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Ten Thousand Villages' Stacie Ford-Bonnelle

by Gwen Davis
Full article in Tuesday, December 13, 2011 South Seattle Beacon Hill Newspaper

The quality of life in developing countries can keep one awake at night: Children working in sweatshops; women working 19 hours a day for 10 cents a week; little access to HIV/AIDS or malaria medication; chronic starvation and institutionalized poverty.

Such inhumane conditions do not need to stay this way though. Organizations like Seattle’s Ten Thousand Villages (www.tenthousandvillages.com) — a fair-trade retailer of artisan-crafted home décor, personal accessories and gift items —is making a difference every day.

Ten Thousand Villages has spent more than 60 years cultivating trading relationships in which artisans receive a fair price for their work and consumers have access to unique, handcrafted items. The company establishes long-term buying relationships in places where skilled artisans are under- or unemployed and in which they lack opportunities for income.

“There is fair trade and free trade,” said Tyi Esha, assistant manager at Ten Thousand Villages “Free trade has an individual making a project for you, and the process is messed up and selfish. Fair trade is giving the artisans the whole profit back — not a penny more, not a penny less. It goes back to the workers.”

“Fair trade is taking a look at working conditions and transparency in business dealings, while also thinking about maintaining cultural sensibility,” Store Manager Stacie Ford-Bonnelle said. “With fair trade, the welfare of the entire community is preserved.”

Read the full story,

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Care_enough_to_actWith the best of intentions, global development work often falters when NGOs take a top-down approach. As “experts”, organizations believe they know what’s best for communities - routinely implementing projects that realize their concept of development and oftentimes importing Western staff to achieve this. Exacerbating this scenario is the phenomenon of Learned Helplessness, a term most frequently heard in the field of domestic violence, but also applicable to communities that over generations have become used to having decisions made for them. With communities not engaged in the initial planning and development process, it is little surprise that the developing world is now littered with technology and projects that fell apart as soon as the implementing NGO left.

Top - down development can exacerbate learned helplessness

HIV/AIDS work, both domestic and global, has frequently taken a different approach. In forcing governments to acknowledge the existence of the disease, the fight against HIV has been fought from the ground up since the very beginning. In the early days activism by the gay community in the United States forged and guided public health policy and programs at every level, creating effective and powerful models both informed by scientific research and rooted in community needs. As the HIV pandemic spread to other demographic groups, the importance of direct community input and their engagement in the decision-making process was recognized as key to the fight against HIV. The uniqueness of each community group and their own specific needs are identified through such ground-level tools as community planning groups, community-based organization capacity building and, most importantly, the hiring and training of individuals who “walk-the-walk and talk-the–talk” of their community to implement the work.

Key to this model is the concept of development sustainability – ensuring that work will continue once the funding organization has exited the community. The only way to ensure this will happen is through projects that are based directly on community need and that have engaged the community at each step of project development; truly building capacity from within. Projects lacking a feasible “exit strategy” risk creating sustainable work over the long-term solely for the NGO. Both of the two very different global health organizations for which I’ve worked, the International Training & Education Center on Health and Clinton Foundation Health Access Initiative, have examples where after several years of organizational capacity building with government Ministries of Health they have been able to exit countries leaving self-reliant and sustainable HIV/AIDS programs in place. In fact, one nation, The Bahamas, is now providing peer education and support around HIV work to other countries in their region.

Key to sustainable community work is the concept of “servant leadership”; meeting the needs of and working on behalf of others. As global health program manager, one phrase frequently used was “How can I be of help to you?” Communities are more than aware of their specific needs and it often simply takes listening, moving the pieces around and facilitating access to resources in order to create sustainable change. The CEN model works at this most fundamental level by responding to communities’ needs; then providing development tools so individuals can achieve their dreams – for themselves.


Frances Walker-Dudenhoefer is the Vice President of CEN's Board of Directors and has many years experience in global health.

