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A New Normal

This collective pause we’ve all recently taken—and many of us are still in— has me thinking about the health of humanity and our planet. We’ve recently witnessed the environmental benefits of using less, buying less, travelling less and giving the planet a much needed break. This has me wondering if we’re willing to continue on this trajectory and take the needed steps to make the world a better place for generations to come.

Can we be ok with less? Can we start to co-exist with our surrounding ecosystems instead of trying to control them? Can we behave in a way that sustains all life on earth? 

As we move forward, I’ve also been wondering if businesses are willing to help shape a “new normal” that supports sustainability. If we continue with the traditional business model that focuses on profits alone then I believe our future is bleak, however if we move towards a business model that attaches a value to environmental impact and social value then I think a better future for all beings on this planet is possible. I envision a future where business integrates into an all-encompassing ecosystem that mitigates environmental degradation, provides a good quality of life for all and puts the very thing that keeps us alive at the center of the decision-making process—planet earth.

Over the last 50 years, environmentalists and social justice advocates have worked to broaden the traditional definition of a successful business, which is usually based on profit alone, by introducing full cost accounting. For example, if a corporation shows a monetary profit, but their asbestos mine creates a product that makes people sick or a copper mine pollutes a river and the government ends up spending taxpayer money on health care and river clean-up, how do we perform a full societal cost-benefit analysis?

Unlike the single or double bottom line business that only considers people and profits, a broader definition called triple bottom line adds one more aspects to the equation—the environment or planet.  This triple bottom line approach—people, planet and profit— brings a new thought process that takes the environmental and social impact of the business into account and in some instances holds the company responsible for its actions.

Let’s take it one step further and add a quadruple bottom line by including a humanistic value such as purpose. In this instance we are not referring to purpose like providing goods or services to others as the purpose of a business, but rather making the purpose something greater than the business itself. This business would be creating a purpose that integrates all or any combination of spirituality, ethics, culture and/or compassion.  

For example, compassion is the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” and this definition is not just human to human, but perhaps human to all living ecosystems. What a world we would live in if compassion was a driving force in the business decision-making process.

Imagine a future where business incorporates the alleviation of poverty or a desire to help one’s neighbor or the realization that they are a member of their environmental ecosystem and not a controller of it. What kind of world would that look like? Are we on our way there? Are we able to start this conversation and look toward the possibilities an idea like this will bring to future generations?

The ultimate question is, are we as a human race ready and willing to make systemic change in our daily lives in order to achieve a greater good? Can we find a better balance between competition and cooperation that will bring ourselves and the planet into alignment and harmony? are very challenging questions to answer.

Universal Outreach has been fortunate to partner in the building of the honey and coconut oil industries in Liberia, West Africa as a mechanism for poverty reduction. A key ingredient in this development has been Liberia Pure, a local honey and coconut oil packaging and distribution business. We’ve mentored Liberia Pure for eight years and this social enterprise is an excellent example of a quadruple bottom line business. It’s been the single most interesting, dynamic, impactful and positive endeavor that The Universal Outreach community have ever engaged in. Here is a breakdown of how Liberia Pure functions as a quadruple bottom line business model:

People – Farmers, transport workers, production and packaging workers, managers, secondary businesses that feed into the industries and many more all have an equally important role in the production of the honey and coconut oil products. It is an intricate web of connection that creates an environment of people who care about the wellbeing of one another. Liberia Pure and its suppliers/farmers work together to achieve a greater goal.

Planet – All products from Liberia Pure are produced with very low carbon footprints with a focus on integrating into the ecology or the surrounding forests and coastlines of Liberia. Liberia Pure understands that integration is more important than control because in agriculture you are never in control, you must work with your natural surroundings and stay focused on ways to improve the ecology rather than degrade it.

Purpose – What is life without a purpose? We must look at our business as something that is moving towards a greater purpose. How is our business taking culture, spirituality, gender and the betterment of our planet into account? How do you go to work each day with a renewed feeling of responsibility towards all that is around us and not just us alone? How deep are we able to go to find purpose in our lives and business’s that push our comfort zones and challenge us to be better global citizens? At Liberia Pure we learn from our surroundings, from the very people that are being trained to create these natural products and from the culture that surrounds us every day. We are all students of our natural world and at Liberia Pure it is taken seriously; we are as much of an observer as a participant and we are trying to consistently work within our means to achieve the greater good for all.

