We had been debating an increase in the interest rate for weeks. It was splitting us apart. Two of the newest members of the tribe were advocating for an increase in our interest rates. Their reasoning was sound. It conformed to the best microfinance practices. Hell, it was a best microfinance practice. And, the rate increase would assist us in our quest to become financially sustainable.

The debate was healthy. We needed new ideas. New approaches. And new perspectives. They had them. And, we believed in creative destruction. It’s one of the eleven promises that we would make to one another in the near future. Namely, it is all right to destroy the work that previous cohorts of students had created. That’s what these two were doing. However, they were not talking about a modest rate increase. The rate increase being suggested made me blush. It breached our beliefs. And, I was not the only one thought so. Others in the class argued that raising interest rates was the easy thing to do. They asked them why the clients should have to carry the weight of our financial sustainability. Couldn’t we find alternative ways, creative way to reduce our costs?

Now, the position of those who wanted the rate increase was not wrong. It was just wrong for us. It contravened our the nascent culture of our tribe and our overarching objective. Namely, we wanted to upend the microfinance industry.

We believed that we could.

Yes, we were small. Hell, we were infinitesimal. But we had a plan. And, we were going to share our vision of microfinance with world. Namely, we were designing a lending program with no fees. No penalties. No pressure to repay. No collateral. No groups. We would lend individual loans to anyone who asked for one. And, we would do it with low interest rates. We were going to show the industry that this could work. We would make it work.

We considered access to finance a human right. We believed in building mutually beneficial relationships with our clients and using that relationship as collateral. And, we believed in creating the most favorable conditions for our clients to repay. It was going to be microfinance our way. We were going to stake our flag. Beat a drum. Take a stand.

But we were a young tribe, our culture was in its infancy, and the core set of students who two years earlier had laid the groundwork for our way of doing things had graduated. We were struggling to transmit their thoughts, their beliefs, their ethics, the why of their decisions to the new cohort of students.

Not that we wanted to overly constrain the new students in what they could do; but, we did want to constrain how they were going to do what they were going to do. Namely, they had to have an intense commitment to our clients and their well-being.  

So, we debate about raising the interest rage in the classroom and outside of the classroom. It even showed up at the conclusion of another meeting on another topic on another day I was holding. Some of my La Ceiba students were in attendance. And, at the meeting’s end, they hung around and the conversation turned to La Ceiba and the decision we had been belaboring for days. I listened intently to their words. I took note of who said what. I weighed their words. The weight I assigned their words was a function of their credibility in the Tribe. The degree of their leadership. Their influence with others. The weight their words would carry with others.

I watched. I observed. I tried staying behind my duck blind. I tried to adhere to my non-interference directive. But it was our first year without students from the cohort that firmly set our culture. It was a strong cohort, full of personality, articulate, influential and dedicated to our vision. And, the tide was turning against our culture.  

Then I saw it. It was an issue of numbers. There were too many new members to the tribe. They were still trying to understand who we were, what we were about. This takes a while.

Our tribe’s membership is volatile. Each year we graduate a cohort of members. They spin off and new people arrive. Our culture has to survive this transition. Sometimes it is a difficult transition.

I got scared. So, I interjected. And, I said “If you choose to raise the interest rate, I’ll walk away and find another group of students to work with.”

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have had more faith. But we had yet to articulate our 11 Promises. Our ethos was being passed down through storytelling only.

Yes, the position of those advocating for an increase interest rates were right. It was a matter of financial sustainability. We lacked it. It was a constant source of stress. It taxed our collective minds. We barely made ends meet. Who am I kidding? Our ends never met. However, there’s was also tribal sustainability, which was served by the strength of our culture.

The newest members of our tribe who were advocating for an increase in the interest rate were advocating for a position that was incorrect for our culture. But they were making inroads. I considered this an invasion. Maybe that’s too strong of a word? Maybe. But I don’t think so. It was an invasion. Our culture was at risk. And, there was no room for more than one culture. So, I intervened.

In Rewilding, one of your responsibilities as a teacher is to safeguard the culture that you and your students co-create. You do this by carrying the history of your tribe and sharing its stories.

You do this by screening prospective members of the tribe and staying keenly aware of how the size of your tribe impacts its dynamics. And, you foreclose this possibility of an invasion of your culture by keeping an intense eye on the words being used by your students, their body language and the kinds of relationships they are building with one another and your partners.