quantum physics class as a forty-something year-old, when you barely understand arithmetic.)  But such is their determination for improving their families’ circumstances, to work in some form of solidarity.  It also underscores a deepening sense of self-respect: in discussing a request for possible funding,  they have specified for the first time in our work together that the funding be in the form of a loan, to be fully repaid.  (I truly wish I could convey the sense of pride on the faces of the women as they specified a loan.)

They are taught and they understand the basic finances of their banks.  They assume positions of leadership, likely for the first time in their lives.  They make decisions among themselves.  They establish and attend meetings of their banks, sometimes walking for miles to be present.  They create celebrations of their work and themselves.  In short, these women do the things that successful cooperatives-  successful organizations of any sort- must do in order to endure.

As WPF imagines new ways of bringing together organizations to model best practices and to learn from one another, ANIDES might very well need to be part of the mix, even though they aren’t growing coffee, beans, rice or raising cattle.  What they are raising is their quality of life, their knowledge and their self-esteem, and being very cooperative about it….