“Their Innovation Knows No Bounds”

As Supporter Relations Officer part of my role involves promoting Shared Interest to potential new members. Fairtrade Fortnight in particular usually means the opportunity to speak to a myriad of different groups. I often find that case studies are the best way to illustrate the work that we do.  One group that I tend to talk about is Apicoop. I recently had the opportunity to meet Apicoops’s Manager, Chino Henriques, I love meeting the people that we work with as it’s great to put faces to names as well as hear their stories directly.

Apicoop was established in 1980 and was a direct result of the challenging political situation facing Chile at the time.  There was little trust and communication among the population so the idea of Apicoop was to work with insects, in this case bees, to encourage co-operation among the people.  Chino explained this concept: “Bees organise themselves in a way very similar to that of a co-operative with the Queen Bee as the CEO with Worker Bees working together, with a 97% female workforce and 3% male, who are kicked out once their work is done anyway.”

The co-operative’s 300 members cover an area of 1,200 km2 to reduce the risks associated with beekeeping.  By covering a wide area any localised issues, such as weather conditions, may affect some honey production but not the entire co-operatives supply.  Due to the widespread membership the co-operative requires trucks to be able to deliver the hives and reach their members, they started by hiring trucks but with their first Fairtrade premium they were very pleased to be able to purchase their own truck.

Another clever investment Apicoop made was buying 20 hectares of land, they didn’t initially know what they would use it for but they thought it would be a good investment.  Now they operate a blueberry farm there where 80 women work as part of Apicoop.  They earn 100% more income than other blueberry fields and next year they will need more women and every woman who works there has vowed to bring a sister, daughter, mother or friend to work.  Apicoop aims for the blueberry field to be an example of good work to others in the country and around the world. 

Chino explained to an audience in Nottingham that without finance from Shared Interest Apicoop would not have been able to set up the blueberry project but since setting it up three banks have visited the blueberry field and asked how they can help.  Apicoop’s first crop of blueberries produced 80 tons, 50 tons of them going to their main Blueberries UK buyer, the Co-operative, with fellow North East organisation, Traidcraft, among their other buyers.

After the blueberries are collected, they are sent to Apicoop’s local exporter who packages them before sending them on to the UK. There is a risk that the exporter may be unable to fully support Apicoop in the future and so they plan is to build their own packing station…their innovation has no bounds!

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Imagine all the People….

Only now after watching Comic Relief’s Famous, Rich & in the Slums can I genuinely understand the impact it must have on Shared Interest staff when they travel to see the communities we help support.

This is the closest I have personally been to seeing the challenges faced by many of the businesses we lend to in the developing world.

I spent much of January this year helping to co-ordinate filming of Monda, a jewellery-making business based in Kenya.  Many of Monda’s workers live in Kibera, the slum that was the focus of last night’s BBC programme.  So I guess I already feel fairly close to the Monda story, having told it as a case study and more recently as a film.

Still, nothing could have prepared me for last night’s viewing. Maybe it was the raw emotion shown by Lenny Henry and Reggie Yates in particular, or perhaps the sheer scale of the slum as the cameras panned overhead, but either way, I felt as if I was transported into Kibera and could almost experience the sights, sounds and smells for myself.

Words just can’t do it justice.  If you missed last night’s showing of Famous, Rich & in the Slums, then I urge you to catch up on BBC iplayer before next week’s second and final instalment.

But the story doesn’t end when the programme does; that is the most important thing to remember.  I for one now feel more of an affinity with the work that Monda does and came into work this morning eager to learn more about the future it offers people living in Kibera.

It was in October 2005, that the Monda business moved to Kenya from Ghana where they now work as a social, creative enterprise employing disadvantaged women who are often head of households and the only income earners for the family.

Caroline Monda says: “As business owners, we feel that by employing local women, we are investing in the wider community.”  This is because the income they earn once training has been completed supports families as the women are able to pay for food, shelter, clothing and school fees for their children.

Also, the natural materials such as glass and bones etc that make up much of the Monda jewellery, is actually sourced from Kibera.  As a result of a Shared Interest loan, Monda has been able to invest in new machinery that will enable them to produce glass beads and cut bone on site.

Caroline says of Monda’s relationship with Shared Interest: “It has had a positive effect.  We and our producers have been empowered to employ more women and young people.  Monda can now grow with its workers.  It is a great boost for the hard working producers.”

