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  • Writer's pictureAttia Qureshi

Day 2: Starting A Coup In The Colombian Jungle

Yes, that's right. Today my goal was to initiate a coup within a guava association, which is currently being run by a useless, drone-addicted, non-farmer who is politically well connected. And yes, I wore the same outfit... give me a break, there's not much I can wear in the heat of the jungle while still being functional. Maybe I'll try harder tomorrow... maybe.

Today's session was tough because we started at 3pm, and only had a couple of hours. This meant: no time for theory, we were working in the heat of the day, and people were already tired from a full day's work.

Luckily, I received from context from the people helping the associations, who I'm contracting with. They essentially told me the governor had put this guy Andres as head of the association. Andres is well connected politically, but that's about all he has going for him. He literally looks like the drug trafficking villian from Bad Boys II (yes, I love that movie). He has no knowledge of farming, of guavas, or how to be a leader. His most recent idea is he used the association's status to get money from the government to buy drones... to... make the farms better. How? No one knows.

You know what these farmers need? Someone they trust to lead them in negotiations as a group. Do you know what is one of the last things these farmers need? Drones. I mean, who actually DOES need drones?

So I go in armed with this information, and off the bat start off aggressively to show everyone I'm in charge. This was important for a couple of reasons... to get these old, Colombian farming men to listen to me, and to make sure I could control Andres. I had a feeling he would try to interject to regain control of the situation (I was right about this, and shut him down every time). I set rules of how we would operate: everyone gets to speak, no one interrupts, everyone is respectful. If you break the rules, you're outta there.

So we again go through the exercise: what's the biggest problem, what's your objective for the day, and what is the objective of the association. Surprise, surprise, the results were fairly similar to day 1. We don't communicate well, we aren't meeting so we can't work together, and we lack trust. We want to fix this so we can work more effectively together, thus setting a higher price for our crop and earning more money.

I changed my technique here, because despite this association being much better positioned with higher potential, it was clearly more dysfunctional that the Day 1 association. They hadn't all met in the entire three years that the association had been running! So I sat down, and looked everyone in the eye, and told them that if they aren't willing to change, they should dissolve the association right then and there. Because what was the point, nothing was going to get achieved if they continued to operate without trust or communication.

I let this sink in with a long pause as they all stared at me in horror. I then took a deep breath and said "But... here's what it would look like if you DID work together." I then showed them a very simple financial model: how much can you sell in a week, at what price, for how many weeks... thus, how much can you earn as a group in a year. They were stunned, and then very excited. They started sharing they could earn even more by getting rid of the middle man and selling directly to the market. Ding ding... work together, get more money.

I asked them how they would actually achieve this without communication. They stated that the biggest problem is they never met regularly, so they couldn't set their price or come up with a strategy. I pounced on this, and asked them how they could change that. We quickly came up with a new operating agreement: a monthly meeting. But when, where? These things matter, you need an agreement to be specific and implementable. They would meet the first Thursday of every month, in the same place, from 3-5pm.

Next came the start of the coup. I told them they needed to have a moderator, someone to act the way I was in the current meeting, to run the meeting. You all may have guessed this, but Andres immediately piped up and said he could do it. I shut this down, hard. I said no one who was in the "leadership group" (he's the only one) could do this job, it had to be someone neutral. Everyone elected another man, Ivan Jose, with full consensus. We then went through how they would structure these meetings, the rules of the meetings, and how they would deliver action items with people in charge.

I could have stopped here... everyone was feeling great, and excited about having a path forward. But there was still the issue of trust, and I decided to bring it up. I told them that this was a great first step, but they still wouldn't be able to operate effectively unless they had a leader they trusted to represent them in negotiations as a group. I asked them if they wanted to talk about additional roles to add to the leadership team... finance, secretary, operations... There was pushback here. First, they weren't assembled formally, so we couldn't vote on anything (damn). Second, they wanted more participants in the meeting to have this discussion. Fair enough, but... would it actually happen? I wasn't sure, so I pushed further, and asked them to write down three names of people they would trust in a negotiation. It took about 10 minutes to convince them to write down three names, not as a vote, but as a starting point in their next conversation.

Ivan Jose got the most yays, with a few other people getting two yays each (including Andre, but I'm pretty sure those were his own yays). I shared this, and asked them to keep it in mind for the next meeting. I also asked them how they are going to keep their leaders accountable. How long do you wait before kicking someone out for not taking action on their responsibility? We decided on three months.

We wrapped up with writing the entire agreement down, and I again had everyone sign it. I told everyone they were the only ones who could enforce it, I was leaving and really, it was up to them. I really hope they do, there is so much potential in that group of people. I also feel that I was able to empower them to feel more in control of their situation... and with the starts of a coup, they feel confident enough to kick Andres out and get someone in there who is vying for their interests instead of drones.

A pretty good day's work. I felt especially happy when I overheard association members talking about how this was the first time they actually had any semblance of a real, productive meeting in three years. I just hope Andres, with his many political connections, doesn't seek retribution against the mouthy American woman who has started stripping away his power.

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Feb 06, 2020

I love mouthy American women!

So fascinating.

Is there any chance you can follow up via webchat apps? To continue to nudge them forward? To change their muscle memory interactions?

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