Beads, beauty and global good guide Nirvana's Daniel Isner here and abroad
Many people today write their own job descriptions – but none may be as diverse and meaningful as the ever-developing roles of Tennessee native Daniel Isner.
It’s nearly impossible to coax Isner into talking about himself. But ask him about his years of volunteer leadership in community and economic development in Africa, agricultural enrichment in Appalachia, his road adventures as Nirvana Bead’s west coast product representative and, especially, his beautiful wife, Tarinni, and toddler daughter Kaevalaya– and he is a verbal fountain of information, advocacy and passion.
His twice-annual 7,000 plus mile circuit visiting stores and designers west of the Mississippi helps support the projects and people he loves while offering new adventures and inspiration. He started in Southern California last week and will be circling back there to end this route in June.
“I really enjoy visiting the diverse natural wonders I have proximity to on the western sales loop, from hot springs and beaches to state and national parks. It’s what helps to maintain my personal balance on the road,” he explained. Isner has been known to eschew hotels in favor of the sunrise vistas occasionally available by pitching a tent.
But, it’s visiting with diverse artists that truly inspires him. “Most of the bead shop owners and designers I meet are true artists. Their passion for their work is contagious,” he said. “I have learned so much from our customers and am genuinely interested in what they have going on.”
Isner said he loves to see the various ways Nirvana beads are incorporated into customer creations. “Doing this work over the years, I’ve humbly picked up some cool techniques, enjoyed some enriching conversations and made some lifelong friends,” he said.
Between 2011 and 2013, Isner spent a few months each year visiting his Nirvana customers to earn money and then head back to Burkina Faso – a landlocked country of 17 million people in West Africa with significant economic and political challenges – to co-create solutions there as an AMURT volunteer.
In the village of Bissiri, he launched the ESPRI Moringa initiative. “ESPRI translates to ‘social entrepreneurship and integrated rural production’,” he explained. “In short, we designed this program to tackle malnutrition and contribute to reforestation while creating equitable livelihood opportunities.”
While the goals may sound esoteric and lofty, Isner’s energy, commitment and inexhaustible work ethic delivered on all counts to create a thriving program that makes a significant difference in hundreds of lives today – and he still hasn’t celebrated his 33rd birthday.
Google “moringa” and you’ll immediately be bombarded with ads extolling the virtues of the latest “super food.” But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover this prolific tree provides an abundance of protein and nutrient dense leaves — and can be grown, harvested and consumed without degrading the landscape. It’s quickly becoming a popular alternative there to other input-heavy, non-edible crops like cotton — which is grown for export while those working in the fields suffer from chemical exposure and related symptoms.
But simply growing moringa was not enough. The program needed a grant to fund the bricks-and-mortar agro-processing facility necessary to dry and process the moringa leaves into potent nutritional supplements and teas. Nirvana’s Nir Kronenberg and Cynthia Shanti Moralez long-time friends of Isner’s, stepped up with the donation from the company. Moralez travelled to Burkina Faso to photograph the program progress and prepare the materials for a successful crowd funding campaign that enabled the team to deliver the finished product to market.
“A little support can go a long way,” Isner stated. “With minimal input after that, our moringa operation has grown to become arguably the top moringa producer in Burkina Faso in terms of quantity, quality and systems. We work with a network of vegetable farmers in the area helping them integrate moringa into their annual cropping systems.”
Local women organized to run the program. “The Fulbes Pottal Women’s Association takes care of all the post-harvest processing and packaging. There is so much more I could say about the experience of working with them, it has been a super meaningful relationship,” Isner said.
“Our products are now found all over Burkina Faso in shops and rural clinic depots. We also have folks coming to us regularly to source larger quantities of moringa for their own product lines,” he added. “It’s a success story that is still unfolding.
The program is currently working to increase production and decentralize facilities in other remote areas. Isner looks forward to going back to concentrate on those efforts – and introducing his daughter Kaevalaya, 2, to the continent. “I felt it a privilege to live and work in rural, isolated villages in Burkina Faso’s interior, where life is lived as it was in times of old,” he said.
But for now, he appreciates the interaction with the Western vistas, Nirvana’s customers and the support Nirvana Beads has provided to his larger goals.
Writer Judi Griggs designs and sells jewelry in Western New York in the summer and Texas in the winter.