After last night’s assault on the emotions and the senses, it is comforting to come into the office and see that in a small way we are helping Kibera’s people earn a fair living.  You can’t have watched last night’s programme without wanting a better life for each and every person living in the world’s largest slum, where a million people co-inhabit in a space the same size as New York City’s Central Park (about 1.5 square miles.)  This includes over 50,000 AIDS orphans, often cared for by grandparents, overcrowded orphanages, or completely unattended.

If you do nothing else today, then please do watch the BBC’s eye-opening report.  Trust me, it will change your life, and make you want to help change the lives of others.

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Is it possible to change black to green?

It’s no surprise in the current economic climate, where there is a sharp rise in redundancies, along with stock market and housing market crashes, that retailers are expecting a bleak holiday season.

Tomorrow marks Black Friday in the US; a day when retailers open very early, often at 5 a.m., and offer promotional sales to kick off the shopping season.  As stores try to get back into the black, staff must be wondering if the day will live up to its name.

Black Friday started off as an American event but is catching on here in the UK due to the credit crunch. This year, studies have found that 59% of UK consumers expect to reduce their spending this holiday season. However there is a bright side, the study also found that 44 percent of UK consumers are willing to pay extra for green and ethical gifts (between 10 and 25 percent more).   

In addition to this more and more people are shopping online to save petrol, using recycled wrapping paper or not using any wrapping paper at all. It seems that green shopping practices are on the rise.

So how will your festive shopping be affected this year? Are you willing to pay a little more for eco-friendly/ethical presents?

What better gift to give someone, than making an ethical investment on their behalf? A little something to help them plan for the future whilst helping farmers and craft makers across the world do exactly the same thing. A gift that gives twice.

Just think; for as little as £100, you can open an account with Shared Interest and start doing your bit to change Black Friday into Green Friday!

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Ethical investment: The elephant in the room?

In this, the third National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) the elephant in the room appears to be the question “how do you know if your investment is ethical?”

With so many terms and acronyms out there; ‘ethical investment’, ‘SRI’, ‘positive impact investment’ how do you navigate the jargon to find the investment that is right for you?  The question was addressed by Victoria Woodbridge of EIRIS at our ECCR meeting last night where she made the point that if you are engaging with your finances, you are likely to be involved in ethical investment at some level.  Increasingly, people are looking at who is taking care of their money for them. We all make choices based on what we think the best thing to do with our money is.  How and what you choose, is of course an entirely personal issue.  We all have our personal ethics and issues we do or do not wish to support, from supporting companies investing in renewable energy to not supporting those investing in weapons.  In short, what makes ethical investment ethical is whether or not it matches your own values, and naturally, nobody will have the same values or priorities as anyone else.

NEIW openly uses the example of fair trade to demonstrate how the public already marry their consumer power with their values.  Those supportive of the fair trade movement are being encouraged to consider their ethical investment options. This campaign isn’t just aimed at individuals; it has been widely acknowledged that faith groups within the UK had a substantial effect on the popularity of Fairtrade products. NEIW is hoping to engage these groups further, using them to raise awareness of ethical investment options within the UK.

Earlier this week I hosted the event ‘How to invest ethically: Opportunities for churches and individuals’ in collaboration with Just Share.  The aim was to highlight the variety of ethical investment opportunities available to faith groups and individuals, encouraging those who already have a commitment to fair trade to consider their options. I joined representatives from Triodos, Oikocredit and Arcubus on a panel that answered questions from the audience. What became apparent from the questions asked is that we, as part of the ethical investment movement need to push harder to raise awareness of the products available, forcing products such as our Ordinary Share Account into the mainstream. Please see the video below.

If fair trade is one of your ethical concerns why not take a look at www.shared-interest.com and find out how we’ve been combining fair trade and ethical investment for the last twenty years.

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First for Felixstowe

Standing up to speak at the Felixstowe Fairtrade Forums AGM I realised it was almost a year to the day since my first visit to meet the group, which is led by Shared Interest Ambassador Alan Muchal.  Alan had invited me over for the occasion to see if we could drum up further support for Shared Interest.

