Sunday, January 11, 2015

Examining Gaps in Justice and Well Being for Fair Trade Women Across Industries

This paper was presented January 5th in Boston, MA at the the Annual Meeting of The Allied Social Science Associations,  the American Economic Association, the Union for Radical Political Economics and the International Association for Feminist Economics.

This paper will be printed in full in the upcoming edition of Global Journals: GJHSS Volume 14 Issue 9 Version 1.0 -

Short Description: The $6.8 billion Fair Trade industry holds the premise that producer capabilities and opportunities are enhanced through FT participation. However, undifferentiated FT standards and gender-based limitations on engagement impact how much justice is realized by producers.

Problem: Undifferentiated Fair Trade standards and gender-based limitations on engagement negatively impact how justice is realized by producers. 

Solution: Democratize Fair Trade for greater social-economic justice and sustainability by using public reasoning to growing collaboration and transparency between Fair Trade consumers, institutions, producers and government.

Intro - Summary

            Fair Trade brings economic justice to disadvantaged producers by incorporating higher wages, environmental protection and education into the cost of production.  The Fair Trade industry is valued at $6.8 billion with 10% annual growth (WFTO, 2012).  It impacts millions of people, 30% of whom are women (WFTO, 2013).  Fair Trade guidelines, developed by European and US institutions, are applied to all production with the expectation that capabilities and opportunities are equally enhanced.  Yet they are not.  This paper examines through comparative study how undifferentiated Fair Trade standards and gender-based limitations on engagement negatively impact how justice is realized by producers.  The author suggests that by democratizing Fair Trade though regular public reasoning sessions targeting both genders, greater collaboration and reciprocity can be realized resulting in expanded capabilities and opportunities, economic resilience and an improved quality of life.  Looking at this as a case study of development policy in general, an argument can be made that by building gender specific public reasoning into early and ongoing project design and development, a more just and sustainable outcome can be achieved.

Friday, July 18, 2014

It's About Time

As seen in the reformer newspaper: Brattleboro Reformer

Editor of the Reformer:
I earned three Brattleboro Time Trade hours walking in the Fourth of July parade, recently, and made two new friends, one who can help my husband book gigs and the other who can help us clean out a garage. I’ll pay them in the hours I just earned from the parade.
I time traded my son’s recent Bar Mitzvah spending hours I earned by attending meetings and taking notes, teaching a fellow Time Trader how to use a computer app, providing housing, and helping time traders to build a puppet and props for the 4th of July parade. I used these hours to "pay" for Hebrew tutoring for my son, food servers for our event, and challah bread baked fresh for the ceremony. This cost me a total of 40 hours in Time Trade currency. I would not have been able to afford this if it were not for Time Trade.
Fellow Time Traders have similar stories. One member is earning time by helping another test and improve raw and fermented food recipes for a new cookbook, a task she loves because it introduces her to new ways of approaching food. She spends her time trade hours getting her bicycle repaired and receiving massages. Kiera King is earning hours by managing the Time Trade social media and is spending them on French lessons and having another time trader catalog a large collection of children’s books which will then be sold on
In economics, a time-based currency is an alternative currency where the unit of exchange is the person-hour. This is not a new idea, back in 1832, Welsh industrialist Robert Owen issues Labour Notes in time denominations and later worked with economist John Gray to create a National Chamber of Commerce as a central bank issuing Labour Currency. This was to be used for an exchange for goods and services based on the time it took to make or perform them.
Today’s central bank for time currencies is global and online. U.S. academic and lawyer, Edgar S. Cahn, created TimeBanks USA, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 1995. Brattleboro Time Trade is a member of TimeBanks USA and houses a custom made online interface that enables members to make exchanges, list needs, offer skills and connect. Operating on just $12,350 a year and with unlimited Time Trade hours, Brattleboro Time Trade has steadily grown into a region hub with 280 members from surrounding towns -- Rutland, Springfield, Putney, Hinsdale, Guilford, Dummerston, Marlboro, Westminster, Bellows Falls, Wilmington, Jacksonville, Whitingham, Townsend and, of course, Brattleboro. Currently the group has raised more than half of its annual budget through dues, donations, fund raisers and grants.
Worldwide time currencies are gaining popularity as well, and governments are also beginning to support time currency valuing its ability to build social equality and opportunity; though we may not all have cash, we do all have time.
For more information, visit or call 802-246-1199.
Tamara Stenn

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Using Play Talking Stick to better understand a graduate program

I used a shortened version of the Play Talking Stick workshop with a mixed group of academics: professors, administrators, students and alumni at an international Graduate School in the US.  There is rich input and diversity of responses that Play Talking Stick captures when it is used with a diverse group of people from many different organizational levels.

