Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Mike was in Nicaragua with the Canadian NGO, Casa Canadiense, when he met a small girl buying supplies for her family in a local village. Mike describes this as a “defining moment”. In conversation with this girl he learned that she had to walk for two hours a day just to get to school. He immediately recognized that her ten hour days were exhausting and that it was likely to impact her ability to finish school. As he reflected on her story, he was reminded of his childhood in Toronto, where the best ten minutes of his day were the ones he spent riding his bike to school. It was in that moment that Bikes without Borders (BWB) was conceived.
BWB uses bikes and bike-related solutions as a tool for development in marginalized communities. The initiative under discussion on DNTO was Pedal Powered Hope for Malawi. Each bike is used by community health workers who pedal out to rural communities and dispense anti retroviral drugs, take blood samples, and give guidance on medication. In addition, they provide education to the communities as well as support for orphans and palliative care. Amazing stuff...but back to the bikes.
BWB works with an engineer who designed the bike ambulances which are then solidly built by Malawians. This venture has created sustainable work for Malawi, support for a community model of healthcare, as well as bringing needed medication, education, and practical support to HIV/Aids victims. We are encouraged to participate by buying a bike ($100) or a bike ambulance ($400). For more a more complete picture of this amazing social enterprise please visit their website.
In deconstructing why this story impacted me so profoundly I realized that often our impulse to be good and to do good in the world is hampered by our lack of understanding of community. It seems like a win/win to collect our old bikes and to send them to the developing world...this, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it’s just not enough. What Bikes without Borders demonstrates so beautifully is the building of community through understanding the need and providing the right support rather than the right answer.
The Acacia Group’s mission is to offer transformative and unique leadership development for organizations and individuals seeking to live out their global citizenship. To do this we blend knowledge from Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Leadership Development and Learning to emerge new opportunities for excellence for our clients.
This Blog was written by Christine Bonney, Managing Partner, The Acacia Group
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Until recently, Carolina Amesquita, the principal at La Escuela Ramona Jil primary school in Chimeltenango, Guatemala lamented daily the her students were drinking contaminated water directly from the tap, often contracting gastrointestinal illnesses that kept them out of school. Others in the community were suffering too. Juana Ramirez, an expert weaver in the village of San Mateo, could no longer see well enough to sort her threads by color. Her productivity had plummeted, further stressing her already struggling family. While preparing meals over an open-pit fire in her home, as Guatemalan women had done for generations, Alva Rios was inhaling harmful smoke for hours each day. Julia Garcia was spending more and more of her family income on electricity bills, while Benito Ramirez had no electricity in his home and at night had to study by candlelight.
These and similar problems confronting thousands of rural Guatemalans have now been solved through the hard work of two Guatemalan women. Yoly Acajabon and Clara Luz de Montezuma, local homemakers in their mid-40’s, started their own enterprises in 2004 with no entrepreneurial experience of start-up capital. Working within the MicroConsignment Model (MCM), these extraordinary women are providing low –income villagers with essential products and services that help improve their health, nutrition and economic situations – and they are earning incomes for their own families while they doing so.
La Escuela Ramona now owns a water-purification device. Juan Ramirez got a free eye-exam and bought low-cost reading glasses. Alva Rios now cooks on fuel-efficient stove with a chimney. Julia Garcia has installed energy-efficient light bulbs in her home, and Benito Ramirez owns a solar panel and LED light that brightens and entire room.
By providing access to needed but previously unavailable products, Yoly and Clara are “bridging the last mile” in the supply chain of products needed by the rural poor in an appropriate and sustainable way. In the beginning they simply sold reading glasses, but over time their “basket of solutions” has become a growing enterprise…….
With support from university students, recent graduates and a permanent field staff, Social Entrepreneur Corps ( SEC) provides training in business skills, access to products and seed funding. To date they have provided training to over 200 women entrepreneurs and broker organizations such as community libraries who can also then provide business support and skills to the ranks of entrepreneurs.
DH - Greg, you have indicated that you don’t see yourself as a volunteer program per se, but as a development program.
