“The only source of knowledge is experience.”

                                                      ~Albert Einstein

Common Ground: A Solidarity Learning Experience


Common Ground engages people from across the global coffee commodity chain in the collective process of learning how to humanize how we trade, educate and ultimately relate to ourselves, each another and the world.



Current Project

Our current project is in partnership with a coffee cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. The indigenous Tseltal Maya community has developed a sustainable alternative economic model around their coffee that addresses the issues of exploitation and poverty (the root causes of migration from the region).  We are partnering with this community to develop a learning experience, or “school,” in the context of this solidarity economy that will allow students to walk side-by-side with the indigenous community to resolve challenges and to navigate the continued growth and sustainability of this alternative economic model.



The Nuts & Bolts

Common Ground intends to be a series of semester-long projects with small groups of students in Atlanta, Mexico City, and Chiapas. The project is centered in the context of a solidarity coffee economy and co-op and culminates in a pilgrimage to the coffee growing region to create mutually beneficial and ongoing relationships with people and communities.  The students will collaborate throughout the semester to understand the inner workings of a solidarity economy and navigate the challenges of growth and cooperative work. The semester will include a pilgrimage, which is a metaphor as much as a movement – that in this process of connecting with others across the globe we are all creating together and coming home.  The ultimate goal is to set a solid foundation and learn enough to extend the learning experience with other “students,” potentially work with other commodities, and apply what we learn towards other challenges. We learn what we need to learn in order to go forward and to come together better.

The Vision of a Solidarity Learning Experience: A note from our Director

Turn on the news almost anywhere around the world.  Listen and cringe at the permanent political gridlock and rancor, at the propaganda that passes muster, at the collapse or bifurcation of economies, at the deadly mischief of a climate in chaos, at the sheer number of people desperate enough to leave their countries.  Social inequality, government repression, religious extremism, global temperatures, sea levels and catastrophes are all on the rise.  Fear is on the rise too, and fast.  Understanding, on the other hand, is in retreat.  Democracy has gone with it.  The world seems trapped in a veritable fight or flight mode, and we all suffer the consequences.

The situation is, in a word, dangerous.  It is also impoverishing and unsustainable for all peoples as well as to our common humanity, on all levels.  Common Ground is our humble effort to reverse this situation by starting where we are and learning our way towards more sustainable selves, communities, schools, economies, and planet.

Idealistic?  Yes– by necessity.  Unclear as to what we exactly do, deliver and measure?  Great­­­­­– and again by necessity.  We believe that when it comes to doing something truly different, there is no quicker route to failure than pretending we know where we are going or how we will get there at the outset.  We have our ideas, of course, but we expect these to shift and change as we make our way and widen the “we.”

Program Director

C.Aiden Downey, PhD lectures in the Intercultural Conflict Management Program and Alice Solomon University in Berlin, Germany and is associated faculty at Emory University. He served as director of undergraduate studies at the Division of Educations Studies from 2009-2015. Trained as an educational anthropologist, Aiden works with schools, business, and other organizations to build organizational cultures that sustains people, learning, and change. Aiden’s research and writing focus on community-engaged pedagogy, urban education and the narrative nature of experience, knowledge and identity. Formerly a teacher at an inner-city high school for dropouts, pharmacist and Marine veteran of the First Gulf War, Aiden co-founded The Workshop School, an innovative project-based public high school in Philadelphia that teaches inner-city youth to change the world.