What the SIT Graduate Institute means to us.

Participants in a May 2014 SIT Learning Lunch explored “Play Talking Stick” an ethnographic research tool developed by SIT (School for International Training) Graduate Institute adjunct faculty, Dr. Tamara Stenn.  In the spirit of SIT experiential learning, these participants engaged in a shortened version of the two-hour Play Talking Stick workshop.  The following are the results of this mini-session where participants explored, “What SIT Means to Me,” through shared monologues and guided group discussion.  Play Talking Stick quantifies experiences and identifies patterns and trends.  Designed for socio-economic study, it can be used in social research, needs assessments, situational analysis, team building, and conflict resolution. 
Four participants were present: a current SIT international student in the management program, two alumni – one foreign and from the language arts program and the other a US citizen rom the management program, plus an administrator (also an alumna), and a management program faculty member.  The following is an analysis of what they found SIT meant to them.  This is not meant to be a definitive work on what SIT is, but rather an example of how the tool worked in this particular context.  It is interesting to note the diversity of participants which added to there richness of the responses.  For further understanding of what SIT means to people, a larger study with mixed groups of 12 to 25 participants is recommended.  A purpose or applied use for data gathering would also make the exercise more meaningful. 


More than a third of SIT’s meaning revolved around the support people felt being at the Graduate Institute (fig. 1).  “Being at SIT is….being with other people who are like minded with a shared mentality,” explained one participant.  “Everybody has a safe platform to express their cause and share their culture,” explained another.  This idea of support seemed to provide the foundation for the development of different ideas, which participants referred to with almost a 30% frequency.  This is exemplified in the following statement: (SIT is…) “the part of a system that is working to create change makers and people who see the world in a little bit of a different way.”  In addition to new ideas, peace building and world improvement were also closely associated with the meaning of SIT.  More the 20% of all conversation mentioned these themes in statements such as, “Being here means supporting a greater grander vision for peace in the world, a role in making the world a better place,” and,  SIT is an international platform where it has a potentiality to provide intercultural experience to promote peace in the region.”  Participants also associated SIT with being a place of culture and idea sharing, a theme that emerged with a 14% relative frequency.

(Fig. 1)  Talking Stick responses

Upon listening to each others’ ideas about what SIT meant, participants engaged in a brief guided discussion about the challenges faced at SIT.  These included intercultural tensions as complex and varied cultures were being accommodated and understood at a rapid, low context, pace.  Some participants felt that though diverse cultures were recognized and valued at SIT, it was in the context of and dominated by, US culture with little effort being made to genuinely engage in other cultural ways of being.  This tied into the recognition that the short time (nine months) that students had to engage in their learning put extra pressure on them, something particularly difficult for international students for whom English was not their first language.  Language challenges, cultural differences and an accelerated rate of learning were challenging to participants.  In addition, there were high expectations for results placed on the students themselves and also faculty. 
Another dynamic that received some discussion was the tension between career building which brought about greater earnings, and being “mission driven” where good will rather than pay was most valued and sought after.  It was asked how the cost of graduate school could be justified when tuition needed to be paid in dollars and not good will.  The financial challenges of attending SIT were recognized in this context.
This last dynamic was reflected in the academic environment at SIT where the application of learning was both exciting and challenging.  However, the leap from theoretical to practical or applied ideas was a struggle.  Participants found that other organizations were sometimes resistant to new or different ideas learned at SIT.  The challenge of applying new learning also tied in with the theme of the pursuit of a traditional career with steady earnings versus working as a pioneer in new areas of development.
Benefits to SIT participation were often the flip side of the challenges, for example, the learning of new things.  Participants reported enjoying the experiential nature of SIT and the fact that they had the opportunity to continuously try out new things and that learning could be applied  to current, past and future experiences.
It was felt that SIT enabled participants to open their minds by creating a larger world view, mind set and understanding.  The term “karma points” was used in reference to the way that interculturalism and evolving ideas were embraced and valued at SIT.  The idea of working and learning together was also recognized.  A benefit that many defined was the ability to contribute to others’ learning and the opportunity to witness the cultivation of new ideas.  This is reflected in Fig. 1 with multiple references to new ideas in the categories “different ideas” and “shared ideas.”  Together these categories represent almost half of all responses.
In conclusion, SIT provides a diverse cultural experience, a safe place to try out and explore new ideas and shared interests in peacebuilding and world development.  It holds the challenge of embracing cultural diversity in the face of a dominant US culture.  SIT creates a place in which one straddles the complexities of applied learning, generates new ideas, and balances being mission based with the practicalities of career building and bill paying. 

