Cards from Africa – in Welsh!

Fair trade shop, Fairdo’s, in Cardiff has recently started to sell fair trade cards with Welsh language greetings.  The cards, made by Cards from Africa, in Rwanda are a first for both Fairdo’s as the first Welsh language cards made for them by a company based in the ‘South’, it is also a first for Cards from Africa, who have never made cards in Welsh before.

Cards from Africa are one of fifty companies in Rwanda to receive training from the Shared Interest Foundation to support their business development.  For more on the cards available at Fairdo’s see here.  For more on Cards from Africa see here.

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The Secluded South East of Costa Rica

Our first producer visit in Costa Rica was to APPTA, a group of remotely based communities growing cocoa and bananas. We made the day-long journey to the Talamanca region of Costa Rica with our colleague Hugo, stopping in Limon to sample the Caribbean twist on the country’s favourite dish Gallo Pinto. With two hours to spare before sunset, we visited the Cahuita National Park

The journey to APPTA was a long and challenging one. We made an early start and drove south to Bribri where APPTA’s head office is based. From there we made a further drive down to the river, as the community we were set to visit is barely accessible by land. We took an hour long boat ride, jumping out at one point to push the boat when it became stuck in the rocks! Even in the challenging face of the physical environment, the produce from APPTA makes this same remarkable journey, in order that they can sell organic and fairtrade goods to international markets.

We were present at a producer meeting where new tools bought with the fairtrade premium were handed out. The community have previously invested in a school, which is served by satellite link due to the isolated location. There was also some discussion about the financial issues they were currently facing, so I was delighted upon my return to work this week, to find out that APPTA have now been approved for a credit facility with Shared Interest.

To round of the day, we returned to Bribri to visit the cocoa processing plant and hear more about APPTA’s aspirations for the future.

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‘SEWING’ THE SEEDS OF FAIR TRADE IN TANZANIA FOR SHARED INTEREST

After 27 hours non-stop travel, two 6-hour stopovers and 3 different planes, I finally arrived to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.  As always the interminable journey had been worth it to be back on African soil.  And anyway, I had met up with Rachel Ngondo, our African Regional Development Executive, at Nairobi so I’d had some company for the final leg of the journey.  As always, it was great to see her.

From the window of the third plane, the huge, open plains and the incredibly long coastline of Tanzania were both very much in evidence.  Unfortunately so too was the fact that it has been very dry here of late; rainfall is desperately needed.  Some areas haven’t had rains for two years now so not only is the livestock wasting away but the way of life of certain life groups may also be at risk unless some assistance is forthcoming.

Tanzania is apparently much less well developed than Kenya in a commercial sense but the country is fortunate to enjoy many more natural resources than its neighbour.  Another difference between the two which was also very obvious from the air is that in Dar those living in affluent homes and those in shacks live side-by-side.  In Nairobi on the other hand the very affluent areas and the slums are very separate.

Having fought our way out of Dar’s airport – literally! – we were hit by a wall of 32 degree heat combined with very high humidity.  On leaving the airport, we popped in to say hello to one of our existing customers in order to discuss their facility before making our way to what can only be described as a ‘haven’.  Being very slightly out of town, our hotel was serenely quiet and very beautiful with trailing bougainvillea stretching ceiling to floor around the internal courtyard.  After a very long day, I was only too happy to crawl into bed at the equivalent of 6.30pm my time!

We spent the majority of our time in Dar visiting with handicraft producers in and around the city.  As always with these trips, there is the odd hairy moment when we discover that, despite assurances from the taxi driver that he knows where we want to go (as he obviously needs the fare), he is in fact as lost as we are!  Still, a quick call to the customer and all is well once again.  I guess it’s one way of seeing a new location!

Everyone we met could not have been more friendly and welcoming: introducing us to all their workers and offering us some much-needed, cold, liquid refreshment; inviting us into their premises and giving us our own personal guided tour (whilst periodically dodging the rains that we obviously had to “let come”); and of course ensuring that we were not allowed to depart until we had signed the ubiquitous Visitors’ Book.

