Leaders of coffee farmer organisations respond to the crisis in Cajamarca

Leaders of coffee farmer organisations respond to the crisis in Cajamarca

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What does it take to lead a coffee cooperative? Managers, directors and leaders of coffee farmer organisations have been working to answer this qn for the last four years in a School for Leaders. The school is promoted by the Peruvian organisations “La Prosperidad” and “Aprocassi” in alliance with Rikolto to give training to a total of 159 potential leaders and dive with them for six months into good governance and social and business sustainability practices.

"When we started, the cooperative leaders said that it was one thing to receive leadership training and another to take responsibility. At Rikolto, we co-created the curriculum proposal for the course with them [La Prosperidad and Aprocassi], and reviewed and defined a personalised accompaniment process, partially financing its implementation", says Lith Montés, Rikolto's project coordinator.

As of 2021, the school's programme has gone through four editions. What has their impact been, and how has it prepared leaders for crisis scenarios such as COVID-19? We present the keys to the case below.

Leaders are made

In La Prosperidad and Aprocassi, the School is focused on those who are emerging as potential leaders or who have had a trajectory of service in the organisation. "Leaders in both cooperatives go through a selection process at the committee level, and many of them are leaders in their local or municipal communities," explains Montés.

Currently, both organisations maintain in their internal regulations that participation in the School is a requirement for applying to the Board of Directors. In the last three years, 40 of the leaders trained in the school have taken on leadership positions in the organisations. "At the end of [the programme], the participants present work proposals based on their learnings. Many of them present them to the Assembly as their management plan if they are elected," he says.

The School of Leaders is a learning space for thinking about solutions for cooperative management. It addresses business cases and training on topics such as cooperative governance, financial management, market opportunities and risks, as well as supply chain management.

The initiative responds to the co-operative context and the need to train leaders with business management skills. Montés explains its importance: "The coffee business plays in the big leagues, and the context changes every year. This means thinking about a comprehensive strategy that creates value and allows it to anticipate problems without losing its essential purpose of promoting the welfare and development of its members".

Dalinda: "Coordination improved during COVID-19".

COVID-19 conflicted with the coffee collection schedule of the area. The leaders of Aprocassi had to mobilise their coffee production quickly. Dalinda's decisions were made against the clock. Photo credits: Aprocassi.

"How to cope with a pandemic" was not a topic in the classes, but Dalinda Castillo, a member of the main board of the cooperative Aprocassi feels that the School trained them to think systemically and adapt quickly to the new rules of the game, mitigating financial impacts on the business and considering social issues.

"We conducted virtual audits to obtain the renewal of certification seals. Administrative authorisations for export were obtained. Internal training and coordination with the police were carried out for the ordinances, so as to be able to move [producers] smoothly to the collection points. This would not have been possible without the correct training and coordination of all of us," Castillo said, adding that the School of Leaders also gave them space to think of themselves as a team.

Sigilfredo: "We regained the trust of the grassroots in the leadership".

In these years, the decisions made by leaders at different levels are better communicated and perceived as correct by the rank and file. Photo credits: La Prosperidad.

For Sigilfredo Nolasco, president of the board of directors of the cooperative La Prosperidad de Chirinos, the School of Leaders has allowed him and his team to get to know the gears of the business more comprehensively. In practice, this has allowed him to connect the needs of the grassroots and the technical team with the management vision. "We didn't have the right skills because we didn't know the internal system of a company. In the six modules we took, we learned about operational development, modelling and management," he said.

Over the years, the School cultivated leadership at various levels of the organisation. By the time the pandemic hit, this was an installed capacity that enabled a rapid and transparent response with partners and clients. The system for obtaining documents such as permits and authorisations was streamlined, not only concerning state procedures but also with foreign clients and partners. "We have made a good impression on foreign financiers. Our rapid management, as well as the financial bases that preceded the pandemic, has allowed us to access Reactive Peru funds and meet our clients' needs," he said. With the "new normal" in mind, management decided to invest in asset purchases that will benefit everyone.

Change as an opportunity for improvement

Photo credits: La prosperidad

Dalinda and Sigilfredo agree that the School invited them to think of change as an opportunity for improvement. A mindset that was especially useful in times of pandemic.

Castillo explained that faced with the changed scenario, coordination between leaders at various levels made it possible to streamline administrative procedures and quickly adapt protocols. The cooperative thus continued to operate within the framework of the new biosecurity standards. "The idea is that the medical staff should be not only temporary but also located within the cooperative for more direct access, in order to have a permanent health area at the service of the members and the staff."

The leader of La Prosperidad, on the other hand, explains that some of the modules at the School were particularly useful for rethinking the functioning of the cooperative and investment in certain areas, for example, logistics. The extension of quarantines in the country soon proved to be a good long-term move.

As the collection points were far away, each member had to rent a private vehicle to bring their coffee to the cooperative at the beginning of the health crisis. This was a cost overrun for the producer, but it also posed a risk of contagion. This is why the leaders prioritised the purchase of vehicles that, in addition to being operated with all biosecurity measures, lightened the burden on the producer. "This prevents the farmer from infecting himself or his family by renting another vehicle. It will allow him to concentrate on production management".

A contribution beyond the business

Leadership Schools contribute to the professionalisation of cooperatives by providing future leaders with the basic elements needed to strengthen their skills. The institutionalisation of the experience will make it possible to sustain organisational governance, encouraging renewal and changes in leadership.

Thanks to the initiative, women and young people have gained a presence in these positions, which has had an impact on decision-making and organisational policies (in favour of these groups). In the case of La Prosperidad, 16% of programme participants were women and 31% were youth. They promote leadership with sustainable value for partners, customers and other stakeholders.

Participant-driven organisational improvements

Participant-driven organisational improvements

Improvements proposed through training at the School include capitalisation policies and investment in training for human resources, transparency mechanisms with producer bases (going down to the grassroots), incentives for incorporating young people and sustaining their enterprises, collection policies and prices for product quality, benefits for families and diversification plans.

In addition to creating a space for integration between the executive and management teams, the Schools have contributed to the formation of proactive, empathetic and willing leaders. "Now leaders are constantly thinking about new proposals for the work and are willing to listen. It is gratifying to see how dialogue and reflection are opening up on the importance of strengthening capacities to build fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable organisations and communities", concludes Montés.

Want to know about this project? Contact:

Lith Montes
Lith Montes
Coordinadora de proyectos del programa Café | Perú
Mariela Wismann
Mariela Wismann
Directora del Programa Sistemas Alimentarios Sostenibles para las Ciudades | Latinoamérica

Collaboration | Drafting: César Zúñiga - Communication Consultant and Natalia Palomino - Rikolto Communicator for Latin America | Editing and styling: Natalia Palomino