GVK – That’s right. We see our role as creating something that is sustainable, that creates a scenario whereby if Social Entrepreneur Corps were to disappear overnight that the program could still run. Skills and resources are created that we contribute to but we don’t own them. They would still survive. It is just smart business to create sustainable infrastructure – to create strong development work.
DH – I know we are all guarding against the creation of dependency and a neo-colonial approach to development, how do you avoid this?
GVK - We work best when we all work together – we bring strengths and weaknesses, and we are constantly curious about our role and we interact with beneficiaries. Ultimately we will leave when we don’t add value anymore. We want to create self-sustainability, we are constantly looking at driving costs out of the equation, but having said that we need to do everything from development to departure at the right pace, a timing agenda creates an urgency and – velocity of our interaction should introduced as a factor. We build trust – this takes time, but creates a sense of cooperation and achievement. If we insist on a transactional relationship only, then there will be no trust and true sustainability becomes elusive if not impossible.
The final section of the interview will run next week and Greg will discuss how young learners experience the program as interns, and what the future holds for him and this model.
As the subtitle of this blog indicates, there is a real connection to Greg’s work, the work of Yoly and Clara and the Millennium Development Goals. This week and next the G8 and G20 will meet in Ontario, Canada to discuss their way in the world and featured on the agenda are the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). While leaders and bureaucrats pontificate and navel gaze about actions to support already agreed upon commitments, now and again in September in New York, Greg, his team of interns and Yoly and Clara using their “basket of solutions” are already taking a bite out the MDG. Moving to eliminate poverty, creating a better, cleaner and sustainable environment, achieving primary universal education, and promoting gender equality and empowering women are tangible products of the work being done in Guatemala. One can assume that success in these goals will also impact the remaining goals through true systemic shifts. It is curious to note that this is not being done via aid or hand outs but rather smart and effective business leadership built upon the back bone of trust, leading to sustainability.
The Acacia Group is proud to be working with Greg and Social Entrepreneur Corps in Nebaj, and is offering an opportunity for individuals or groups to participate in, observe and learn from SEC and the citizens of Nebaj. This experience is combined with personal and group leadership development coaching before, during and after the trip for up to three months. Interest is building, so book soon at www.theacaciagroup.ca or join us on one of our upcoming webinars to get more information.
Webinar: Months of Leadership and Development Coaching + 1 Week in Nebaj, Guatemala = 1 Golden Opportunity
The Acacia Group will be hosting a second webinar to provide information regarding their transformative learning opportunity in Guatemala –departing in late November, where special pricing is in effect.
The call and the experience are intended for:
• Individuals who wish to move out of their comfort zone and be different in the world they see
• Individuals and organizations who recognize the value of experiential learning and who want to take their learning outside of the office or classroom
• Individuals and organizations who have tasted success, and are now seeking a way to “make a difference” in the world around them.
• Organizations that are looking for distinct ways to engage in meaningful, longer-term corporate social responsibility and see that growing leadership is the way to truly embed sustainablity into their corporate DNA.
Discover, Experience, Grow – these are the core elements of The Acacia Group and their socially responsible leadership experiences. Join us on this week's webinar to understand how you or your company can access a unique experience in social responsibility and an investment in learning.
July 7th at 12:00 noon Pacific
The webinar is free – just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating which date you would like to attend and we will send you personal dial in info. For more information visit www.theacaciagroup.ca and click the link for Guatemala.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Earlier this week I had the good fortune to meet again with Greg Van Kirk, Ashoka Lemolson Fellow, and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia University. Greg is an open, engaging and skilled social entrepreneur who has demonstrated that with passion, intelligence and integrity – communities can be made stronger.
The discussion was rich with information and as a result, over the next week or so this blogspace will contain excerpts from that conversation. Further information on Greg’s work can also be found at http://www.newdevelopmentsolutions.com/ . His worked is also featured in the video found on this site.
Some brief background first: Greg runs a variety of programs- including Social Entrepreneur Corps, (SEC). This program provides development programs in Ecuador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Working with local agencies, interested local entrepreneurs and with input from seventy-five university students and recent graduates interns from the US – Greg has supported the development of a variety of programs that benefit local villagers in these three countries.