Most of our meetings were with new potential customers so they tended to follow a similar pattern.  We explained who we are, what we do, where our all-important funds come from, how we may be able to help them and what they should expect.  They reciprocated by explaining when they established their businesses, their structure, their history and of course their current requirements.

Obviously they all differed but what came across loud and clear was the desire to ‘give something back’.  Many of the ladies we met (and yes, every organisation we visited bar one was headed up by a woman) had come from the streets to become entrepreneurs.  One had even won Tanzania’s equivalent of Business Woman of the Year last year.  Now their overriding desire was to help people such as themselves; to give them some activity thereby keeping them off the streets.  One of the groups was focussing specifically on helping widows and grandmothers but with the same intention of helping to fill some of the lonely hours.

As already alluded to, these producers were primarily making handicrafts and textiles.  We saw numerous rugs, table cloths and kikoys (woven fabric) but most interestingly for me, we actually saw these products being woven on good, old-fashioned looms.  The purchasing opportunities were simply too numerous to mention and both Rachel and I indulged.  Needless to say, I was beginning to wonder from where the extra space required in my luggage was going to magic itself and this was only the first couple of days of a 3-week trip!  That said, it’s just simply not possible to say ‘no’ to these ladies and their groups of workers, especially as all the products we have seen without exception have been of such excellent quality.  It will be so special to dine off my new table mats having seen how and where they were made.

Some of the current issues affecting these particular producers include the fact that no design courses exist in the schools and colleges in Tanzania so young designers are limited in their ability to hone their skills.  Some courses are now just starting to be offered but it has always been too costly for the producers to employ the services of a consultant from overseas which has definitely slowed their output of new designs and products.

One of the groups with whom we visited told us that with the help of the local fair trade network, they are hoping to get handicrafts classified as ‘crops’.  In the same way that people tilling the land are able to live off the crops that they produce, these pioneers believe that people live off handicraft production in a similar way and this should be officially recognised.

I would say the overriding issue that all these producers seemed to be coming up against (and we come across this the world over) is how expensive it is to borrow funds locally.  We were told that official rates are currently approximately 24% but that this rate tends to mask further underlying fees making the final cost of borrowing even higher.  Some firms are therefore forced to shelve any plans they may have for expansion until a company like Shared Interest comes along and is able to help.  Suddenly their vision becomes a realistic possibility once more.

Without the pre-finance that Shared Interest offers, producers are not always able to consider accessing new markets and developing relationships with further buyers.  Indeed, for one of the ladies with whom we spoke, our visit was perfectly timed as far as her plans are concerned and she even referred to us as ‘angels sent from God’.  It is always very humbling to realise just how much benefit we are able to bring some of these groups, often with what might be considered quite small amounts of money.

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Customer Focus – Dukunde Kawa Cooperative (MUSASA)

MUSASA was founded in 2000 with 300 founder members and was legally incorporated in 2002. The cooperative is located in Ruli sector of Rushashi district and cultivates its high quality coffee near a mountain gorilla habitat of central Rwanda.  In 2003, Musasa cooperative built a washing station in Rushashi district with the help of a USD 80K donation from the Rwandan ministry of defense (MINADEF). In exchange for the donation, Musasa cooperative agreed to donate each year to a government fund that will be used to construct other washing stations throughout Rwanda.   Since 2003 they have produced high quality fully washed coffee for the high-end international market.

They became FLO certified in 2004 and have managed to sell their coffee at good prices which has resulted in improving the living standards of their members.  With proceeds from their fair trade sales, the co-operative has been able to initiate various projects such as; construction of a single disc pulper for their new mini washing station aimed at improving quality. They have also purchased computers to improve their accounting department, and bought bicycles for each of their production zones, for the transportation of cherries to the washing station.   Other projects include; a special credit program to pay for the school fees for their member’s children, credit facility to help members pay for their health insurance and loan facilities for members to buy cows. An example of the impact they have had in the community is that they have enabled their members to renovate their homes and now they all have tile or iron sheet roofs rather than grass, thus improving their quality of life.

