We are thinking of you. We hope you and your family are safe and in good health. We get to interact with many people in our work, from all backgrounds and places. We are conscious that, for the first time perhaps, every person we know is impacted by the current pandemic. The health risks, along with the uncertainty for the months ahead, are probably as much on your mind as they are on ours right now. Many of us are grounded, rightly asked to stay home, and that makes it hard to respond to those sudden and dramatic changes.
It is certainly hard to stop. At Earthworm, we spend much of our lives on planes, boats and buses; in factories, forests and plantations. Field action is at the heart of what we do. We spend our time listening to local communities, working with farmers and devising plans with factory owners. Boots on the ground, as we say. Well our boots will now be stored for a while. It is an essential response to this pandemic. It is also tough on our spirits.
Our first thought as this crisis hit was that if we cannot be on the ground, we are essentially abandoning the people we are working with; all the individuals engaged in the effort to protect forests, revive soils and create more resilient communities. We worried about the health and livelihoods of the most vulnerable. We also feared losing momentum with the smallholders, activists, local governments and businesses we cannot meet anymore. Those fears are still present. But with each passing day, we are learning.
This week we received news from our colleagues living in villages in Indonesia. Their home is the field. They sent us pictures of farmers they work with. These farmers had beautiful red tomatoes in their hands and smiles on their faces. Uncertainty has always been part of their lives. Harvests have failed, prices have fallen, but they have always found a way to stand up again and keep going, keep planting. We are working with them to improve the resilience of their farms. They are now teaching us about resilience of the spirit.
We are also learning that action is not everything; that there are two faces in our work and, one could argue, in any work. There are the action plans, the technical elements to help bring social and environmental change, bounded by clear objectives, outcomes and deadlines. But there is also the intangible, without which nothing truly changes nor is sustainable. The relationships we establish with one another; the bonds and trust that grow by working alongside another human being – be it a CEO, an NGO activist or a farmer.
Many of us are often guilty of prioritising actions over relationships. Doing over being. It starts at home when our work takes over our minds and the time with our spouse and children. It is happening with our colleagues when we jump on the next call and the next item on our action list without checking how we are all feeling today. It is also true with our partners when we focus all our attention on solving problems, without acknowledging the immense pressure each and every one of us is often experiencing to do the impossible.
By limiting our field of action, forced quarantine might turn out to be an unsolicited help. We are at home with our families. Technology allows us to still be in contact with our colleagues and partners. Today our field teams share information and ideas with farmers through WhatsApp groups. But most importantly we can slow down together, relieve each other’s anxiety and perhaps gain clarity. Listen more, solve less. This is a big challenge for all of us action-driven people, but a worthy one for our health and the health of this planet.
So we look forward to work alongside you over the next few weeks and months. To move forward the things that still can. To listen to you and to learn with you. There is much to fear as we face the unknown ahead of us. But to finish we will risk using a taboo word in the workplace and say this: perhaps we can replace some of that fear with love. Love for our work, love for our colleagues, love for all the people that struggle with us to change things for the better. And love for nature of course. Another relationship patiently waiting for us.
Take good care of yourselves,