Can you describe your program?
Well we looked at the various programs that existed such as academic programs that focused on the learner’s academic needs, or even volunteer programs that tend to be more relief focus and realized that that would not work for our vision. We don’t see our program as a volunteering program, we are a development organization that focuses year round on developing local people. We have been able to create a structure whereby people can, on a short term basis – focusing as apprentices or interns – share their skills in a manner that adds capacity to the local community; the focus is always on the beneficiaries and the work flows from there. 80% of our current permanent workforce are former interns of the Social Entrepreneur Corps.
I know that you started with the Centro Exlprativo, can you tell me more about that and how that has evolved and benefitted from some of the “incubator” work of SEC?
Centro Explorativo, in Nebaj is an education centre that started as a literacy program, but now has over 2000 books, free computer classes, after school classes on math and literacy, along with sports programs – all these services are free up and running since 2003. The program now boasts three teachers, and is owned and administered by a local organization of Guatemalan’s and has had thousands of participants.
I know that a logical spin-off was combining the computer skills with supporting the needs of tourists via an internet café?
That’s right, from education there has also been a focus on tourism- a site that started as a restaurant, has evolved and created spin- offs such as a guiding business, a coffee shop, a hostel, internet centre, language school – that have now be owned by local folks since 2004. SEC provided $25,000 of program support resulting in total revenues of $750,000.
These are concrete examples of creating a tangible presence in the community, but these locations are backed up the creation of skills that are portable. SEC is a driver of the micro-consignment model . The purpose of which is to create access to products and services that ordinarily would not exist or are donated. We stared with the distribution of wood burning stoves, and now distribute eye glasses, energy efficient bulbs, lamps, and now water treatment programs. These are just the products but SEC has trained and supported – over 200 women entrepreneurs and also work with broker community organizations like libraries, who can in turn provide training. We help create village campaigns, where we assist entrepreneurs do the marketing, advertising etc to a village, building anticipation and then they show up with their goods – so far we have executed over 2000 of these campaigns, sold over 60,000 products. Earned net income in aggregate around $75,000. Now, a social enterprise has been created to allow this activity to continue and to be sustained– it is share based company model owned by Guatemalan men and women, homemakers with no experience, now own a company that generates $80,000 annually in revenue. We estimate that the economic productivity benefit from this i.e. health issues with a stove, savings from not having to buy water or consume contaminated water, increased productivity due to being able to see because of glasses is around $1.4 million in Guatemala alone. We have now taken this model to Ecudaor and Nicargaua – and all sales are even across the board and consistent with the beta work we have done in Guatemala
Greg’s work has captured the attention of the social entrepreneur community and there is a desire to determine how this can be duplicated in other sites. More information on this issue, and the notion of engagement will be discussed in blogs posted later this week. Stay tuned, or subscribe!
The Acacia Group works with Greg and Social Entrepreneur Corps in Nebaj, and is offering an opportunity for individuals or groups to participate in, observe and learn from SEC and the citizens of Nebaj. This experience is combined with personal and group leadership development coaching before, during and after the trip for up to three months. Interest is building, so book soon at www.theacaciagroup.ca
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Two stories came to my attention this week that have caused me to pause and consider the nature of organizations and the potential influence they hold in the world – for good or for harm. They in turn generated three questions
1. When entering into a business venture in a developing country, is it not a fundamental responsibility of the corporation to determine and then avoid risk to environment and people if the business is created there?
2. What is the depth, intensity and duration of CSR activities as they relate to social, environmental and political processes in any country within the corporate value chain? Is there integrity or is it window dressing?
3. How do we get the message across that for CSR to work it must be embedded into all aspects of the corporate decision making process and strategy?