For more information about Play Talking Stick, including other examples of how and where it has been used with other organizations, institutions and in published research, please contact Tamara Stenn at

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Using "Play Talking Stick" for situational analysis, needs assessment and coalition building.

I've spent the last few months using the "Play Talking Stick" ethnographic research tool I created for my doctoral and post doc field research into Fair Trade to see how it works in other settings: non profit, academic and private industry.  The research findings from my original study of indigenous women are published in my book, The cultural and political intersection of fair trade and justice (Palgrave, 2013).

Play Talking Stick is presented as an interactive 2 hour workshop where 8-20 participants sit in a circle and, in native American style, pass around a stick that gives permission for the holder to speak their mind about a particular topic while everyone else listens without interruption or comment.  Afterwards, I facilitate participants in processing what was heard and make a list of benefits and challenges the particular topic brings.  I later quantify and analyze the original talking stick data using a TAMS analyzer.  The results are interpreted in context with the facilitated discussion that had followed the talking stick and a report is created.  Play Talking Stick is helpful in identifying needs and successes, building a common language, supporting organizational development and team-building and creating places where synergy, celebration and improvement can happen.

The following is result of Play Talking Stick being used to understand 40 freshman students' experience with a required Quantitative Literacy course they take at Keene State College.  In the next few blogs I will post results of graduate students, faculty and administration talking about their experience with their international graduate school program; association members talking about their membership experience; and private corporation administration talk about challenges of silo-ed operations.  Some of the names of the organizations have been omitted to protect their privacy.

Assessing IQL 101 – Measuring Fair Trade, Sparing 2014

The 41 active students in the spring 2014 IQL Measuring Fair Trade class spoke openly about their semester-long classroom experience in April 2014.  The theme was, “what IQL means to me.”  Students each took a turn speaking about their IQL experience and ideas while others listened.  This monologue was recorded and later coded based on content and emerging themes.  Following the speaking and listening exercise, an interactive discussion of challenges and benefits that students felt from the IQL experience ensued.  Data was recorded and coded for content and context using the Talking Stick method and the TAMS analyzer software.  The Talking Stick method is an ethnographic research tool I developed to identify values and challenges in different cultures/situations.  It enables people to speak openly about their experiences in an empowering, non-threatening way using their own voices and lenses.  This gives legitimacy to their feelings, perspectives and creates a platform upon which further meaning and understanding can be developed.  The following is a quantitative report of the results.
Fig. 1 shows a wordl of the words used and how often. 
(Fig. 1) Wordl

Fig. 2 shows the main categories which emerged through the Talking Stick activity and the relative frequency in which they were spoken.

