It highlights some very valuable good practice for effectively engaging and working in partnership with local populations and communities. The key points that stand out for me are:
Carefully manage first contact and impressions
The coffee growers liked the way they were initially approached and greeted by partnership representatives. These positive first impressions encouraged local people to find out more about the partnership: what it would involve, and what it could provide and achieve.
Prepare for and deal with a significant period of disbelief.
The coffee growers had never been offered help to develop their businesses and communities. It is therefore not surprising that there was a substantial amount of disbelief within local communities that anything would actually happen and that practical support would indeed materialise. Providing highly visible and recognisable tools and resources local people would value and begin using immediately was central to overcoming this period of disbelief.
Provide education and training
Providing education and training to local communities was of particular importance because it achieved four key things:
- It showed a commitment to local people that helped overcome their initial disbelief.
- It resourced, enabled and empowered local people to become proactive within the development partnership and take control of business decisions and development.
- It provided the context or 'bigger picture' within which local farms and the coffee they produced existed. This was important because local farms became more aware of how global supply chains worked and how pricing was affected by commercial custom and practice. By knowing the context they were working within (and all the options available to them) local farms could make more informed decisions that enabled them to gain a fair and competitive price for their coffee. This increase in income benefited not only the farms and the families who owned them but also, through greater overall affluence, the wider local population.
- The informal, family and group orientated nature of the education and training encouraged local people to learn from and be influenced by each other. It also changed the nature of family dynamics, giving women and children more recognition and influence within the family business. Lastly, it encouraged local farms and others to share their experiences and learning with those not directly involved with the project, so raising the profile of the development partnership and widening its influence.
Push through the negativity and achieve a critical mass of support
As stated above, there was a significant degree of disbelief about what the partnership would offer. The partnership needed to not only acknowledge and address this disbelief but also push at the negativity that accompanied it, pushing through and past the threshold at which a critical mass of the local farming community would choose to adopt a more positive and enthusiastic outlook and form more optimistic expectations.
The partnership achieved this critical mass of positive support by doing all the things previously described, plus two additional things:
- It identified, supported and publicised 'trickle effects'.
- It created an aspiration to become involved.
Identify, support and publicise trickle effects
Trickle effects are positive outcomes that occur outside or around the edges of the area of focus of a project or initiative. In the case of this partnership, which was focused upon developing local coffee farms, trickle effects occurred in the areas of garbage collection, child care and land irrigation:
- Responsible and sustainable approaches to garbage collection adopted on private farms began to be applied to common land, so enhancing the wider local environment.
- The additional income farms and families gained as a result of their improved business and working practices enabled a new nursery to be built, so enhancing the security and well-being of local children.
- The more professional and collaborative approach to coffee growing adopted by local farms led to a locally inspired community irrigation project, so enhancing the area's agricultural infrastructure.
Create an aspiration to become involved
Local coffee growers were encouraged to aspire to become involved in the partnership's work through a policy of selective support. Initially, about a sixth of the total number of coffee farms in the area were carefully chosen for inclusion in the project and given the help and support they required to participate effectively. Then, as the partnership's work developed, and those farms that were involved increasingly benefited both socially and economically, other farms began expressing a desire to participate; an aspiration for inclusion that encouraged ever greater involvement and collaboration had been achieved.