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Our time in and around Achuapa

The next leg of our Nicaraguan trip took us to Achuapa, a small town to the West of Esteli. The co-operatives in this area produce organic and fair trade sesame seed oil, and export to commercial buyers, such as The Body Shop for use in cosmetics.

We had the opportunity to sit in on ‘La Asemblea’ the general meeting of the managers from the local co-operatives. Were also taken to the processing factory and heard more about the story of the sesame seed growers. The move into the production of sesame seed oil had been an accidental one; after they were left with a surplus, they quickly learned how to export with support from Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop. The co-operatives have continued to expand their exports, selling toasted sesame seed oil to the Japanese market and they are now looking to diversify into other crops. The community also have access to a co-operative finance institution which provides small loans and local banking facilities, the first of its kind in Achuapa.

In the evening we spent time with the Raleigh International volunteers, some of whom were finishing the day’s trek in the town. We made a dash to nearby town of El Sauce to collect the ‘Raleigh Rations’ and on the return journey we were stopped in our tracks by the second flat tyre of the day! Later on, we arrived in ‘El Cacao’ a community close to Achuapa, where we were lucky enough to spend the night with a local family and learn more about Raleigh International’s community projects.

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Our first meeting in Nicaragua – UCA Miraflor, Esteli

After a long day in the car, Andrea and I arrived in Esteli in the North of Nicaragua. We were travelling with Julian, the Country Director for Raleigh International, a British organisation working in the region.

Our first producer meeting of the trip was UCA Miraflor (Union de Cooperativas Agropecurias de Miraflor) a Union of agricultural co-operatives working in the Miraflor Reserve. It was impressive to hear about the wealth of projects that have been developed in its 19 year history.

Their farmers are involved in the production of organic coffee and many have been Fairtrade registered since 2006. Environmentally sound methods of production are ensured by their own laboratory  for organic pesticides. The farmers receive education and training, partially via Cecocafen, a Shared Interest customer. As part of the structure of the Union, they have a board and an education committee which specialises in the theme of ‘co-operatives’.

A portion of the fairtrade premium is being used to pay for education in the secondary schools, where previously it was financed by collaboration between families. UCA Miraflor have also invested in development and health education; families are encouraged to grow their own vegetables so they can be self sufficient during periods where they may not be earning. There is also an annual cookery competition in the community, to promote a more diverse diet.

Another important sideline for the families in Miraflor is the development of eco-tourism projects. To find out more about a trip to the Miraflor Reserve you can see their website http://www.miraflor.com/

Later on that day, we drove North into the Miraflor Reserve to meet with ‘El Foro’ (‘The Forum’) of Miraflor who are responsible for undertaking social and economic projects. Their main objective is to include all of their communities in their initiatives, which include small grants for environmentally friendly activities, a community radio station, a young persons’ ecological brigade and an emergency healthcare fund. Everyone in the community has the opportunity to evaluate the work of El Foro and they have been internationally recognised as a model for managing communities and natural resources.

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Update from the South by Sally Reith

I am increasingly stretching the boundaries of my role as SRO for the ‘South East’ with trips this month taking me to Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol as well as my well known destination of London.

I started my month with the CABE annual lecture where I met a number of key contacts who will hopefully be able to help us reach new audiences in Cass Business School in London, the General Synod and CABE itself.  During National Ethical Investment Week I met many people in many places.  I popped along to the NEIW reception event in the House of Commons where a highlight was being able to buy a fair trade Christmas Bauble in the shop there to add to the Newcastle Christmas Decorations.  I also attended the City of London Fairtrade Steering Group meeting where discussions were around Fairtrade Fortnight plans and the theme of tea certainly seems to be generating lots of ‘tea dance’ ideas for events.  Have you thought about any activities you may be able to get involved with locally where there may be opportunities to promote Shared Interest?

I also attended the ClearlySo social business conference where I was given the opportunity to give a 45 second pitch.  Good practice of my ‘Elevator Pitch’ which those of you who have attended our Ambassador training sessions will know well!  I will be travelling to Bristol this weekend to run the final Meet Up session, these appear to have proved popular with Ambassadors, members and guests alike.