Profit or Prosperity– Liberia Pure often asks itself: who’s profit is this? The answer is that profits are given back to the farmers in the way of infrastructure, loans and dividend payouts. At the end of the day it is not only about the amount of profit the business is making, but what it does with it.

Quadruple bottom line business is about inclusiveness and cooperation and I believe that those who adopt these concepts early will be business leaders in the years to come. I hope for a “new normal” where people see less as more, where we consider the impact of our purchasing power and where we support holistic business practices that take people, planet, purpose and profit into account. We’ve learnt a great deal during this time of reflection and I believe we can make the necessary changes to create a healthy all-inclusive world for future generations.

As you may have heard, Kent and I decided to not board the last plane out of Liberia on March 21th. After this flight left, the airport closed to public passenger airlines which means “staying put” indefinitely.

Outside of our work, we live a quiet and simple life here. We have a comfortable apartment, meaningful work, a large rooftop area and an uncrowded beach/ocean very close by. After watching what was happening in the rest of the world we knew that life as we knew it was likely to change, but we also knew that our comfort with simple routines would serve us well.

Like everywhere in the world it’s an uncertain time and as the UN predicts a difficult road ahead for developing countries we’re glad to be with our team in Liberia weathering this together. We all have different perspectives and when times get stressful or rumours abound it’s helpful for all of us to share information, dispel myths and collectively decide on the best way forward.

On a note of gratitude, all of us are very grateful for the large amount of soap we have on hand right now thanks to the soap-making workshop we hosted this past January with the Rocky Mountain Soap Company from Canmore. Since we had so much soap available we were also able to donate boxes of it to a quarantine facility that’s been erected in Liberia.

Only essential members of our team come to work right now (if they chose to) and, as a group, we’ve decided to distance ourselves appropriately, use our hand washing stations, sanitize commonly touched surfaces and wear face masks (how to take them on and off has been discussed). To ensure masks intended for hospital facilities make it there we’re getting masks made locally by The Bombchel Factory, a fashion business that employs an all-woman staff of Ebola survivors, rape victims and the deaf to sew their garments.

Liberia confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on March 16th. after a person returned from a conference in Geneva, Switzerland. At that time the Liberian government took the following actions:

On March 16, 2020, the Liberian authorities issued a declaration designed to enforce social distancing, including: closure of all schools, night clubs, cinemas, beaches, spas, mosques and churches; banning of all street selling and gatherings of more than 10 people; limits on admittance to banks and restaurants to five customers kept six feet apart; social distancing for health facilities and pharmacies (which are to remain open); and mandatory washing with soap and clean water at all public and private establishments. In addition, a hotline has been established for use by the population to report those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Up until recently the numbers remained low, and although they still are, they are beginning to rise. As of April 7th there have been 14 confirmed cases and 3 deaths.

As it becomes Liberia’s turn to face COVID-19 they can draw on the experience of countries who are currently managing this along with their considerable knowledge gained from the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak that killed 4,810 people in Liberia alone. The Ebola crisis left the country with a number of experienced contact tracers and new tracers are currently being trained.  

In a recent interview with BBC news Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf reflected on the Ebola outbreak commenting, “Fear drove people to run, to hide, to hoard to protect their own, when the only solution is, and remains, based in the community.” The rest of her speech can be read here.

Asking people to distance themselves in a neighbourly and social country like Liberia can be challenging. Houses are used more as a place to sleep and store things than to sit in all day long. It’s normal to see people outside cooking, doing laundry, bathing their children and talking to their neighbours. In the more densely populated areas many people live in one-room dwellings lined up side by side which makes it difficult to distance oneself from their neighbour. Jingles about social distancing fill the radio stations and everyone is doing their best.

The government issued ban of petty trading on the streets yet this is how many people here earn their daily bread. Without a small daily income most folks won’t eat. Some people have the financial strength to stock up on extra food if illness forces them to stay home, but this is rare. It’s impossible to enforce an action that requires people to go without food, so in the less congested areas petty trading continues.

