ON MENTORING YOUNG WOMEN LEADERS: SHARING MY JOURNEY WITH ASHOKA COLLEAGUES
Last week, I delivered my valedictory address in behalf of my online classmates at Ashoka.Org. According to their website, “Ashoka is the first and largest network of leading social innovators in the world. Founded in 1980, Ashoka pioneered and helped establish the field of social entrepreneurship. There are now over 3,500 Ashoka Fellows in 93 countries who are working in all fields—from health and human rights to education and the environment. Since 2013, Ashoka has been electing Ashoka Fellows from the Philippines.”
Ashoka is also nurturing a “culture of changemaking” through creative coalitions, knowledge sharing, and open collaboration with multi-sector partners who look to entrepreneurial talent and new ideas to solve social problems. I’m participating with Ashoka as they aim for their next paradigm shift: “A world in which everyone is a changemaker.”
Here’s my valedictory address:
Maayong adlaw sa inyong tanan! It means good morning to everyone. This is one of the languages of the people’s group who are embracing us in their midst right now. Today, as our time with Ashoka ends, I honor them and all the people groups in our country who believed in the vision of Coffee for Peace or CFP and made it alive in their own families and communities. CFP as a business ceases to be without the communities we are journeying with.
This leads me to the first of the four things that has been affirmed in my journey with Ashoka. First is empathy. In one of our Peer Circle sessions, we learned about empathic listening which reminded me on how Coffee for Peace started.
We are peacebuilding workers working with communities displaced by war in the Philippines. As an income generating project for the people we met, we offered goats. The project was successful in building relationships with the people, but it failed in economic sustainability. In retrospect, the project was a solution from outside that did not take into consideration the context of the people, whose short-term needs were more urgent than long-term solutions.
They were in the middle of war.
As we listen to their stories, I noticed that the people groups who were usually at war with each other had one thing in common – coffee. Coffee can be produced all over the country and it is offered in friendship. I realized then that coffee can be an iconic product for peace. This started the idea for Coffee for Peace.
The inception of CFP is a reminder that listening involves the mind, the heart and the will. When we listen, our mind asks the 5W’s and 1H. The responses go into our heart, where we feel for the people, making us uncomfortable. The will responds to the discomfort by facilitating a solution that invites the people to imagine beyond what is seen and to plan for strategies that they can do in their context.
When we share with them our understanding of peace, hope is also shared with them because peace is beyond the absence of war. Peace is an experience of having relational harmony with the Creator, with ones being, with others and with creation. In every community we go to, this understanding of peace resonates with the people. This is the basic motivation of Coffee for Peace. We want to co-create peace by putting JUST coffee in every cup!
Starting with 20 respected leaders on each of the 13 communities all across the Philippines, we now work with approximately 880 small coffee farmers that can produce quality coffee using the International Coffee Quality standard. The farmers’ income increased by 300%, which in turn impacted their communities’ positively in terms of food security, housing, educational opportunities for their children, and cultural enhancement for indigenous communities. Coffee entrepreneurship has become a concrete manifestation of what peace looks and feels like.
However, as a woman entrepreneur who started late in life (age 46) in the Philippines, I know that I have to make an exit plan and mentor the younger generation to continue the advocacy. My main question was, how can I pass the baton and trust that the person would not have a mission drift when the enterprise is earning more money? This is my second point – mentorship.
Mentorship is why I applied for this program of Ashoka. I involved my team whom I have been mentoring in working with the business canvas model and the theory of change. I believe that their input is important, as they will be the one who will take Coffee for Peace to the next level.
Since 2012, my husband and I are mentoring younger leaders who believe in the culture of peace and has passion to contribute in addressing social injustices. Among those mentees were three women interns, and now part of the leadership team. All of them are from Indigenous Communities.
Let me introduce Tala from the Sumacher Tribe, a peacebuilding scholar; Sihaya from the Erumanen Menuvu tribe, a Babaylan—a healer; and Wanay from the Banao Tribe, a community leader. All of them have stories to tell. The two ladies are from Cordillera—Tala and Wanay—have fought for their rights to self-determination and still asserting it amidst systemic and structural oppression. Sihaya grew up in a war zone. Because of her environment growing up, she can easily identify the sound of gunfire and the kind of gun it came from. As a child, she slept with her shoes on and her school bag ready just in case they need to evacuate. She and her playmates preferred hearing guns being fired than being dead quiet, because it allows them to track the movement of the soldiers.
These three women know how it is to be marginalized as a people group and how it is to be neglected by government. It is from this experience that they are effective leaders. They have been through it. For them, it is a question of, is peace possible?
My answer to that is a resounding yes! Peace is possible but it entails collaboration. Collaboration is the third point. Social entrepreneurship helps in making peace possible. But being a Social Entrepreneur also means being a community development worker. A social entrepreneur has several stakeholders to take care of – the supplier, employees, distributor, investor, and customer. In CFP’s context, we aim that our relationship with these stakeholders are in the framework of peace.
Giving attention to all these five stakeholders needs a good management skill and collaboration on our part. This is where we seek, see, and seize opportunities that will help us achieve vision we are dreaming of. It is important to collaborate because we cannot give the solution alone. This was validated when we had Rico Gonzales and Zhihan Lee sharing about Fundraising and Financing. Sometimes, we do not need to re-invent the wheel, especially, if it is not our expertise.
Which brings me to the last point — self-mastery. We have to know ourselves. What are we good at? Where do we lack skill? Why do we do what we do? Is it worth it? Aside from this self-assessment, self-mastery also means giving ourselves a break and listening to our bodies. It welcomes cocooning, wherein we experience isolation and seemingly death. It is just like the butterfly who goes into the metamorphosis from being a cocoon to a very beautiful butterfly. And being in a cocoon does not equate to “ugly” wherein we have to wait for the butterfly to come out before we appreciate its beauty. One of my mentees shared a picture of a cocoon of a monarch butterfly. It is jade green with gold dots. The cocoon is very beautiful, and my mentee enjoyed looking at it so much. Her experience shows that cocooning is beautiful, and it blesses the people witnessing it too. I hope that we are comfortable in this stage and know that we are contributing to the world even as we rest.
This is what I heard from my Peer Circle Group — Faw, Nelben, Pauline and Kim. All of us needed a break to re-strengthen ourselves. And as we take that break, know that it is beautiful.
What now is the next step for CFP? Because of the pandemic, CFP has to intentionally focus on an eCommerce solution that will bring buyers and suppliers in one platform. We are working on an FDA-approved facility that will serve our farming communities to produce clean, consistent quality coffee product in the café, offices and in the hand of the consumers. We are teaching farmers how to use social media and and how to answer their agricultural problems via the internet. We are continuing to hope, re-imagining our realities, and actively creating peace in our communities.
As the 40 entrepreneurs for the 1st Cohort of Women Together for a Better Normal, let us listen with empathy, mentor young leaders, collaborate with other experts, and rest!
Thank you every one!