Curious beginnings

Curious beginnings: My Journey to Yellow Seed

Growing up, I was a curious and quirky kid who chased grasshoppers and made my own rules. But as a teenager, I was bullied and began to withdraw and shut down. By high school, I pretty much felt invisible. I didn’t fit in. I lost a connection to my own sense of value. It became challenging for me to see how I could participate in the world I wanted to grow up, play and dream in.

 

As an adult, travels sparked powerful questions and led me to meet people who also felt “invisible” – hundreds of people working to improve their livelihoods and their communities, in market systems that don’t acknowledge them or the value they add. People like traditional herbalists in Uganda who struggle to do their healing work because trees and native plants are being lost to steady deforestation. Or farmers in the heart of the Amazon producing exquisite cacao beans, known as “the unicorn of chocolate,” and forced to sell these beans for far less than they’re worth.

The Wise Women of Gulu

The Wise Women of Gulu, Traditional herbalists working to restore Uganda’s forests with native trees and plants.

Discovering the invisible

I returned to the Amazon more than a dozen times, “chasing grasshoppers” and searching for what I couldn’t see. Each time I discovered that many people who would benefit from working together were invisible to one another. Like cacao farmers who could not be found by the craft chocolate buyers who are desperate to find them. Like exporters struggling with farm-to-port transport, and reliable, local drivers looking for stable business partners. Like an entire coop of more than 400 individual farmers, impossible to find when googling their organization and their leadership, by name and location.

 

The power of voice

The times I felt invisible, I was also voiceless.  Relationships and systems didn’t make it easy for me to contribute my perspective. For example, in school I became reliant on a mentor’s advice to avoid offense from bullies who caused me quite a bit of repeated suffering. Her advice and process for dealing with encounters didn’t make it easy to report or share the behavior safely and there were no ways to work through issues collectively. New challenges would arise and without means to use my voice safely or effectively, I felt powerless to take action and solve my own problems. I noticed that farmers in the Amazon felt similarly disempowered when they did not have any connection with a market where their cacao beans and their expertise were valued.

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One farmer I met, Pedro, was given fermentation boxes from a local NGO with the aim of improving the cacao beans’ quality. The boxes however required twice as much labor to use. Without a way to ask questions, Pedro was unclear of the benefits of using these boxes, including whether there might be additional wages to offset the additional labor. Farmers like Pedro, without a way to quickly and efficiently solicit support from a wider network, become reliant on the few options that are presented to them. Invisibility and lack of voice limits one’s ability to make thoughtful, informed choices in ways that also feel valuable. For markets to be effective, requires us to think about more creative ways involve the farmer’s voice in the conversation in meaningful ways.

Why Yellow Seed?

Over time I became increasingly curious how we might create systems that are not only fair but can result in greater wholeness of our financial systems and markets, for each individual involved.

I conceived of Yellow Seed, a nonprofit, impact-driven enterprise, as an opportunity to build a digital platform for Collaborative Trade.

Yellow Seed makes people, products, and resources visible so trade can happen with greater transparency and ease.

Our pilot, currently underway, is connecting cacao farmers, including those in the Peruvian Amazon, to craft chocolate makers all over the world. You can read more about our model here.

 

What do we believe?

We see visibility and transparency are necessary to surface existing value, and ultimately address systemic gaps and challenges in modern markets. Transparency also helps us to identify opportunities for each person to participate, as we seek to create true win-win scenarios.

We define a win-win scenario as one where markets — and the people who comprise them — achieve wholeness, and generate more value for more people.

 

What is our vision?

We believe new solutions can emerge if we invite everyone who is impacted by a system to be part of improving that system. While a win-win scenario like this might be hard to envision given today’s systems, we are confident our model can help create change because it is based on a web of transparent, fair and productive relationships. With each new connection and relationship,  our systems become stronger — creating more stable livelihoods, allowing precious resources and products to flow.

Wholeness in our financial and human systems will emerge as more individuals are made visible and invited to participate in generating more value for more people.

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More grasshoppers to chase

I’m grateful for the amazing team of community builders, researchers, technologists, designers and business strategists who have come together to build Yellow Seed.  The Yellow Seed community of users have been adding their voice at each step to co-create the platform meant to serve all.

With the launch of our pilot, connecting cacao farmers with craft chocolate makers, we are beginning to make the invisible visible, so that people and markets can benefit. It has been a labor of love over many years and I’m proud of our progress to date. And as more information is surfaced, there will be more grasshoppers to curiously chase. We look forward to continuing the learning journey with you.

 

-Nancy Zamierowski, Co-Founder & Collaboration Architect 

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