The keynote speaker for the AGM was Richard Howitt, MEP for East of England, who spoke of the need for trade justice.  Speaking about the role of the European Parliament in supporting Fairtrade he told us that the canteen at the European Parliament has 150 Fairtrade products.  He continued by pointing out that this commitment to Fairtrade must extend into the European countries themselves, and not remain within the walls of the Parliament.  This got me thinking about the way we each support Fairtrade?  Do we as individuals think in such a ‘joined up’ way?  I work from home so my immediate workplace is a Fairtrade one by default because my home is, but do you buy Fairtrade at home and not at work or school, or vice versa?  Do you buy Fairtrade for your own use but use the workplace non-Fairtrade stuff.  Do you drink the Fairtrade coffee your workplace provides but then continue to put the usual non-Fairtrade brand in your own shopping basket?  Are there small changes you can make to ensure your support and commitment to Fairtrade extends to all areas of your life, even if it is just swapping your coffee.

Shared Interest at Felixstowe Fairtrade Forums AGM

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BBC shares an interest in Swaziland

As Shared Interest Foundation gears up to begin its Comic Relief funded project in Swaziland the country has received some press attention from the BBC. The organisation has invited comment on the state of the nation’s political system.

The debate can be found here, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/africahaveyoursay/2010/09/should-swaziland-change.shtml

What do you think? Is it even our place to comment? We would love to hear your thoughts….

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Emma Watson Discovers the Real Impact of Fair Trade

Watch Harry Potter actress Emma Watson as she is “moved and inspired” by fair trade producer group Swallows in Bangladesh. As part of her ongoing work with People Tree, Emma joined Safia Minney in Bangladesh where they visited both the slum homes of factory workers and the People Tree supported Swallows community. In the video and this interview, Emma documents the difference in living conditions and encourages others to really understand the difference that fair trade makes to the lives of those in the developing world.

As always we would love to hear your thoughts, does seeing the reality of living conditions encourage you to purchase fair trade clothing? What are your opinions on fair trade fashion? Does Emma’s public support of People Tree and fair trade fashion make you think more about where your clothing comes from? Let us know we love to hear from you!!

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Let Them Eat Cake (fair trade of course!)

Cake Britian

Here at SI HQ it would appear that we are unable to escape the Mad Hatter’s Tea party theme, literally everyone is getting involved. I thought I was over it, however, thanks to Emmy Lou Cakehead, I have happily been sucked back into Alice’s world of surrealism.

The Mad Artists Tea Party takes place The Future Gallery, 5 Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7HY, 27th – 29th August. The exhibition sounds incredible as all of the art is edible, anything not eaten will be auctioned off for charity. Describing the concept Emmy Lou says “It’s a three day exhibition. We’ve paired up artists such as Stuart Semple and George Morton Clark with cakists including Crumbs and Doilies and Bea’s of Bloomsbury: the artist comes up with the concept and the cakist makes it. The theme is ‘fair’, linking in with the Fairtrade sugar by Tate and Lyle, the sponsors. All the cakes are made fresh for the event, and they’re all meant to be eaten”.

Like us, if you aren’t London based or can’t make the event, fear not as the team behind the exhibition have been touring the UK accompanied by their cupcake tree which is based on Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. Emmy Lou explains “It’s an interactive art installation that allows children to literally ‘pick’ their own cupcakes off the tree, like The Magic Faraway Tree the cupcake tree will never ‘grow’ the same cakes twice”. It is hoped that the cupcake tree along with the Mad Artists Tea Party will encourage children and grownups alike to think more about where their food comes from and also how ingredients can be used creatively in an attempt to combat the “ready meal culture” that has taken hold in recent years.

This is great news for the fair trade movement as encouraging people to think about where their food is sourced is a huge part of spreading the fair trade message.

Excellent news all round I say! Now not that you need any encouragement but I would recommend this trip down the rabbit hole for a spot of afternoon tea. Oh and if you do go along, don’t forget to feedback on your experience, let me live vicariously through you please!!

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Machine invented that makes plastic into oil

Plastic creates lots of problems, it needs lots of oil to make, disposing of it is problematic because it is non biodegradable and burning it releases CO2.

Akinori Ito the Japanese inventor and CEO of Blest had a simple question. If plastic is just oil, why don’t we turn it back into oil. He answered the question by inventing a machine that does just that and its eco friendly and efficient to boot.

Ito is passionate about his concept, he tours the world demonstrating how the machine works, teaching children about oil and plastics. Ito says “people start to see that this isn’t garbage, it’s oil”. Ito suggests that using his machine will enable us to reduce 80% of carbon emissions, not bad for an idea that originated from a desire to reduce the amount of plastic being sent to landfill!

The beauty of the machine is in its simplicity, it is small and easy to transport, Ito says “To make a machine that anyone can use is my dream”. What do you think? Pipedream or realistic idea? We’d love to hear your thoughts…

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

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