The first story arrived via a media campaign from an organization requesting support for a writing campaign in support of the Women of Atenco – Mexico. The background to the request is well covered on internet sites including Amnesty USA . The facts appear to be that in 2006 violence between protesters and police resulted in the death of a child, and with this tragedy local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco Mexico gathered to show their support for the community. The Mexican authorities responded with force and of arrested hundreds including at least 45 women. Of the 45 women arrested, 26 subsequently reported being physically and sexually assaulted by Mexican police while they were being held. One officer has been convicted (of a minor offence) and none of the other officials who perpetrated the abuse have been adequately held responsible even though the Supreme Court of Mexico issued a statement in 2009 that human rights abuses did take place. Amnesty International USA is inviting the public to join them in a letter writing campaign to ask the Special Prosecutor on Violence Against Women for a full and impartial investigation of those involved in the rape, sexual violence, torture, and ill treatment of the female detainees and that the perpetrators be brought to justice. – What is the CSR link? Based on a variety of accounts, the impetus for the initial protest, where the child died, was a dispute related to plans to build a Wal-Mart at the site historically used by flower vendors.
The second story was a documentary titled `The Coca-Cola Case’. The event that sparked the documentary was the murder of unionized workers at a Coca Cola licensed bottling plant in Columbia. In the film, the journey by a small group of lawyers representing the workers at the plant who attempted to bring a case against Coca Cola is chronicled. While the film has received mixed reviews, the facts of the case include the death of and death-threats against workers at the plant who have joined the union, and the reputation of Colombia as a country that is facing a human rights crisis – particularly against trade unionists. The current state of Colombia’s human rights violations is well documented on sites such as Amnesty USA and The Henning Center (a University of California, Berkeley project of the Center for Labor Research and Education).
The questions that these two stories raise for me are basic.
1. When entering into a business venture in a developing country, is it not a fundamental responsibility of the corporation to determine the risk to environment and people if the business is created there?
This question is asked with a puzzled expression and a bit of naiveté – surely it cannot be deemed right to establish a business at the cost of human life or the violation of human rights? Organizations have access to information on the state of human rights and environmental practices in every country in the world. Basic project management processes highlight the need for a risk assessment – in these cases – was the mitigation strategy merely a detached exec stating “Make the problem go away”?
2. What are the depth, intensity and duration of CSR activities as they relate to social, environmental and political processes in any country within the corporate value chain? Is there integrity or is it window dressing?
The second question relates to the state of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in large multinational corporations. How real is the embracing of CSR? Both Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola have recently launched significant CSR programs and this is a positive step. It may well be that in typical organizational form, changes are happening slowly and a snapshot in time does not do justice to the changes that are underway. Changes take time and a longitudinal view may provide a better perspective on the state of CSR. However both companies seem to be silent on the events in Mexico and Colombia respectively. As large corporations, they have the influence to declare and abide by a value ethic that upholds human rights and environmental protection as paramount in the business decision making processes.
3. How do we get the message across that for CSR to work it must be embedded into all aspects of the corporate decision making process and strategy?
This final question comes from a place of curiosity regarding an organization’s internal decision making process and the ability of humans (and I include myself in this) to disconnect my decisions from the harmful impacts that may result. What will it to take to create an impetus for organizations to examine their decision making – at all organizational levels? I acknowledge that it is very difficult to anticipate all the intended and unintended consequences of an organization’s decisions. Surely there are some outcomes that must be avoided at all costs and about which a clear statement can be made. Over the past decades however, a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge that has been developing around processes for facilitating better decision – making – let’s take advantage of them in the spirit of doing right and avoiding harm.
As companies orient themselves to behave as large economies versus as true members of a community it can be easy for them to appear reckless in their desire to grow, and at times tread on fundamental human rights. I, however, continue to choose optimism – that people will find the courage within their roles in life to examine their own values and to choose to do good. That the trend towards true CSR engagement is not just an illusion, but evidence that big corporations are starting to get clear on their responsibilities.
In an earlier blog the question was asked if there was any research about employees making choices based on their values when those values are opposed to the values of their organizations. What is your experience in this type of situation?
In light of the magnitude of the task at hand, sometimes a simple action can make a difference. Please click here if you wish to take action on behalf of the Women of Atenco.
