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What Makes a Good Leader in a Coffee Cooperative?

What Makes a Good Leader in a Coffee Cooperative?

Timoteo, President of San Miguel Escobar Cooperative leading the discussion on Leadership

Leadership can make or break a sports team, a business, or a coffee cooperative. Leadership sets the standards, builds community, and enables people to come together to operate not just as individuals but as a team that can achieve much more than any one individual. In coffee it is well known that the demographic is aging, and among our cooperatives where leaders are democratically elected every few years, the leaderships is regularly changed up. True leaders are always involved though, they inspire with their action and their words, people are drawn to them even if their power is not explicit.  The importance of leadership, and many discussions that we have had with individual cooperative leaders and farmers, led us to wondering how we could start a bigger conversation around the topic and hear the ideas from each cooperative, each president, and some of the farmers who support the leader and one day may be the leader.

These questions led us to the first theme of the 3rd Annual De la Gente Coffee Congress that we hosted in August, with over 15 farmers, 5 cooperative presidents, and many leaders in attendance it was the perfect time opportunity to start the discussion.  

Maximo, President of the La Suiza Coopeartive presenting on the topic of Leadership to the Congress.

Each of the leaders from each of the cooperatives were asked to make a brief presentation on the strengths and weaknesses they face as both a cooperative and, if relevant, a community. These presentations laid the groundwork for the day, as many were focused on a need for better, stronger leadership, as well as a need for better quality coffee and market access.  

To keep the energy level up and because we happened to have members from every cooperative we work with present, after the presentations we took a quick refacción, or in English: A coffee break. Enjoying coffee with men and women who produced it makes it that much better!

Just before the coffee break, the group was tasked with considering two questions - “What makes a good leader? What kinds of things do good leaders do?”  Each person was given a few note cards and during the break, each farmer took some time to ponder these questions and jot down their answers.   

We quickly organized the answers and compiled a list of their responses.  We realized that the answers could be summed up in 3 different topics, Development and Opportunities, Communication and Management, and Long-Term Vision.  Returning from their break, Timo led the group in discussing their collaborative answer which we had typed up and projected onto the board. The list was extensive, here is a selection of responses we received on the note cards.

We only budgeted an hour for this discussion, but it was an incredible experience seeing the group of 15 discuss each of the items listed.  It was such an important opportunity for great ideation and collaboration, they continued this discussion for over 2 hours.  Timo was proud in this moment, knowing that every person in the group was engaged, and most importantly, learning from each other.  This was truly the intention of this day.

After a full morning we all set off to lunch, energized not only by coffee but by the good discussions that had taken place all morning. Everyone was buzzing as we settled into a long family style table but moments of silence followed by laughter and cheers came as everyone enjoyed a slideshow of photos we had collected from the past years work and cooperative visits.

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