Archives for 2015

Day 3: Holiday – end of semester congestion

Day 3: Holiday – end of semester congestion

The startup has come to a screeching halt as I scramble to write a quick proposal for a college text on Social Entrepreneurism as a key to sustainability, pause for some holiday debauchery (kidding!), and finish grading my students for the semester.  However, it continues on in my head (alongside the visions of sugar-plums) and will soon have it’s chance to roll out a bit more next week (after a white paper my students co-authored on quinoa gets submitted for peer review with the HDCA Journal first).

This photo is from last week when I was with KUSIKUY at the Prudential Center in Boston selling excess inventory to fund raise for the start-up and to also help support indigenous rights NGO, Cultural Survival.  Had a nice stay at an Airbnb right around the corner.  Sold $2,135 of inventory in 2 days…

Day 2: A note to my mentors: More, bigger, faster is not always better…

Day 2: A note to my mentors: More, bigger, faster is not always better…

As part of our KUSIKUY re-launch I am working with volunteer mentors from Valley Venture Mentors – a venture capitalist founded NGO that supports entrepreneurship development in the pioneer valley and beyond.  Here’s a note I sent to my mentors a month ago when I was first strategizing this re-launch  It was largely authored by NYC eco-fashion designer, Caroline Priebe, a long time client of ours (KUSIKUY) for production, and the Head Designer selected for this re-launch.  It brought up interesting ways in which to envision a re-launch, goals, and measurements of success.  We will be working together, meeting monthly for 4 months…

To give a clear understanding what KUSIKUY does and stands for, my designer and long term production client, Caroline Priebe, put it very well.  We are also in need of funding and are thinking of ways to reach out to folks for investment.  Let me know what you think…

“The value of my resources are my time, energy, money, the knitters, the yarn and access to designers that work in the market I would like to get in to. Just to clarify, there is no eco-market, there is market where good design in produced in different ways. Good design is the key.

I need a mentor/investor who gets that. More, bigger, faster is not always better. The investor must understand that mass and larger is not the trend or ultimately a sustainable business model. Companies like Gap, J Crew and Barneys (due to the new owners’ Wall Street model) are hurting and not the future.  This does not mean that KUSKUY will not grow and be profitable, it will.  It means that growth is part of the model and needs to be balanced with thoughtful development.  This KUSIKUY does well.

Niche design companies like Rachel Comey, Mara Hoffman, Ulla Johnson, Lauren Manoogian have been around, sustained recessions and are on the rise. 

Companies like Alabama Chanin, Outlier.cc, Kaufmann Mercantile, Not Just a Label and Hackwith Design are the business model pioneers to name a few.

My designer’s friend Emma who owns Fait La force out of Haiti, has an investor who said, “I like what you are doing in Haiti, you are teaching people skills and providing jobs, you have good taste, you are professional, how can I help you?” 

For investors, this is not charity, it’s using money to support a business whose work they believe in without traditional growth expectations and demands. Traditional capitalism (with quarterly growth demands) discriminates against the artisan/craftsperson and rewards mediocrity.  

KUSIKUY is not mediocre.  We provide the best fashion, highest quality functional design, and create sustainable, meaningful change for hundreds of Andean artisans and herders.

The image above are the concept boards for our new re-launch.  Please respect the (c) on our ideas.  

Day 1: Conception – THE CHALLENGE!

Day 1: Conception – THE CHALLENGE!

Since 1996, I have operated KUSIKUY Clothing Co., a Fair trade, eco-ethical, hand knit alpaca clothing company with sales worldwide, hime base in the US (Vermont), and production in Bolivia (and sometimes Peru).  In our “heyday”of 2006, sales reaches beyond $100,000 and clients included Timberland (accessories), Whole Foods (children’s line in CA), and Giam (glittens).  We sold 60% of our product online, 30% wholesale and 10% retail at pop up holiday events.  Every year we had a new product line and designs.

