Making Equal Exchange a More Democratic and Participatory Workplace


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Here, we cover our work introducing Equal Exchange worker-owners to the principles of democratic and participatory education and help them develop everyday practices to implement in their West Bridgewater, MA factory and offices.

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equal_exchangeEqual Exchange‘s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound. As a worker-owned business, they foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.

Challenges faced
Equal Exchange got in touch with TESA, in the hopes that TESA could introduce EE worker-owners to the principles of democratic and participatory education. Furthermore, they wanted TESA to develop a workshop that would allow the EE worker-owners to investigate how they could utilize those principles in their everyday practices as worker-owners in their West Bridgewater, MA factory and offices. EE wanted the workshop to be hands on, and provide EE worker-owners with opportunity to create a plan for how they make education a more prominent part of their workplace culture in a way that increased efficiency, worker happiness, and participation.

How TESA helped
Working closely with a handful of EE worker-owners, TESA developed a workshop plan that would provide the necessary background information and allow for EE working groups to create action plans for how to move forward. This workshop worked so well because of the balance mentioned above; participants explored an informative group walk-around on the basics of democratic education in democratic workspaces, and then were able form small groups and develop their own action plans. The action plans focused on how EE could implement new policies, projects, and work initiatives that incorporated the principles of democratic education. Their proposed ideas ranged from inter-office work exchanges to factory floor skill and knowledge sharing techniques, to new education forums. It was a great success, and EE is planning on bringing TESA back again in 2014.

What would you say to others about TESA?
“Through another training I had with the Green Worker Co-op Academy, I had already seen how TESA was able to show how to combine producing effective outcomes with inclusionary practices, and I was excited to share this with my fellow worker-owners at Equal Exchange!

Andrew and Brian gave an amazing workshop in a quick 90 minute period. They demonstrated what they were teaching about participatory education through the workshop style itself, which really helped in understanding the topic. We came out with many ideas and energy to improve our co-operative business through participatory means. It meant a lot to learn tools we worker-owners can use to live out our vision for our co-op both as business owners and members of the Equal Exchange community.” – Esther West, EE Worker-Owner

A note from TESA
EE is an important part of the history of worker-cooperatives in the US, so it was really exciting for TESA to work with them on how to create more space for democratic education within our movement. Furthermore, EE worker-owners were excited, focused, and developed some great action plans – it is always exciting to see a workshop succeed and thrive!

Equal Exchange is also the sponsor of our Cooperative Education Scholarship, we’re so grateful for their continuing support of our growing movement!

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