(Fig. 2)

The category, knowledge included new learning (mostly in the context of Fair Trade), a greater understanding (in the context of previously known statistical concepts which were revisited and further developed) and the application of knowledge to real world situations or in other classes.  Within the knowledge category, 58% of respondents referenced the new learning aspect of it while 27% referenced the building of understanding of already known concepts.  This would be expected in a multi-disciplinary approach towards statistics where there is knowledge building taking place on several levels.
The next category, statistics, referenced in 18% of the monologues, had a positive and negative aspect to it.  Half of respondents felt the interdisciplinary approach of the class diluted the statistical focus of the material and hindered its application elsewhere.  “I am afraid that I do not know enough statistics now, and now there are other classes I have to take, so what do I do?” asked one concerned student.  These students felt that a course more directed towards general statistics would be more effective.  “I feel I could have better spent my time maybe taking a stats class or just a general math course,” explained another student.  On the other hand, half of respondents felt the interdisciplinary approach towards statistics was beneficial.  “I think that I learned a degree of math and how to do real life problems and that it is more enjoyable to learn math because it is applied to something in real life,” explained on student.  Several students mentioned the benefits of learning to make excel graphs and write quantitatively.  As a student stated, “I learned that I could write a quantitative paper.”
The Fair Trade category referenced the topic which the IQL was focused upon.  Fair Trade IQL was approached from the disciplines of economics, sociology and psychology.  It included grounded theory and models contained in the course book, The Cultural and Political Intersection of Fair Trade and Justice (Stenn, 2013).  Students dissected this intersection, using statistics to prove and/or question common beliefs.  All 18 respondents reported a positive experience with learning about Fair Trade, with comments such as “It was very interesting learning about Fair Trade.”  “I really liked learning about Fair Trade, I think it's really important.”  “The fact that we had to learn about Fair Trade was great.” However, as noted in the previous category, some felt it detracted from the statistical nature of the course  as seen in the following statement, “…the integration with the statistics and FT - it was good, but I think it was too much too soon.”
The course pedagogy figured prominently in the Talking Stick results with two tools that students most often spoke of.  One was the use of teachbacks, where three to five member student teams research and present a statistical concept to the class with an interactive presentation that demonstrates the use of the tool (for example calculating the correlation between the distance of each student’s home from campus and their number of trips back home per semester).  For a teachback, each student chooses two statistical topics to present and are grouped with other students also interested in that topic.  The two teachbacks are a shared group grade, based on a rubric, which makes up 20% of the student’s semester average. 
Similar to the split in participant feedback regarding the preference for a pure statistics class versus an interdisciplinary approach as seen in the statistics category, the teachback category was equally split.  Half of the students mentioning teachbacks found them empowering and useful.  “I like the teachbacks because if I can teach something to someone else that's when I know I really have learned how to do it so with my teachbacks I felt better,” explained a student.  Another half found them confusing and hard to follow.  “I thought he teachbacks were not beneficial,” explained a student.  The main point of contention came from the lack of experience that students had in presenting their statistics topic, and the speed (too fast) and lack of detail in some presentations.
The other tool was a portfolio where students presented accumulated assignments in a portfolio for a grade three times per semester.  The portfolio assignments had all been previously reviewed and presented by student teams prior to being put into the portfolio, making the portfolios a presentation of corrected and re-done work.  Each portfolio was worth 10% of the students’ grade.  In addition students were able to continue to re-do portfolios that received poor grades or had incomplete work.  All students liked the portfolio, especially the multiple levels of review.  “I liked the portfolios and I liked that we went over it.  Four percent of students mentioned the use of the KSC online text, Making Fair Comparisons, as being helpful.
To better understand the data shared in the talking stick exercise, a discussion about the challenges and benefits of IQL ensued.  One challenge included creating more support and structure around the teachbacks.  A solution was to use the teachbacks as a review tool rather than a teaching tool.  Another challenge was seen in concerns about the statistics not being general or thorough enough for use in other disciplines.  The resulting solution was the use of worksheets for solving multiple, generic equations and building fluency before engaging in more critical thinking Fair Trade work.  A third challenge related to the way Canvas appeared to students making finding assignments and files confusing.  There were suggestions for better ways to label files and assignment sin Canvas too so they would be easier to find.
The successes students felt IQL brought include the their new knowledge about economics, how businesses operate, Fair Trade, power structures and complexities of trade and its global aspect.  Some said these were topics they would never have pursued on their own to learn and see the extra knowledge as a bonus to also learning stats.  They report feeling confident in how to identify and understand Fair Trade and also to recognize bias and misleading information.  Students reported being able to use critical thinking skills, recognize and balance bias, and build context in which data can be better understood.
In conclusion, using the Talking Stick to understand what IQL means to students enables a deeper understanding of the IQL experience to arise.  This study shows that students are concerned about being successful in college and relay on the IQL course to build the stats groundwork they need at KSC.  While there are many benefits to an interdisciplinary approach to statistics, the data here shows there also needs to be certain structures put in place to make it work effectively.  Made up of largely freshman students, it seems a more traditional structure of learning would work best for IQL students, where lessons are presented in a lecture format with a text and worksheets with enough repetition to enable fluency to develop first.  Then a case study approach that explores and applies stats to an interdisciplinary topic builds the critical thinking and applied learning aspect while also growing students’ knowledge of other subject areas (the “bonus”).  The use of portfolios and multiple reviews seems a good learning tool as are teachbacks, but used as a topic review rather than an introduction. 
For further questions on this report, data, findings or other uses.  Please contact Dr. Tamara Stenn 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Using the talking stick to understand organizations