However, as a single mom, I found the business was taking me further and further away form my children.  I decided to move into academia to have a more home-based employment that matched their schedules.  KUSIKUY was left to fend for itself – no marketing, product lines or sales calls… slowly it powered down, losing $20,000 of sales a year.  In 2010, a group of NYC fashion designers contacted me for custom production.  This soon grew into a stable niche for us and the knitters learned much more sophisticated knitting and design techniques from the experience.

Now my children are older (middle school and high school) and I have 9 months (6 months part time and a free summer) to see what I can do with the business.  We are currently at net $0 in annual income, no debt, with about $8,000 of unsold inventory (samples, overknits, etc.),  and $1,500 in the bank.

This blog will follow Tamara’s journey over the next 9 months as she sees what KUSIKUY can and will become – as it is brushed off and reconfigured to become an income generating, sustainable, social enterprise and well known, sought-out, eco-brand.

Photo: Tamara Stenn, single mom, with toddler in arms, directing a 2005 KUSIKUY photo shoot.

 

The Fair Trade 23 cents difference

The Fair Trade 23 cents difference

People ask what the difference is between Fair Trade and non-Fair Trade quinoa and the answer is 23 cents and a life.  This is the new dividing line between being a subsistence farmer barely covering costs and one making a living wage, earning on the average a little more than a hundred dollars a month.  Last year, all quinoa was $.92 a pound earning Bolivia’s once impoverished quinoa farmers a dignified wage and enabling their children to complete school ant attend college (quinoa prices had been growing steadily since 2007, so the improvements in farmer livelihoods was over time).  This year (2015), Peru flooded the world market with cheap agro-chemical, conventional quinoa, for the first time out-producing Bolivia and causing market prices to plummet.   Conventional farmers in Bolivia currently earn $.19 a pound for their quinoa which does not even cover the costs to produce it.  Certified organic farmers are earning  $.36  a pound and the Fair Trade price now stands at $.59.  That 23 cents is significant and represents the difference of a child going to to college, a sick family member visiting the doctor, good quality food to be purchased, or not.

The cost breakdown of bulk, organic, Bolivian  quinoa, distributed by UNFI and sold at the Brattleboro Food Co-op for $6.40.

The cost breakdown of bulk, organic, Bolivian quinoa, distributed by UNFI and sold at the Brattleboro Food Co-op for $6.40.

I have been continuing the study of quinoa here in the US:  working students at Mount Holyoke College to explore the consumer market for chips and students at UMass to author a white paper on how education reform and participatory democracy in Bolivia empowered producers to manage and control world quinoa markets.  I also have been sharing quinoa data with the general public.  One presentation was made this week at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, the place where this quinoa study began.  Our town of 15,000 consumed several thousands of pounds of Bolivian organic quinoa since January.  None of it Fair Trade.  When I asked the UNFI distributor who supplies the co-op’s organic bulk quinoa, why they did not carry Fair Trade quinoa, he replied that there was no demand for it and was not sure if there was a difference.  In May 2015 when I spoke to the distributor there was no real price difference, though now with the quinoa market crash, there is.  Please remember the difference 23 cents makes, and ask for Fair Trade quinoa.

Consumption of certified organic, Bolivian quinoa at the Brattleboro Food Co-op: Jan. - Nov. 2015

Consumption of certified organic, Bolivian quinoa at the Brattleboro Food Co-op: Jan. – Nov. 2015

 

 

Inclusion and commitment build freedom, Part I

Inclusion and commitment build freedom, Part I

Opportunities and Capabilities together build freedom.

Opportunities and Capabilities together build freedom.

Here’s the first part of  my HDCA presentation as a Capabilities Scholar.  Full academic paper to come in December.

Thesis: Inclusion and commitment build freedom. Freedom is necessary for sustainability.

Working definition of freedom (Sen, 2010): “Freedom to achieve things one has reason to value.”