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When Dona Luciene, a resident of Suruacá, set out to open her own clothing business, she knew there would be countless obstacles standing in her way: a limited market, the lack of funds to buy a sewing machine and raw materials, and family illness, just to name a few, although, these did not stop her. The strong basic skills and a mindsets she and the other participants through ourcCLEAR Project is a critical foundation for building self-reliance. Dona Luciene has achieved not only monetary success, but has become a community model for enthusiastic and talented entrepreneurship.underwear-made-byluciene-4

What's the difference between hard skills, basic skills, and mindsets?

If these skills are so vital to Dona Luciene, and CEN as a whole, what do they actually entail? Higher-level or hard skills are generally technical skills that can be taught and most importantly, applied in a concrete way, since they're measurable and are related to an area of expertise, such as bookkeeping, sewing and filing. Basic skills and mindsets are the foundation for building higher-level skills. Basic skills, or soft skills, include critical thinking, problem solving, and discipline, and can be described as the ability to apply hard skills to actual situations. Mindsets, or habits of the mind, are when people adopt a deeper quality of learning and thinking.

Application of these skills leads to higher-level learning and self-reliance

Mastery of these basic skills and mindsets is critical for acquiring higher-level skills. Without this strong foundation, residents often struggle with tackling obstacles and maintaining optimism with their projects. For instance, an entrepreneur might learn how to establish prices, but they won't be able to do so effectively unless they possess the discipline to keep track of their expenses, production levels, and sales. Particularly in developing countries with poor educational systems, a cycle of dependency is often established, in which residents become reliant on outside aid for assistance. Because of this, residents often adopt self-defeating, I can't mentalities.

While training and resources, such as money and equipment, might give the community members some additional confidence, they'll most likely quit when they hit an obstacle for which they don't feel equipped for. On the other hand, if given the same situation, and the person has a confident and disciplined mindset, they will likely arrive at several solutions, since they won't be discouraged by a difficult task; these skills are thus necessary for long-term self-reliance.

Consider Luciene's struggle to expand her business. As opposed to accepting defeat and a meager monthly income, she strengthened basics skills, such as accuracy, ability to accurately assess situations, discipline, and patience, which gave her a strong foundation for new bookkeeping and management skills. For example, she found a way to expand her profit by producing a couple of garments and using a predetermined amount of the profits from those sales to buy more materials. She began to keep close track of her expenditures and sales, which helped her set prices which covered her production costs and provided a fair profit. Without the ability to clearly assess the situation she faced, the patience to start slowly and build up working capital, or the discipline to accurately track her expenses and sales, bookkeeping and inventory management training would be ineffective. Dona Luciene has not only mastered the hard and soft skills she requires to make her products and expand her product line, she has adopted a confident mindset, which allows for her to overcome unexpected obstacles.

Dona Luciene is just one of the many residents who've challenged themselves to acquire the basic skills and mindsets necessary for empowerment; thus, achieving the kind of success that will pave the way for an independent, self-reliant community.

To read more about CEN's approach to development, click here.

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How can you tell whether or not someone is living in poverty? What makes the quality of life better for someone living on the streets of New York rather than for someone living in a dirt-floor hut in the middle of Africa? The University of Oxford recently did a study intended to answer questions just like these, utilizing determinants of poverty rarely used before. These measurements became known as the "Multidimensional Poverty Index" (MPI), and will be used by the United Nations in their next Human Development Report.

The MPI is composed of ten indicators that help determine a person's quality of life. A family is considered poor if they're deprived of over 30% of the indicators that describe a non-poverty-stricken life. Such indicators are determined by asking a new series of questions. For example, one of the questions asked was, "Does a family have a floor made from dung?" While another question posed, "Are any members of the household malnourished?"