What NASAGA Means to me.
Analyzing the results of the Play Talking Stick for empowerment and connection workshop.
By Tamara Stenn (, Dec. 2013

For a workshop at NASAGA (North American Simulation and Gaming Assoc.), Play Talking Stick for empowerment and connection, I experimented using an ethnographic research tool I developed to identify values and challenges in unfamiliar cultures.  I used it successfully in training workshop developed for two different studies and got a better understanding of how indigenous women experienced Fair Trade in Bolivia – as handicraft artists and as coffee farmers.  Each group reported data different than what was understood about them previously and what had been reported in others’ studies.  I found the talking stick training enabled people to speak openly about their experiences in an empowering, non-threatening way using their own voices and lenses.  This gave legitimacy to their feelings, perspectives and created a platform upon which further meaning could be developed.
I suspected this could be a useful tool for training needs assessment and community building in the US, especially in corporate training environments, where outside training was often used to “fix” something that was wrong.  I felt trainers did not always know the underlying dynamics of a department/organization and, like I found in my research, how others understood the situation was not always the same way the participants did. 

My NASAGA, Play Talking Stick for empowerment and connection, workshop was an experiment to see how this exercise worked in a US environment.  The following is a short report of the results followed by details of how the tool/workshop works.  Feel free to use this yourself.  Please tell me how it goes and let me know if you would like to be contacted for further follow-up.  Also please contact me to go over these steps if you are unsure of how it works.
Overall participants found NASAGA to be a warm, trusting family that supports, nurtures and understands them.  Fig. 1 captures the main themes that came from people’s monologues describing what NASAGA meant to them.  Participants spoke of how NASAGA is, “home, embracing, supported” and is a “really incredible positive experience.”  Participants spoke of inspiration in that they received advice, encouragement and guidance from others.  One participant explained, “I got all of the responses back I needed and really good ideas of things to do.”  On a personal level a participant explained, “it is a part of me and I am a part of it.”  This sentiment seemed to be shared by many in the group.  People felt supported professionally as well. “The person in front of me actually has the same dreams and totally gets where I am coming from,” explained one participant talking about the personal connections, inspiration and spiritual connectedness felt within NASAGA.
    (Fig. 1)  NASAGA, 2013

Reflecting upon each other’s experiences, the group identified some shared language about what NASAGA means to them collectively.  It is connection, belonging, the family one always wanted, welcoming, something to look forward to, high energy, excitement, comfortable, continuity, a span of integrated personal to professional interactions, understanding, generosity, sharing, inspiration, trust, safe, encouragement, big dreaming, real support, a place that will “help launch” and nurture possibilities, fun on steroids, and a blast.  The following wordl ( captures all that was said during the talking stick part of the session (Fig. 2).