Here is the introduction of my supply and demand model of the Capabilities Approach.  My argument here is that Opportunities and Capabilities can be both dependent and independent variables.  Opportunities are understood as things outside one’s immediate control such as market prices and access to goods and services.  Capabilities are things that can be individually obtained such as skills, physical mobility, and knowledge.  When opportunities and capabilities are in balance, then a degree of freedom is enjoyed.  If there is a drop in Opportunities such as a world market crash in quinoa prices than the equilibrium is lost and one moves to an area I labeled “deprivation” in accordance to Rawls‘ definition of the term.  In this model the variables can shift and Capabilities can impact ones access to freedom.  For example if one’s quinoa production is low, they have experienced a loss in capabilities.  The market prices are there (opportunities) buy one is unable to fully realize them.  When both opportunities and capabilities are grown together then a new level of freedom is achieved.  Freedom can be realized in many ways, economically, socially, personally, etc.

Day 73 – Did you know?

Day 73 – Did you know?

quinoa prices-org-conv

2015 was the first time prices differed in Bolivia between Fair Trade, organic and conventional quinoa.

quinoa retail breakdown

Quinoa has a relatively short supply chain usually with a single export buyer purchasing direct from the farmer. In this scenario, farmers can earn up to 27% of the final retail price.

From 2005 onward, Bolivia’s quinoa exports have enjoyed steadily raising market prices.  The downturn of the 2015 market has yet to make an impact on FOB since Bolivia mostly exports certified organic quinoa, which is holding a stronger price and the 2015 year has not yet ended.

From 2005 onward, Bolivia’s quinoa exports have enjoyed steadily raising market prices. The downturn of the 2015 market has yet to make an impact on FOB since Bolivia mostly exports certified organic quinoa, which is holding a stronger price and the 2015 year has not yet ended.

Though the base value of quinoa is rising as is the export price, the US consumer market has seen the greatest price increase.

Though the base value of quinoa is rising as is the export price, the US consumer market has seen the greatest price increase.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 72 – The importance of associations and Fair Trade

Day 72 – The importance of associations and Fair Trade

Continuing on with the analysis of the quinoa study data, it has come to my attention that one area that showed statistical significance amongst producers was membership in associations.  Quinoa producers voluntarily joined or formed organizations for organic or Fair Trade certification. The government made it easy for these organizations to be formed and gave them legal recognition. Associations came with membership dues often paid with sacks of quinoa, voting rights, collective bargaining for market prices and technical assistance. Producers would join a single association, often with family members. Associations ranged in size from 30 to 80 families with three to four associations present in a region. These associations worked alongside each other, mildly competing for market access and members but mostly focused inwardly on serving member needs. Private agronomists were hired by the associations to provide technical assistance and tools to support quinoa production. A small, elected board of directors worked with large export buyers and oversaw the combining, processing, storing and sales of members’ quinoa. An association could easily sell four to seven shipping containers of quinoa a year representing 40,000 pounds of product per container with a current market value of $17,160 per container for certified organic quinoa and $29,920 for Fair Trade certified. Members were active participants in their associations, democratically agreeing on sales prices and budgets, attending mandatory monthly and annual meetings, and being decision makers.

In total almost a third of people surveyed were members of producer organizations with the bulk (83%) coming from Salinas. Of this, 70% were members of Fair Trade associations and 30% certified organic associations. The Fair Trade associations were also certified organic and worked with both markets depending on buyer demand. Because of its high price and lack of consumer awareness there was more demand for organic rather than Fair Trade quinoa resulting in Fair Trade associations having to sell their Fair Trade quinoa at the lower, certified organic, market price. The rest of the study participants were conventional producers, who mostly farmed with organic methods but did not have a certification. When asked why they did not join an association, many replied that they did not see the value of it, did not feel committed enough to their production to do it, or did not want to take the time for it. Historically independent producers enjoyed the same high market prices and access as association members. Now with the recent market changes this has shifted.