This post was written by Penny Lane, Managing Director of the Acacia Group, responsible for Community Development and International Relations
The Acacia Group’s mission is to offer transformative and unique leadership development for organizations seeking to live out their global citizenship. To do this we blend knowledge from Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Leadership Development and Learning to create new opportunities for excellence for our clients. For more information, visit www.theacaciagroup.ca
Monday, June 7, 2010
Ever since large corporations such as Nike, Shell and Monsanto began facing increased scrutiny from civil society – mostly for putting short-term profits far ahead of environmental responsibility and job security- an industry has ballooned to help these companies respond. It seems clear, however, that many in the corporate world remain utterly convinced that all they have is a `messaging problem’ one that can be neatly solved by settling on the right, socially minded brand identity.
It turns out that’s the last thing they need. British Petroleum found this out the hard way when it was forced to distance itself from its own outrageous rebranding campaign, Beyond Petroleum. Understandably, many consumers interpreted the new slogan to mean the company was moving away from fossil fuels in response to climate change. Human rights and environmental activists, after seeing no evidence that BP was actually changing its policies, brought up embarrassing details at the company’s annual general meeting about BP’s participation in a controversial new pipeline through sensitive areas of Tibet, as well as its decision to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. With the new slogan being parodied on the Net as Beyond Preposterous, BP officials moved to abandon the Beyond Petroleum brand, though they have so far stuck with the new green flower logo.
As evidence of the state of corporate confusion, I frequently find myself asked to give presentation to individual corporations. Fearing that my words will end up in some gooey ad campaign, I always refuse. But I can offer this advice without reservation: nothing will change until corporations realize that they don’t have a communications problem. They have a reality problem.
This was written eight years ago by Naomi Klein and is excerpted from her book : Fences and Windows – Dispatches from the front line of the globalization debate. . Before we get to the gist of the issue consider these more contemporary news pieces.
Apple computers is now the world’s most valuable computer tech company surpassing Microsoft and now has a market capitalization of approx $120 B. This coincides with Steve Jobs touting the release of the new iPhone – that caused one tweeter to note that the new phone has a soul. This is comedic in some ways, tragic in others – when one considers that Apples 2010 supplier responsibility progress report indicates that only 46% of the suppliers agree to the code of conduct limiting worker hours to 60 per week, and of those only 60% were compliant with standards around minimum wage and benefits. (It begs the question, how can the phone have soul, but the company is void). This adds fuel to fire of the speculation of the cause of deaths by suicide at an Apple parts manufacturing plant in China. Yet, despite the widely touted advantages of the net, the ability to fact check and have this story go viral – from my vantage point has anything occurred to slow down the massive rush for iPads and now iPhone 4’s? – Not that I know of.
The number of tweets breathlessly anticipating the arrival of the new technology is staggering, with over 100 tweets in two minutes. To get 100 hits on the #CSR hashtag –took 4.5 hours. This is a simple, non-scientific was to illustrate that as a society we love our bright shiny things, and will evidently will turn a blind eye, a deaf ear or simply tune out bad news from companies that deliver something to us that we want. BP is rightly the poster boy of the month for public floggings, but let’s be real clear…the disconnect between BP stated values and their behavior was identified years ago – yet in our hunger for the oil are we not complicit in allowing their destructive practices to continue? And similarly are we not complicit now in allowing Apple to flaunt basic employment codes and to avoid the almost inherent need to set, establish and print CSR targets?
CSR has shifted from being predominantly philanthropic (which met the needs of the company) to being more strategic, yet as was pointed out by Warren Levy in CSRwire talkback, “ CSR is an activity yardstick, a leading indicator of contributions that, though positive, can co-exist with unsustainable behavior that eventually will overwhelm any good that’s done.” He goes on to argue that the standard for behavior should be shifting from the “’no tomorrow” behavior or BP and perhaps Apple and instead consider the self- explanatory “grandchildren standardI like bright shiny things too, but let’s be clear of our responsibility and yes, our hypocrisy as we flog some companies and flaunt others. I really hope, that in ten years we are not cursing ourselves for supporting Mr. Jobs – and wondering “how the hell did that happen” as we respond to another social or environmental calamity.