Hand washing is highly promoted and adhered to, but this doesn’t mean turning on the bathroom tap while ample water pours over soapy hands. Hand washing buckets have popped up in front of homes and businesses, but keeping those full means multiple trips to the community well. We’ve helped by establishing hand washing stations at the main roads that lead into our community so anyone entering has easy access. The community chairperson has recruited volunteers to work at the stations and they are diligently managing them.

With the loss of jobs from the temporary closure of non-essential business the government of Liberia has asked employers to remember the labour laws and obligations to pay out staff accordingly during this time of lay offs. There is no employment insurance here so when a job is lost there is no safety net, only family support.

Strive, our community resource center closed its door on March 16th with the rest of the educational facilities in the country. Thanks to the 2019 donations from the Universal Outreach community we are able to keep the staff from Strive on salary to ensure they can continue to provide for their families. 

I’m going to leave it here for now as we have a newsletter coming out next month and I can update you on stories related to Universal Outreach programs at that time. I’m including a very short video from outside the compound this morning as it sums up the mood that is growing here as the country prepares for what’s to come. Fortunately, its dry season in Liberia so even though it’s overcast and raining today I know the sun will eventually shine again.

Knowledge is Strength

 

 

Greetings from Africa!

I’m Aaron Williams and I work for Universal Outreach Foundation as the beekeeper training manager and also as a beekeeping extension worker. Being with Universal Outreach means a great deal to me because of the passion I have for the work I do; most especially gives me an opportunity to share my knowledge with my fellow Liberians.

Right now I’m in Egypt participating in a project analysis course. This opportunity was made possible thanks to funding from the Egyptian government and the Universal Outreach community (thank you!). I look forward to returning home later this month so I can use my new skills to impact the lives of the Liberian people.

The project analysis course is helping me better understand the value and impact of project design. I see this being advantageous as beekeeping grows in Liberia and we look to a future where Liberia is the hub of beekeeping in West Africa. With project analysis I’ll be able to design and evaluate the best way for the Association of Beekeepers in Liberia (ABEL) to invest its time and resources. When Universal Outreach encouraged us to start this association it was because they knew that in the long term it is ABEL that will be the voice of beekeepers in the country and I want to ensure we are progressive.

Egypt has also opened my eyes to what is truly possible in the field of agriculture. Egypt is a desert country, but they are producing crops and exporting. Liberia has land that is rich in organic matter, but because of the limited knowledge of the average Liberian farmer agriculture is still at a subsistence level. In Egypt, I’ve learned ideas like grafting citruses (bees love the citrus tree flower), field layout for irrigation and the usage and preparation of organic fertilizer. These are all helpful ideas that I look forward to sharing with farmers in Liberia.

I could say so much more about my program, but I’d like to conclude by thanking the UOF family for their continuous support to the development of Liberia. Thank you for supporting the development of the honey industry over the past six years—you have done very well for us. If you came here to meet the beekeepers you would feel proud. I look forward to us working together to support small-scale farmers with the new techniques I’ve acquired in Egypt. Where there is food there is also good health and joy!

Aaron B. Williams

Courageous beekeepers get a hand up

 

A few months ago I wanted to get some fresh beekeeping photos, so I tagged along with the beekeepers while they harvested honey in Nimba County. We ended up in a village that was gifted hives from another organization, but didn’t get any beekeeping training to help guide them. I have to commend the people I met for their courage, but courage wasn’t going to translate into cash unless this group learned how to manage bees and harvest honey properly themselves.

 

 

When they asked if Universal Outreach could give them some tips, we were happy to oblige because WE CAN. This is an example of the benefits of having an extension team that travels the country ready to support beekeepers. They have the time to meet with people like this who are willing and able, and very cost effective for us to support. This kind of program flexibility in a budding honey industry is incredibly valuable as it allows us to respond to real needs in a timely manner.

 

 

One month later, two Universal Outreach beekeeping trainers hosted a workshop with this enthusiastic group to ensure their future as beekeepers. Now instead of getting crushed, bees are now being gently brushed out of the way when frames go back into the hives, instead of getting stung, beekeepers are properly dressed to protect themselves from aggressive bees, and instead of harvesting everything in the comb, honey is now selectively chosen so only the quality capped honey is harvested. This group is set up for a bright future in beekeeping and I’m glad we were able to help.

 

 

Landis Wyatt, Communications Manager for Universal Outreach