Regardless of where they were from, producers in associations, both Fair Trade and organic, had statistically significant more positive experiences in their political environment and community decision making. This could be due to the tremendous economic power that associations provide and their highly participatory, democratic operations which were empowering for producers who were historically some of the most marginalized people in Bolivia. Environmentally all association members reported statistically significant gains in the areas of wildlife, a clean environment and recreational spaces. As part of their organic certification, many association members were using better composting, sanitation and recycling methods reducing the trash and environmental contamination in the countryside. Economically only Fair Trade association members reported a statistically significant positive outcome with 82% reporting their income to be satisfactory to excellent. Only 68% of the certified organic only association members ranked their incomes as satisfactory to excellent. In addition 80% of the Fair Trade association members found their market access in general and for export to be satisfactory to excellent while only 45% of the certified organic only association members felt that way.

All association members felt their culture was highly valued and showed a statistically significant positive response in the areas of culture value, traditional dress, community festivals, language and indigenous wisdom. The Fair Trade association members in particular showed a strongly positive response to having their culture valued. This could be that the Fair Trade requirements of association membership, democratic participation and community building, resonates with the indigenous values that the people of the region practice.

Day 71-75 – Fleeting Glances

Day 71-75 – Fleeting Glances

Am I here or in Bolivia? Every night I have dreams of leaving, returning, tossing-turning, fleeting moments of lucidity when I ask, in which world am I? I prefer the closeness, simplicity of Bolivia…where conversations are long and personal, work happens when it does, and no one is ever alone.

Hearing the crickets at night through the open window. Thin sheet. Thick humidity. I knew for sure I was in Chapare; the Bolivian rain forest.  But no, I was in the northern forest of Vermont with birch and pine needing to get the kids up early for yet another day of school, the HDCA paper due, syllabi to finish, and Moodle postings to do. Another busy day. Sigh!

Next post will be the initial HDCA paper – I will stop labeling the days since technically that part of the research has ended.  Look for updates on content in this blog too with better links, images, better edited posts, and completed information.

Day 70 – Returning Home – Reflections…

Day 70 – Returning Home – Reflections…

It is 6:57am, August 26, 2015. In 48 hours we will be heading home. Still meeting with counterparts, presenting findings, making new contacts, it’s a scramble more than a reflection. Then dealing with a technology slow down; no laptop, no wifi, limited Internet, it becomes a moment of isolation too, suspended between two worlds, the up close and personal everyday interactions here, hugs, shared transportation, face to face meetings, hours of down time, planned schedules that take on an unplanned life of their own and work out in their own way, completely unplugged versus the jazzy, slick, fast paced, immediacy of my USA world.

I think to the immediately busy world I will be returning to; kids start school in 2 days, a joint paper to be written and presented in DC in 2 weeks, explaining the human development side of the quinoa story, and the HR Departments I need to visit for my adjunct contracts, U Mass fora special issues in economics senior seminar, Mount Holyoke College (MHC) where I am teaching and developing social business programs, and the School for International Training (SIT) needs my syllabus for the Service Learning and Management marketing course I will be teaching.

My nine UMass students will be learning how to do an in depth analysis of Bolivia quinoa as a case study and then doing their own analysis of an industry or phenomenon that interests them. Maybe we will collaborate on an economic paper about Bolivian quinoa, they are senior economic majors, it will be a good item for their portfolio/resume to have co-authored a paper.

I am looking for Fair Trade, organic quinoa products made in Bolivia and being sold in the U.S. For my MHC students to do a market study and feasibility analysis on how to access US markets with quinoa products. this ties in with the recommendations from my report that calls for a diversification of Bolivian quinoa markets, with emphasis being put on product transformation for both export and local market development. I still am seeking out counterparts and products in this, part of the last minute scramble.

For my SIT graduate students, we will be learning social marketing through a partnership with the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market. This ties in with my work in Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) which is so new in the U.S. But common here in Bolivia, though in the U.S. There are pockets of folks in places such as Brattleboro, VT, Keene, NH, Amherst, MA and many places in between where SSE is functioning and thriving in much more creative ways than in Bolivia.

Part of my “next steps” will be unifying the two worlds a bit more. Bringing more of the Bolivian participatory governance, the system of Dirigentes Orginarios, Mallkus and Markas to my small town of Brattleboro and more of the ideas of Time Banks, Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA), partnerships with university students, and social business development to Bolivia.

