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LeeThorn to the GKDList
I find the discussion fascinating. I am learning. Thank you all that have shared and that have written me privately.
I, for one, am overcome by the question of the alleviation of poverty in all its facets and am especially overwhelmed by questions about urban poverty. I know in the U.S. where I consulted for many years with urban anti-poverty programs, the programs that in my experience worked best in the U.S. were small in scale and often took either: 1) an old-fashioned, 19th century social work model, that is, the facilitator worked with each person on her/his own particular case, meeting the person whole person to whole person and taking on problems one-by-one; or 2) used SaulAlinsky-style organizing practices and confronted en masse the local powers that be, which were sometimes multi-nationals themselves. The most remembered Alinsky-style organizing was done in Rochester, New York. The church-coalition-led mass organization confronted Kodak, the biggest company in the community at the time. I know similar organizing has been going on for years in the riverside slums of Bangkok led by my friend, Fr. Joe Maier and others. The work we did in Vietnam Veterans Against the War was very influenced by Saul Alinsky. There are some interesting and ambitious pieces of work going on in urban areas using IT, but there are other people on this list that can speak to these in a much more informed way than I can. Suffice it to say that in Alinsky-style organizing a) the poor own their organizations; b) things are done nonviolently; and c) no non-violent tactic - or useful tool - is ignored.
I am currently more interested in rural poverty and I spoke to one part of Jhai's efforts, the Jhai PC and communication system, in an earlier email. I am particularly interested in last centimeter solutions.
In the JhaiPC and communication system case, farmers and their families have come up with three ways to make money (a key thing for them - a good friend once told me each day he must catch a fish - he takes as long as it takes - if he cannot catch a fish, his family is hungry):
1. by beating the closest middle man by finding out the price for their commodities (rice, woven goods) in the local market town by using the VoIP phone to a family member in that town. (There is data on this from InfoDev developed by a project in Senegal using WAP-enhanced cell phones).
2. by developing a local, sit-on-the-ground-and-sell-your-goods market in one village for use by five villages (thus, increasing the multiplier effect in the area), developing it through use of VoIP phones among women in the slower rainy season).
3. by trading with their relatives overseas in such a way that both their relatives and they make money, rather than their relatives sending them remittances. For example, they send a piece of woven goods to America where their cousin sells it in the diaspora for $80. Rather than sending $20 remittance that month, the cousin keeps $20 ($40 up) and sends $60 to the goods owner (who normally would have gotten $10 from the merchant coming through the village).
This is family capitalism in its purest form.
I would also like to contribute to this discussion by responding to some things that Sam Lanfranco brought up:
> The core problem for most NGOs is access to resources. The solution, in > most cases, is to seek resources from the "haves" to help/work with the > "have not's". There are only three ways for NGOs to get resources: 1) > seek them as donations; 2) seek them as contracted program/project > funds; or 3) act like a business and "grow" them from revenues.
We at JhaiFoundation have some experience with all of these, but perhaps most useful is our experience with business and the 'growing' of revenues. Before I start, I would like to point out that we have never 'cherry-picked' our projects. We work with very poor people, usually people who have no electricity, landlines, nor cell phone connectivity.
I can only give you examples from my own experience. I will showcase our coffee project. As a matter of fact, we just spun off our coffee business to a cooperate we helped develop. This makes me very happy. We have developed many relationships over the course of this experiment. We have a relationships with:
a) IFC (WorldBank) which is helping pay, I think, for organic and fair trade certification work b) a local wet processor, who is becoming a leader of the new cooperative c) a local dry processor who will now have a direct relationship with the new cooperative d) a local exporter who will now have a direct relationship with the new cooperative e) with an importer who both our friend, the roaster, Thanksgiving Coffee, also has a relationship with and who is helping us develop relationships on behalf of the cooperative with other roasters, and who pays the cooperative four times what they were previously getting f) with a roaster who gives us a donation for every pound he sells roasted through the internet for the farmers g) and with buyers who work with us to promote the coffee as well as consume it.
Please see <www.jhai.org> to buy Jhai Coffee Farmers Cooperative's coffee!
I should point out that the importer is owned by the largest coffee company in the world and they are set up to help people like us and these farmers through the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) (which, by the way, our roaster was the first president of as well as the most recent past president of) and through their own policy and procedures. The import company we work with has an arm set up for specialty coffee programs exclusively!
