August 2, 2016
KOTAGIRI, India – An enthusiastic group of 20 EXCEED participants from 6 different countries had a taste of the warm Tamil welcome in the chilly Blue Mountains of the Nilgiris. EXCEED: The NTFP Academy is the training and advisory arm of the Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme. This year, NTFP-EP partners with Keystone Foundation, Last Forest Inc., and Aadhimalai Producer Company for the training “Managing Community Forestry Enterprise Growth and Effective Marketing Strategies.” The short course takes off from Keystone Foundation and NTFP-EP’s vast experience in establishing community-based forest enterprises and intermediaries and more importantly, ensuring their sustainability.
On its opening day, the participants have been introduced to the framework of a sustainable community-base enterprise, its stages, and the various parameters that guide enterprise growth. The concepts have been concretized through cases, issues and learning from the experiences of start-ups before they transitioned into sustained enterprises.
Case studies used have been drawn from actual enterprises of some of the participants. Through the interactive hands-on approach, the participants were given a venue to exercise their analytical skills and practice what they learn.
Held in the eco-designed Keystone Foundation campus whose well-insulated buildings were made out of rammed earth. As it is built in the open spaces of the hills of the Nilgiris, it isn’t surprising to see random critter visitors around the campus – as for their first day, a Green Keelback, and just after Pratim spoke about the wildlife that they could expect to see around campus!
Today, participants will learn directly from the community as they visit the cooperatives of the Aadhimalai Producer Company namely the Bangalapadigai and Pudukad units.
After a day of introductions and preliminary learning, the participants visited the production centre at Puthukkad, one of the cooperatives of the Aadhimalai Producer Company. They were able to take part in an interactive sharing session with the community members.
From yesterday’s fun-filled field trip, the participants resumed once again with high enthusiasm very early in the morning. They discussed how to apply the lessons they have learned from Puthukkad to their own local situations.
Topics covered for the the day were: organizational development, human resource management, production and sustainability, environmental sustainability, and production within the context of community enterprises. The participants had a show and tell of their own products, including the corresponding impact these products had on their environment.
The financial management session ended with a quiz bee among the participants, and in the end, the winners were treated to a shopping spree at the Last Forest’s Green Shop!
The group had a tour of Last Forest, a social enterprise committed to supporting and working with primary communities through its marketing platform. After a rich discussion of its history, the group was treated to a hands-on learning of the know-hows of Last Forest’s honey production chain, from the bee hive to their racks.
From putting together Asia’s first bee museum, Last Forest now houses the top Slow Food restaurant in Ooty – The Place to Bee! Aritra shares how the Place to Bee is more than just a restaurant – it is a social enterprise that builds the capacity o flocal and community people, promotes the values of Slow Food Principles, connects the Bee Museum activities through Keytone Foundation’s wider base of work.
As they headed back to Keystone, the EXCEED team shared to the participants the importance of a core value to which the enterprise should stay true to despite its life of ups and downs. While living up to one’s philosophy is challenging, it has always proved beneficial to the enterprise when leaders and members of the team are flexible and open.
After a day of immersion in Ooty, a session on Human Resource Management was facilitated by Arun Ramachandran, the Chief Executive Officer of Aadhimalai. It had the participants share about their learnings from the previous day and how it is similar/different to their respective local enterprise contexts.
Everyone got treated to a taste of authentic Slow Food in the Place to Bee. Aside from an explosion of flavors, the food served for lunch was also a fest for the eyes!
It’s time to learn how to ‘pin it down to the last centavo’ as Monica shared the financial aspect of the enterprise. Everyone felt inspired when they learned about the financial software that Last Forest uses to generate sales reports… daily!
As the training comes to a close, the participants met for the last time for some final brainstorming and sharing of the plans they formulated for their forest enterprises.
NTFP-EP, Keystone Foundation, Last Forest Enterprises, Aadhimalai, and Place to Bee would like to send their warm congratulations to the 20 EXCEED graduates, and their many thanks to the people at the forefront and behind this training who made this success possible. The learning through sharing does not stop here. Let’s continue to work towards sustainability of our enterprises to further empower communities and create a greener market for everyone!