                                                                                     (Fig. 2) NASAGA 2013

Going deeper the challenges of maintaining a NASAGA connection were discussed.  There is the cost of the event and also travel, though most agreed the event price was a “good value.”  There was also the challenge of taking the time to attend a NASAGA conference though participants agreed that five to four days were really essential to have three core days of feeling completely “in it.”  Though at times NASAGA can feel mentally and socially overwhelming, participants felt that there never seems to be enough one-on-one time with everyone or enough social interactions.  Most felt that a conference composed of 60 or so extroverted NASAGA members is perfect.  It was noted that all of NASAGA seemed extroverted.
Despite the challenges there were plenty of benefits to be associated with NASAGA.  These include the opportunity to “stay connected with people we love” and the fun nurturing environment.  Participants reported feeling revitalized, encouraged and that possibilities seemed, possible!  Participants felt they learned a lot, connected with peer mentors, and acquired new tools to make them more competitive in the marketplace.  They reported a positive ROI – for the investment of time, money and travel angst -  noting that, “the best things cost you something.”  In conclusion, it was “way worth it!” as one participant enthusiastically exclaimed. 

After experiencing Play Talking Stick participants brainstormed ways it could be used to support training.  It is a good tool for a check-in or debrief after an activity.  It could be used in a conflict situation to understand better the dynamics of the situation.  It could be used as an introduction where people share their experiences and feelings, it can be sued in organizational behavior situations to create a safe environment for sharing, to have executives and mid managers share thought together or separately and to build collaboration amongst disparate departments such as marketing and operations.  It is a brainstorming tool and can also be used with restorative circles.

My Play Talking Stick workshop: time 1 ½ - 2 hours, number of participants 6-21.
Participants sit in a circle.  The activity is introduced.  A voice recorder is placed in the center of the room.
The talking stick (a 12 inch long 1 inch wide branch or pole) is given to a person to start.  The person says their name (or not) and speaks as much as they want about the topic at hand.  All others listen.  When done talking, the speaker passes the stalking stick to the person to their left.  That person speaks while all listen.  The stick is slowly passed around the circle in this way, with one person speaking and all else listening.  Afterwards the voice recorder is turned off.
Participants are thanked for sharing and are then asked to identify the themes they heard emerging from the exercise.  The facilitator writes theses on a flip chart.  Then the facilitator takes another flip chart paper and divides it in half length-wise writing “Challenges” on one side.  The group identifies and talks about challenges they are currently facing which the facilitator jots them down.  Then the facilitator write “Benefits” on the other half and participants together share what these are (it is always good to end on a positive note).

Afterwards the facilitator transcribes and codes the spoken data from the tape.  Express Scribe is a great free program for transcribing data, I use the TAMS analyzer for data coding.  I look for common themes in what is spoken and identify them by a single word.  That word becomes my code for that theme.  I mark the text with that code each time I see that theme being referenced. TAMS then counts these up for me and pulls them from the text as coded items. This makes it easy for me to reference the exact phrase that I coded a certain way.  There is a free TAMS users guide online too.  I then take the TAMS counts and graph the quantified data using excel.  The group conversation that was captured on the flip chart paper can be analyzed against this core collected data.  One can look for repeated themes or dropped topics.  Items that were referenced during the talking stick but dropped in the group discussion can later be revisited to understand why – was the topic not important to the entire group?  Was it uncomfortable to talk openly about?  Was it merely forgotten or understood differently when in the group context?  (It is interesting to note that the talk of the spiritual aspect of NASAGA was lost in the large group discussions.)  Through Play Talking Stick, a more holistic, integrated, complex picture of an organization, department, or event emerges.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rediscovering our own Suma Qamana