And another part is to take time off for nothing. Not to be working day and night like a “loco” and keep, make time for and value a network of interested folks, neighbors and collaborators, both locally and online to contribute to, facilitate and support exchanges. To paint, run, enjoy my family and community. To have a balance, relax, and know that all is functioning just as it should. In Bolivia it is so easy for me to wait an hour or so for a late counterpart, meeting, transportation though in the U.S. A 15 minute wait is excruciating, as I think of everything else I could be doing in that time instead.

I will focus on not thinking so much of the doing, but of the being, reflecting in my day, contacts, valuing others around me more and appreciating who they are instead of just what they are doing. In the U.S. I have a hard time remembering names and tend to have more superficial relationships with many people, while in Bolivia I feel I know and remember the people interact with much more. Things have to be slow and personal in Bolivia, otherwise people will not work with you. There has to be a personal exchange before work is discussed; a conversation about local events, family and a feeling of knowing who each other is. Talk is slow and calm. Key phases are repeated often. Explanations are clear and logical, there is no assumed knowledge. When new ideas are presented the presenter will ask “por que?” (Why) and reply with “porque” (because) and the explain the concept. This captures people’s attention and is a key phase indicating that something important is being presented. I will use this in my US teaching.

I have conducted workshops with Catholic University (UCB) students and practitioners in La Paz, high school seniors in Quillacas and Anzaldo, agronomy students and ago-engineer doctoral students at San Simon University (UMSS) in Cochabamba. There are many small lessons learned her. I notice how different my lessons are when spoken in Spanish as opposed to English. Spanish is more expressive and indirect, I speak it more slowly and clearly, repeating key information more and putting more vocal emphasis on key terms. I used to do this more in the U.S. When working with international students and corporate employees (as a corporate trainer) but then sped things up over time, assuming students were already familiar with the materials I was so familiar with. Though sometimes they are not. I will remember to slow down and be more clear again.

So this moment of reflection is coming to a close as time passes and I need to get the children and myself relay to travel from Oruro, where we arrived yesterday from Cochabamba, to La Paz in preparation for the final part of our trip…back to the U.S.!

 

Day 69 – Quillacas – circles analysis

Day 69 – Quillacas – circles analysis

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

Located near the northern edge of the Quinoa Real heartland, Quillacas is a small volcanic town located amongst a vast expanse of flatlands. Known for its church, the site of a colonial era miracle, Salinas is home to ____ people. Economically people are farmers and merchants, being located alongside the main highway to the Salar (salt flats) and close to the “Quinoa Wall Street” of Challapata, where quinoa prices are determined daily. Woman operate small neighborhood stores and food stands alongside the main highway selling dishes such as chairo, a regional soup made of barley and chunos (dried potatoes) with llama meat, and chicharron de llama (fried llama). Though llama is featured prominently in dishes quinoa is not. The women say the quinoa is too expensive and they prefer to use it occasionally in their dishes, not daily.

The Circles of Sustainability study was conducted in Quillacas from July 24th to 28th, 2015. The town was a regional education center and housed an internado for the students living further away to stay at. I worked with the graduating seniors, a class of nine students. Of this class, three lived in the internado (school housing). This study was conducted during the weekday so the students from the internado worked with people in the town (they return home to their rural communities on weekends). This resulted in the sampling being largely of the people living in Quillacas proper, not the outlying communities. I trained the students how to conduct the surveys and had each student complete at least six  surveys, though some opted to complete more and two students left their surveys home and were unable get them to me before I left Bolivia. I conducted three surveys myself. In total the Quillacas sample size was 49. Though Quillacas is certainly an important quinoa growing region producing ____ tons of quinoa valued at $____ in ____, it was interesting to note that only __% of the people surveyed were associated with a quinoa producing/export group. I thought this could have been because sample was largely town based and the producers may have been living more in their rural communities, though I was told that in general few people from the Quillacas region belonged to producer groups. One of the few groups in the region, APROCAY,is made up of 52-families and works with Andean Family Farmers.