We got to this arrangement by daring to make mistakes and we made LOTS of them, believe me, ... and some of them were relatively expensive. We do listen, however, and try to learn from our mistakes. We know it is important to listen to everyone, but especially to our customers and our friends in rural villages. Our relation to the multi-national importer is pretty personal. We have a personal relationship with the buyer and more-or-less personal relationships with back-office people in Houston. We consciously developed these relationships. I doubt that anyone has a relationship with a 'multi-national' nor a 'corporation'. People tend to have relationships with people, don't we? ... and sometimes animals .. And usually our relationships with animals we live with ... Are better.
We have a similar experience in terms of relationships with IT companies we have worked with. We established personal relationships, sometimes warm, sometimes more abstracted, with people in these companies. Our techies have talked with techies. I tend to talk to anthropologists and corporate foundation people and sometimes higher management and board members. But it is always people talking with people.
And it is also similar with NGOs and government organizations we have partnered with. It is always about, at least in large measure, personal relationships. In Laos our staff has been all Laotian nationals. Their relationships in Laos are mostly warm and often through school and family connections. I try to leave them to solve their own problems in their own way, as long as they confirm with core Jhai Foundation values.
One last thing on this: I do not consider myself very good at personal relationships. I am a combat vet with post-traumatic stress. I grew up hard. But I am sincere and I try to be kind. These two attributes seem to make a difference. Also, I know that I took part in killing that had no good reason. That makes me a little less willing to tell anyone, least of whom people I helped bomb, what to do and how to do it. The best I can do is show up as a whole person and be sincere and kind. That's enough for me; heck, that's a stretch for me.
Professor Lanfranco also said:
Again, speaking from experience this question is the toughest one of all for Jhai. How do we dance with ... Funders ... Wherever they got their money? There is no easy answer to this, as the good professor pointed out. In order to do what we do the way we do it - through the reconciliation method of development - we have to find partnerships that want to go along with what farmers see as their own priorities. We have to disappear as much as possible in the negotiation, but that is not too far, because the farmers count on us to translate for them. And we have to say 'no' sometimes to funders. And we even say, as we have to the McKnightFoundation, we cannot find a way for weavers to make a profit in a fair trade way, given the market in the US and the tariff imposed on Laos ... So we will give you back the money according to an agreement we can come to. We admit our mistakes. Just what our current US president (oops, getting ahead of myself) refuses to do. But I digress.
And we entertain all offers ... But we avoid some situations, like for example, Iraq. Not because we are afraid of becoming part of the problem (although we sure don't want to be), but because we are flat-out afraid.
Old vets pick their spots.
Also, and here I am guessing ... I imagine from the corporate point of view what is important is that Jhai know the people they want to have as customers eventually and/or corporations want to work with us to create tools for the people we serve ... According to the villagers' exacting, expressed needs. People in some corporations like this idea.
Finally, I agree with Professor Lanfranco:
> Better to be small and part of the solution than to be large and part of > the problem. Enter the dance with caution.
We have decided to stay small. When we facilitate the roll out of the JhaiPC and communication system we will do it on a completely open source, open design basis. We also will facilitate the development of local partners' expertise to become trainers and facilitators of other trainers and partners. We may go through a slightly fat period, but we will slim down soon enough. Bigger is not necessarily better ... Or necessarily worse. Effective is better.
A long time ago I put together a book of days called 'Money and Spirit'. I never got it published, another lesson. On Nov 2, yesterday, it quotes William Shakespeare: "I am a true laborer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm."
The character here in 'The Merchant of Venice' seems to have found his true calling. As NGOPeople or CorporatePeople or consultants or professors or farmers or whatever we are, this seems like the best goal. To create 'solutions' without having real relationships with real end-users seems a bit unreal. Better to just seek our calling and be ourselves ...and be conscious about how poor people live by actually getting to know a few. Not interview them; know them.
I hope this helps.
Yours, in Peace,
P.S. Here's another small scale example of using business to create benefit for farmers and rural folk. In the 80s I ran Veterans Peace Action Teams for a while. We drove two trucks to Nicaragua during the boycott. One was a well-digging truck. The other was a truck filled with parts for the well-digging truck. One was driven by a well-digger vet and the other was driven by a very resourceful vet. When they arrived in Nicaragua, they hired local folks who wanted to learn well-digging. They dug wells together with them for a year, ... many, many wells in the war zone. After one year, we gave the best of the local guys the truck (and the parts). He had a business and hired others to help him. L.
JhaiFoundation LeeThorn Chair firstname.lastname@example.org www.jhai.org
350 Townsend St., Ste. 309 San Francisco, CA 94107 USA tel: 1 415 344 0360 fax: 1 415 344 0360 mobile: 1 415 420 2870
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