The United States was founded on a strong middle class. Since that time, distribution of wealth has become wildly unequal. We need to return to ideals advanced by Franklin and Jefferson and influenced by their observations of indigenous societies, especially The Iroquois. South Americans also are returning to these ideals, under the Aegis of the Inca Suma Qamana.
Popular indicators measure well-being and success by economic gain.  According to United Nations 2012 indicators, the US wins with the world’s highest GDP of $16.2 trillion.  Yet economic gain comes at a cost; the cost of the environment whose resources and space is used for production, people exploited for cheap labor, and community which is placed second to personal gain.  Besides great wealth, the US also has massive inequality.  It boasts the highest child poverty rate in the developed world with 21% of US children living in poverty according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in February 2011, and an unprecedented accumulation of capital with the top 10% of US households controlling almost 75% of all wealth as explained economist, Richard Wolff.  This inequality and concentration of wealth, and power, is exactly what our forefathers set out to avoid when forming this country. 
The US was founded on principles of represented democracy, public opinion, shared property and “happy mediocrity,” as Ben Franklin liked to put it. These ideas were based on the indigenous ways of the Iroquois Confederacy which Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and many of the founding fathers knew well and were greatly influenced by.  The Iroquois Confederacy, formed more then 300 years before European settlers first arrived on the continent, united disparate warring tribes by focusing on collective gains, shared power and careful deliberation.  The Iroquois Confederacy was a democratic, cohesive, sustainable government and trade structure that met tribal needs and collectively solved challenges.  Over the centuries the US forefathers’ original indigenous-influenced ideals were eroded by greed, a loss of collective memory as native populations were decimated, and a growing lust for power and dominance by US leaders.
By 2006, the Inca descendents of the Andean region were tired of 500 years of unsuccessful development.  Though they followed the latest neo-liberal capitalist models, they were continually plagued by high poverty rates which the Economic Commission for Latin America reported fluctuated from 35% regionally to 70% in rural areas, and a according to the National Institute of Statistics, had a 7.3% infant mortality rate in 2007.  So upon electing a sympathetic indigenous president, Bolivians re-visited the times when things were better, before the Spanish conquest and colonization, to the Inca empire and Tiahuanaco era.  This was a time spanning more than 1,300 years with intact government and sustainable models of being.  Bolivia, being the most indigenous nation in Latin America, has a vibrant collective memory of governance and culture from that time.  Many people in rural areas still abide by rules and guidelines set up during pre-Inca times.  What resulted from this re-birth of indigenous knowledge was Suma Qamana in the native language of Aymara, or bien vivir in Spanish which means to live well together. 
The US does not have the opportunity to return to a collective, indigenous memory of how governance was in a time when people were content and needs met because this memory arguably no longer exists.  However, Suma Qamana offers a model that parallels those ideals.  Going back to the original doctrines and stated intent of our forefathers when setting up this country one finds many similarities from the Iroquois Confederacy-inspired government of that time to the ideas of Suma Qamana today.
There are six basic principles of Suma Qamana several of which match the principles the Iroquois Confederacy and the US forefathers also embraced.
·      Community first (working and thinking collectively)
·      Sufficient not efficient economy (slowing down and valuing community and nature over time and money)
·      Local production – local consumption (similar to the localvore movement and farmers markets)
·      Less is more (having what is needed but not more than that, no accumulation of excess wealth).
·      We are all part of mother earth (this links all people as having a shared humanity, making us more alike than not).
·      Owning our health, learning and communication (this is about shared knowledge and working together to care for each other)
As Bruce E. Johansen wrote in Forgotten Founders, the US Constitutional values based on the Iroquois Confederacy are as follows:
Represented democracy.  One of the core principles of the Iroquois Confederacy as explained by a commission of colonial leaders in 1775 was, “Divided, a single man may destroy you; united, you are a match for the whole world.”  Male leaders were elected by women from different tribal regions to represent their ideas and beliefs.  Leaders returned to the tribe to consult with the women before any decision was made.  If men did not represent the tribe correctly, they were removed from power.  This led to Jefferson writing about retractable governments guided by laws of impeachment.  He advocated for small states, the size of the original 13 colonies, which allowed public opinion to function most efficiently.  This ties in with Suma Qamana’s community first principle.  Decision making with Suma Qamana comes from a pre-Inca system of ayllu in Bolivia which has rotating leadership positions shared by members of communities one is born into and linked with for life.
Public Opinion.  The Iroquois Confederacy was a bottom-up structure.  The public elected the leaders to represent them and had power to remove leaders they felt were not properly doing so.  Jefferson promoted this in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  Personal influence and persuasion were important societal controls for the Iroquois Confederacy because mis-actions were answered to in front of the whole community, which one was born into and knew intimately.  This resonates again with Suma Qamana’s community first principle.  Leaders work for the good of the community not a corporation, lobby group, PAC (public action committee), or their own personal gain.
Happy mediocrity.  This is a term coined by Franklin which meant striking a compromise between consumption, competition, and classism with the egalitarian, democratic ideas of the Iroquois Confederacy.  He saw this realized in a strong middle class.  However this could also be interpreted as the Suma Qamana principle of a sufficient not an efficient economy.  A sufficient economy could be a 30-hour week where goods are competitively produced for a limited time, just enough to meet needs.  Workers will produce and earn less and also consume less.  The US would no longer be a world leader in GDP but the quality of life would improve in non-monetary ways as the slowing down creates happy mediocrity, balance for nature and people, giving all a place to rest and rejuvenate. 
Shared property.  Jefferson looked at the Iroquois Confederacy’s manner of sharing resources amongst the entire community and embraced that idea as well.  He felt the accumulation of property led to power and dominance that advanced the well being of one at the expense of all. “Whenever there is, in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so extended as to violate natural right,” wrote Jefferson.  He was also against inherited wealth which did not exist with the Iroquois as possessions were redistributed amongst all in death.  This idea of limited accumulation resonates with the Suma Qamana principles of less is more.
Under Suma Qamana success is measured not by accumulated wealth, but by how well the community is doing as a whole.  Community is broadly defined to include the earth and nature as well as people.  So a thriving town located beside the banks of a polluted river is not doing well under Suma Qamana, because a community member, the river, is ailing.  When one part of a community is damaged, it affects the whole.  This way of thinking of the community as being the responsibility of all can be applied to many situations, for example a person entering a school and shooting children, would be an indication of the failure of the community to properly care for its own, to enable a person to feel so alienated and detached that they lash out against the same community they are a part of.
Andean scholars claim that this is the time of pachakuti, or world change, and Suma Qamana is the model upon which the new world order can be formed.  The United Nations recognized this model in 2009 and funds research and studies to support it.  Suma Qamana is being taught in Latin American universities, written about in academic journals, and presented at world summits.  Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador have all adopted parts of it in their new constitutions and have ministries, think tanks and organizations supporting civil society in applying these principles to their everyday lives.  More than 300 years ago a great enlightenment grew from the Iroquois’ ways of being, influencing many European thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Thomas More, and Karl Marx. Today Suma Qamana is capturing people’s imaginations with new ways of being that are not much newer then our US Constitutional roots. 

