Triple bottom line, corporate social responsibility, stakeholder participation, disruptive innovation: these aren’t just buzzwords thrown around in trendy MBA programs. If you peel away the jargon, these words are lived experiences of campesino entrepreneurs in Honduras who work with Red COMAL.
Red COMAL (Alternative Community Marketing Network) is a Honduras-based network of small-scale farmers, entrepreneurs, cooperatives and local consumers. They work to promote employment opportunities to help people improve their communities’ well-being by promoting an alternative rural economy through practices that also promote environmental sustainability.
EcoViva has worked with Communitas Charitable Fund to support the activities of Red COMAL in Honduras through strategic grantmaking and program evaluation.
I came to Honduras to visit members of the network to learn about their projects but I’ve learned so much more. I’ve learned about an alternative way to be an entrepreneur.
In the Bay Area, where EcoViva is based, the image of the entrepreneur is that of the young man (yes, that’s the stereotype, and the gender dynamic in the tech world is a topic for another conversation) who is developing the next “killer app” that will disrupt the status quo.
Over the past couple of days, I met members of Red COMAL who really are disrupting the status quo and their “killer app” is built on a platform of solidarity, democracy, and respect for nature.
For example, in the department of Yoro, I met a cooperative of organic cane farmers. These men and women manage a mill that produces panela (unrefined cane sugar) from the organic sugar cane that they provide. I was invited to listen in on their bi-annual general assembly, where they talked about their past successes and challenges and plans for the future. They also elected board officers who are their fellow cane farmers. I was struck by the commitment that the cooperative had for ensuring full participation in their deliberations, and their commitment to ensuring that their plans would generate revenue and jobs, while staying energy efficient and organic.
When I toured the mill, I learned that 90% of the energy used in the refinement process is derived from cane by-product biomass and that only a small amount of wood is used to fire the ovens. I also learned that the wood used to fire the oven is derived from wood by-product and that trees aren’t cut for use by the mill. Their energy choice is cheap and ecologically responsible.
The cane production is 100% organic – no artificial pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Care is taken to weed and manage pests using natural methods.
I spoke with Don Cirilo, a 79-year old cane farmer who still works his fields. He attributes his health and well-being to breathing clean air, getting plenty of exercise working in his field and staying away from agro-chemicals. When I asked him if Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) – which is so common in other sugar cane growing regions – was an issue among cane workers in the region, he told me that he had never heard of anyone suffering from the illness.
With Red COMAL, these organic cane farmers are investing hard work and capital and are reaping profits and the dividends of a dignified living and a healthy environment.
Now that’s what I call a positive balance on the triple bottom line.