My trip to Manchester was to support Ashleigh at the Shared Planet event which is People and Planet’s annual event which brings together young people with an interest and passion for changing the world.  We had a lot of interest from both prospective Ambassadors but also prospective Members.  More recently I visited one of my local Lower Schools, a fair trade school, and ran an assembly there which concluded with the fair trade council presenting me with their application form and cheque to open their Shared Interest account.

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Ambassador Profile – Friday Nkumeh

1. How did you first hear about Shared Interest?

I heard about Shared Interest during the fresher’s fair at Northumbria University in 2008.

2. When did you join as an ambassador?

I joined after learning more about fair trade at a conference in London last year.  Having been made aware at the fresher’s fair that Shared Interest promotes and enables fair trade, I decided to become an ambassador.

3. What motivated you to become an ambassador?

I believe in learning new things every day and in practical change.   Having been the International Students Representative at Northumbria University, I share the strong opinion that joining global campaigns against poverty is the only way to help the world’s poorest countries.  Shared Interest stands for a practical solution to this by being the world’s only 100% Fair Trade Lender.  It was this practical solution which motivated me to become an ambassador, so that I could instil in others my passion and belief about the work which Shared Interest does.

4. What does it mean to you to be an ambassador?

I am happy to see that I am working with an organisation that helps poor countries all over the world.  I am really proud to be part of Shared Interest.

5. What do you enjoy most about being an ambassador?

The fact that as an ambassador I get all the necessary training that enables me to travel all over the UK,  meeting new people to promote our work and increase our membership in doing so.

6. What ambassador activities have you undertaken in the last three months?

I ran stalls at the International Community Day in Newcastle and at People and Planet’s UK Students Justice Conference at Manchester University   I also raised money for the Shared Interest Foundation at the Holy Trinity Church Fair in Newcastle by promoting the Foundation and selling Shared Interest merchandise.  In general, I also frequently request postcards from Head Office which I distribute at University and to shops in my local area.  Furthermore, I am currently in discussions with University groups about doing a Shared Interest presentation to staff and students.

7. Which activities have you found to be most successful overall?

I believe that all of the above activities have been successful, although I particularly enjoy making new contacts and speaking with people who have never heard about Shared Interest before.  This gives me a great deal of satisfaction and pride.

8. What do you find most difficult or frustrating about the ambassador scheme?

Generally I have not had any difficulty at the moment because I have received all of the necessary training and all of my questions about the scheme and Shared Interest have been answered in the new USB resource pack.

9. Do you have any suggestions on how the scheme could be improved?

All the ambassadors need more closeness and at least a meeting once in a month to share the progress of what have been done and to share ideas about how to move forward with our work.

10. Finally do you have any words of wisdom for other ambassadors?

Be active and try to have a target.

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Ambassador Action

This month those of you who were unable to attend the ambassador training sessions will receive the new USB ambassador resource pack, which has been designed following existing ambassador feedback and contains information relevant to the new strategic direction of the scheme.  One of the things which we have created for you is an introductory letter about Shared Interest which can be sent to businesses in your local area.  I would like all of you to contact 5 businesses in your local area and send this letter to them, along with a QR and Account Brochure.  Should you require this literature then please email me or send a letter to the usual address.  Please also remember to feedback to me which businesses you have contacted, so we can track ambassador activity within regional networks and inform you of any enquirers or new members whom you have recruited.

For those of you who have not received the USB stick you can access the file by clicking here.

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Ambassador Question Time

How do you calculate the interest rates you charge to Shared Interest Customers?

The rate of interest charged depends on the cost of the funds we are lending (which we refer to as our prime rate) together with the risk assessment of the business to which we are lending. Our prime rate is different for each currency lent and the actual rate depends on the cost of borrowing that currency. The rate may move up and down depending on changes in the market i.e. if the European Central Bank or United States Treasury increases rates this will result in an increased cost to Shared Interest of borrowing those funds and our prime rate will rise accordingly.

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