Dr. Tamara Stenn is an Adjunct Professor in the Sustainable Development Program at the SIT Graduate Institute and author of The Economic and Political Intersection of Fair Trade and Justice (2013).  She can be contacted at

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

KUSIKUY in Brattleboro Again!

After a two-year hiatus from the streets of Brattleboro, KUSIKUY Clothing Co.’s irresistible hand knit alpaca sweaters, hats, scarves and glittens are now back.  Glittens are fingerless gloves topped with a flip back “hat” that turn them into gloves to keep fingers extra warm.  Formally carried by Save the Corporations and Sprout, KUSIKUY’s Fair Trade, eco-friendly clothing can now be found at At the Oasis at 80 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301.  

Featured items include the classic Rainbow accessory set (hat, scarf, glitten), once carried by Timberland, and KUSIKUY’s most popular item celebrating the diversity and colors of the world;  a custom designed accessory set created by At the Oasis proprietor, Anne Senni, done in sage green, powder pink and sky blue; hand knit cable sweaters; and sumptuous hand woven shawls with macramé fringes. 
“The idea of a product that is handmade, sustainable, indigenous, and high quality fits our values,” explained Senni.  “We carry KUSIKUY because the items are natural products of great beauty and worth.  They are heirlooms,” she added.

All KUSIKUY items are created by indigenous women from Bolivia’s Andes Mountains in accordance with Fair Trade guidelines which guarantee a living wage and dignity to workers and environmental protection to the community.  In addition, they are made from sustainably harvested alpaca, a rare luxury fiber which is softer than cashmere, six times warmer than lambs wool and naturally hypoallergenic.  Alpaca has a gorgeous drape and is a durable fiber.  Once reserved for Inca royalty, it lasts through years of regular wear.