The reason the University of Oxford researchers decided to branch out from using Gross Domestic Product as the sole indicator of poverty is due to the fact that GDP doesn't depict the entire story. For example, incomes may rise in a poverty-stricken area, but that doesn't mean nutrition in that area will become better as well. Therefore, the quality of life cannot be determined by simply evaluating the GDP.cultural_village3

One contemporary example of the misrepresentation of the GDP's relationship to poverty is Brazil. This South American country is considered to hold vast wealth, although it's still ranked as one of the top fifteen poorest countries in the world. Along the Brazilian Amazon, where CEN works, over 45% of the population earns less than $2 a day. The study by Oxford University, therefore illustrates that income is only part of the story; residents lack material, health and educational opportunities that dramatically effect their quality of life. As pointed out in the article, "Income clearly matters: it determines how much people can buy and therefore whether they can afford to do the things, like eat enough, that critics of income-based measures think are more important. But rising incomes do not always translate into better health, say, or better nutrition."

The MPI also helps reduce the built-in cultural bias of using pure income metrics to define poverty, which coincides with the CEN approach of letting the participants and their communities drive their own development agenda. Many of the residents in the communities where we work don't view economic development purely in terms of earning a lot of money and having a lot of consumer goods; rather, their goal is a higher quality of life, which includes access to basic services, such as education, adequate healthcare and economic opportunities, as well as freedom from disease, war and violence. The Multidimensional Poverty Index better reflects this than poverty metrics based purely on income.

To take a look at the entire article in the July 29th edition of The Economist, click here.


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Of all the areas of social and economic development in which CEN could invest its energy, why focus on entrepreneurship? The basic skills and mindsets CEN helps develop are a critical foundation for overcoming a wide variety of the challenges we see in developing regions like the Amazon, including increasing access to health care, increasing incomes, preserving the environment, and improving education.

CEN's Creating a Culture of Learning and Empowerment in the Amazon Region (cCLEAR) program focuses on enabling residents of rural communities to increase incomes in a sustainable manner, through entrepreneurship. When asked directly to identify the biggest obstacles they faced, residents of the Amazonian communities where CEN is engaged expressed concerns over the lack of stable and consistent means of generating income. Nurturing and encouraging new, grassroots business development ideas creates new jobs and revenue opportunities, rather than relying upon the existing sources, which are limited.

Why focus on entrepreneurship, rather than finding jobs in existing businesses?

cCLEAR participant Rennerclay with his woodworking project

We work in small, rural communities, in a region where agriculture is the primary livelihood. This is largely limited to manioc, latex-harvesting and fishing. There are very few businesses in these communities; often the only job opportunities are in cities. Even there, the supply of workers typically exceeds the demand. Moving there often tears families apart, breaking down traditional cultures and contributing to the overcrowding of the cities. While income opportunities are greater in urban areas, so are the costs of living. As result, many of those coming from rural areas end up in poor, overcrowded slums, with high crime rates and poor living conditions. Migration to the cities hollows the communities of tremendous talent and youth, which accelerates the decline of these small, but vital, villages and towns.

In order to allow people to stay in their communities and survive, cCLEAR helps individuals start their own business to generate income and sustain local livelihoods. Many of the participants take advantage of the bounty of natural resources around them, such as wood, the forest and wildlife, in a sustainable manner, avoiding the exploitative practices that have robbed many unique areas in the Amazon of their natural assets.

In this way, CEN is responding to the needs that are specific to these Amazon communities, as well as helping instill a sense of self-reliance that will empower them to find local solutions to the problems in their communities. By working with CEN to strengthen basic skills, expand mindsets, and develop entrepreneurial and technical skills, the cCLEAR participants in turn are able to develop businesses that in time will provide sustainable incomes. In doing so, CEN empowers the residents themselves to address many of the obstacles they face, such as limited access to markets and capital, and poor transportation services.

CEN inspires in our program participants the understanding that they can effect change on their own; that they have the power to change their circumstances and do not need to rely on aid from other countries. Rather than continuing to promote the sense of powerlessness and dependence that comes from simply giving people the solutions to their perceived problems, we help them achieve their own solutions.

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