While Amazon Ecology does a lot to help our artisan partners make higher quality crafts, another key part of our program is helping them form and strengthen associations so they can sell more crafts directly to tourists and larger-scale buyers. With a lot of support from Conservation International, we held a three-day long organization strengthening workshop for artisans from Puca Urquillo in early October. The participants were from four groups from the Bora and Huitoto neighborhoods of this twin community. The main workshop themes were improving communication, cooperation, conflict resolution, organization planning, and applying these themes to effective marketing.
Our communication coordinator Tulio gave an overview followed by a brainstorm of ways people hoped to conduct themselves in the workshop. While concepts like punctuality, mutual respect, no put downs of self or others, and listening when someone else is speaking may seem like obvious guidelines to form a positive community, a commitment to actually practice and hold each other accountable to observe these agreements is profound in a culture where showing up late, malicious gossip, and interrupting a speaker are painfully common.
One of the first activities involved breaking into three small groups were invited to begin creating anything they wanted with paper, markers and scissors. After five minutes, they passed their work in progress to another group to continue working on it. They then passed along the project to the third and final group to complete it. It was fun to see how each group added their own creative energies to make a colorful bag, butterfly, flower and picture in a frame.
The group listed traits of a good listener as well as actions that can distract someone from feeling truly heard. Participants then had an opportunity to practice their listening skills by alternating through the roles of a speaker, listener and observer in groups of three.
The next communication theme activity was showing four people an illustration of an airplane. Each person then needed to use only words to explain to one or two other people how to draw that airplane using colored pencils. It was a fascinating exercise for people to practice the art (and experience the challenge) of precisely communicating size, shape, color, and other details of an object – particularly one with unfamiliar terms for certain parts.
Midway through the workshop we explained the concept and benefits of a SWOT analysis in which a group identifies their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. We asked small groups to describe each of these factors considering the collective assets and weaknesses of their members and realities of their group. These were definitely difficult concepts for these artisans to effectively grasp so early into their process of working together as an organization.
The next fun group cooperative task was a challenge to imagine that they were birds who needed to build a nest above the level of an approaching storm and flood using paper and tape. There was a rich discussion following the success of one group and the failure of another to “save” their eggs from this tempest.
We introduced the concept of “I messages” and the “hassle lines” exercise from the Alternatives to Violence Project manual to give participants some basic tools and practice dealing with conflict situations which could lead to acrimony or overt violence if not handled in constructive ways. The scenarios included encounters between artisans following the theft of chambira palm leaves and mismanagement of funds collected from a group’s craft sale.
On the third day we shifted to the marketing theme which began listing various types of retail and wholesale buyers. We then discussed how different buyers prefer different kinds, qualities, and quantities of crafts and have different ways they will select, receive and pay for them. This means artisans need to understand these characteristics to interact with them in the most effective way. We did some role plays where small groups dealt with curious tourists, aggressive traveling middle-men (“rematistas”), and demanding company representatives.
After a fun “Head to head; elbow to elbow” activity, we advanced the planning theme by asking small groups to consider how, when and at what cost they could produce 100 woven bags or another large order for a wholesale buyer given the number, skills, natural resources and other commitments of their group.N
Near the end, we asked the participants to something about a concept they learned, a feeling they had, and a new tool they could use as a result of attending the workshop.
We finally asked participants to work with their actual artisan groups in the coming weeks to prepare three sets of documents to apply lessons from the workshop. These were: 1) a SWOT analysis of their group’s strengths and other attributes, 2) a list of values and norms they wanted to guide the spirit, operation and commitments of their group, and 3) a list of the crafts made by their group’s members with an estimate of the numbers, prices and timelines these products could be made available for sale to different types of buyers. Amazon Ecology team members would work with the groups to help them create and implement these organizational tools.
The workshop concluded with an "affirmation web" where a ball of string was tossed from person to person with an expression of something the ball tosser appreciated about the person they tossed the ball to.
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