- WISH LIST
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OUR IMPACT: SOCIAL
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
Few aspects of development present a bigger challenge—or engender more controversy—than the question of how best to measure one's impact. Organizations need to determine whether they are achieving the desired results, and donors deserve to know that their money is being well spent.
Increasingly, the development world is turning to quantitative measurements—expressed in numbers of trees planted, people trained, income earned—data that's easily summarized and grasped in an annual report. Such results are important indicators of the means of implementation and the breadth of impact, but they must be informed by a deeper appreciation of the social context. When you're engaged, as is GreenWood, in fostering a culture of quality, responsibility and transparency, there are limits to what can be measured in workshops conducted, product sold or hectares of forest under management.
Sometimes the most important indicators of progress are the stories that consistently elude pie charts and spreadsheets. Here are a few examples, plumbed from the GreenWood archives in Honduras:
- Antonio Pérez of Piedras de Afilar, Atlántida, learned that the advantages of being a skilled furniture maker extend well beyond his increased income, which is helping him expand his home and his shop. "Working in the fields with a machete under the hot sun is very hard," Toño says. "Now, I work comfortably at home, under a tin roof and according to my own schedule." And when he's in the shop behind his house, Toño is often seated at the shaving horse alongside several members of his own family, who are also learning the trade.
- About six years ago, GreenWood was invited to conduct a chairmaking workshop for Dulce Fé ("Sweet Faith"), a women's group in Las Delicias. The women needed chairs to open their own restaurant, which they hoped would attract ecotourists to the beautiful river that runs through their valley. GreenWood "advanced" them 30 woven-bark chairs from inventory so the group could launch its enterprise, and the women enrolled in a chairmaking workshop, where they built their replacements (see the photo at right).
- One of GreenWood's first artisans was a young man named José Pablo Cordova, of El Carbón, Olancho. Only about 15 years old when he started, José Pablo's new trade enabled him to build his own house and workshop—the first, and only, two-story home in the village—and to buy one of the town's few generators. Until he was tragically murdered two years ago, José Pablo employed two apprentices in his shop and was developing new furniture designs. His experience took him to Paris, France, where he was sent on a trade mission to represent Honduran artisans.
- Our guitar-part production in Copén, Colon, is the financial flagship of GreenWood's Honduran program. As described in the "Economic" section of OUR IMPACTS, this venture has more than tripled monthly incomes for many of the 25 members of the local sawyer's collective and has resulted in thousands of dollars of the community's own money invested in infrastructure, forest management and even in workman's compensation insurance—since 2007, the only community forest enterprise in the region to obtain such protection. But perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the venture is the fact that the last time GreenWood negotiated the price structure with members of the sawyer's collective, the group's then-president, Leonidas Santos, summarized their consent by saying, "The money is good, but the transparency is more important."
- Transparency is the cornerstone of all of GreenWood's and Fundación MaderaVerde's (FMV) economic activities in Honduras. When it comes to information about our guitar-part production, we share everything with the community—from the price the client pays for the finished product, to the costs of forest management activities, production supervision, procurement of permits and CITES documentation, kiln-drying, and so on. Information is power, and the only way for forest communities to truly develop is for them to understand all of the steps and real costs involved in bringing their products to market. This is much bigger than simply overseeing a timber harvest or sawmilling venture. For GreenWood, it begins with forest management and includes everything from administrative and bookkeeping support to planning for the reinvestment of harvest profits, which the community organizations share with FMV. We work closely with our community partners in a step-wise fashion to enable them to assume greater responsibility for all of those activities and, in the process, capture an ever-greater proportion of the value of their own resource. The communities sign on to a business relationship with FMV and GreenWood that entitles them to the largest share of the benefits that may ensue, but also obligates them to shoulder some of the risk should we fail to meet our production objectives.
Recognizing the value—and the limitations—of both the hard (quantitative) and the more elusive, soft (qualitative) analyses, GreenWood will continue to employ stories like these to inform and evaluate our work. Assessing relevance and impact is an ongoing, imperfect and evolving process, which will be reported here on our website.