Results

Economically it seemed the people studied in Quillacas were the most negatively effected by the quinoa market crash than the other committees studied. The people ranked Quillacas as “bad” in their economic well-being, market access, access to consumer goods, and the local and export economy. There was a satisfactory ranking in the area of economic opportunities indicating that though times were hard now, the people believed things could improve. This was interesting because there had been several economic development projects funded by the Federal Government over recent years, with none every being used. A new market area had been constructed alongside the road with a parking area, bathrooms and ample market stalls but never used because the people could not agree on which stall each person would use. There was also tourism infrastructure built a few years ago including a roadside tourism center and a tourism outlook nearby. Neither were used because of a lack of leadership. No one could decide on how to use these structures. There were also new houses that had been built in a public housing project which remained empty because people could not decide on a fair way to organize their use.   There was also an unused, commercial grade, quinoa processing plant which was built five years ago. it seems this lack of leadership and ability to work together is having a strong negative impact on the people of Quillacas’ well-being. Perhaps too, Quillacas’ extreme negativity was due to their proximity to Challapata 20 miles away which put them in closer contact with the dropping prices, which they learned of daily, or perhaps it was due to the lack of support the members received, due to their low participation in producer groups. A broader study which includes more of the rural communities and a deeper look at leadership is recommended.

The natural environment was also ranked low in Salinas, perhaps reflecting the challenges of climate change and recently yields which were lower than other years. People reported being satisfied with the wildlife, though the overall environment, climate change, drinking water and energy (electricity and cooking gas) access, a clean environment and recreational spaces were all reported as being “bad.” The negative opinion of recreational spaces is interesting to note since there was a large plaza in the town which was rarely used as well as a new astro-turf soccer facility being built with funding provided by the national government.

Like other towns in the Southern Altiplano, the cultural environment of Quillacas was more robust. People felt in general the community valued their culture, traditional dress, religion, and indigenous wisdom well enough. They were particularly pleased with their community festivals, family celebrations and language use with ___% people speaking Aymara and (insert language breakdown data).
On the average, people reported the social environment in Quillacas as bad. There were poor health services, education, decision making and trust. People often opted to travel to the city of Oruro, two hours away, to have their babies with some giving birth on the roadside not making it to the city hospital in time. In addition, the newly elected mayor, a woman,  was not well viewed by the town. She was from a rural community and seemed to be favoring her community with her staff selection. She was not often in he office and provided little communication or transportation to the town. There was not known about the projects or opportunities she would be working on. Though I met her briefly, she was traveling elsewhere and could not be interviewed during this study.

Conclusion

Quillacas was a surprise in that it had such varied economic opportunities but seemed to be making little use of them. The women I interviewed spoke of the lost opportunities with a wistful air and were hopeful for new ones to come their way. They voiced hope that they would be more successful with future opportunities though seemed unable to step forward in resolving their past development challenges. Many of the all male, Native Governors were present throughout the Quillacas study though they did not seem closely aligned with the town needs They readily participated in the Circles Study and helped to quickly organize a women’s meeting for later that evening, however the meeting took place the same time as parent-teacher conferences at the school, resulting in many mothers not being able to make the women’s meeting. In addition, in the meeting they challenged the women when the women began to speak about their extra roles as housekeepers and child care takers. The male governors also asked for more machinery to help with their quinoa harvest but did not seem particularly interested in the other areas of development or well being.

The leadership and gender challenges that Quillacas faces, in leu of many opportunities, are interesting to examine in future studies. In addition, including Uyuni and the Potosi region in future studies (which was prevented this time by political upheavals and blockades) will provide a larger data base and help to better define the “norm” in women’s well being in Bolivia’s principle quinoa growing region. Is the positive cohesiveness of Salinas or the start lack of cooperation of Quillacas more the norm, is it something in-between or perhaps something else completely different. The next study in December 2016 – February 2017 will be looking at these differences more deeply and also examining how people’s perception of their well-being changes over time.