International Women’s Day 2012 in Sunderland

Yesterday’s event at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland brought together several diverse organisations who were all committed to raising awareness of women’s issues on a local and international level.

Managing Director, Patricia Alexander spoke about why fair trade is so important to women’s producer groups around the world. Patricia spoke of her trip to Rwanda, where she met many women who had been impacted by the genocide. For the women who were widowed, becoming self-sufficient was their only option, and by forming fair trade co-operatives many of these groups are thriving. With the help of the Shared Interest Foundation project we have provided business skills training to many groups, which we estimate has impacted 9000 individuals.

The event was closed with a fair trade coffee on the roof of the National Glass Centre, one of Sunderland’s most iconic buildings. It’s well worth a visit if you’ve never been before, and of course you can treat yourself to a Fairtrade beverage in the café.

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Sharing Steps this Fairtrade Fortnight

In a bid to raise awareness about Shared Interest and the work that we do in the developing world we have partnered up with Smooth Radio in the North East and The Big Issue across the country, using their websites as a way to promote Shared Interest.

Have you seen our dedicated microsites? If not the links to each site are below:

http://www.smoothradionortheast.co.uk/ethical

http://www.bigissue.com/shared-interest/

Please pass on the links to your friends, families and work colleagues and help us to bring Shared Interest to their attention as show them how they can invest in a fairer world.

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Step this way….

Today marks the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight 2012. This year the Fairtrade Foundation is using the Fortnight to kick start the Take a Step campaign which encompasses a whole year of activities that are dedicated to taking fair trade further. To find out more about their plans and to download those all-important resources please visit their website to find out more.

Here at Shared Interest we are all geared up and ready to go. Last week we launched our radio campaign with Smooth Radio in the north east which will last for six weeks. Those of you that purchase The Big Issue and The Week will see our newly designed adverts and inserts in the magazines and we are also delighted to be given the opportunity to be the first organisation to have a dedicated microsite as part of The Big Issue website.

Our Supporter Relations Officers, along with our volunteers and ambassadors will be hosting and attending a number of events over the course of the Fortnight. To find out about events in your area and to how you can get involved, check out the events calendar on our Fairtrade Fortnight webpages.

The Fairtrade Foundation is encouraging everyone to Take a Step for Fairtrade, here at Shared Interest we can’t see a better way to show your commitment to the fair trade movement than by opening a share account and quite literally investing in a fairer world.

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Handicraft heaven

On my last day, we found ourselves in what I can only describe as ‘handicraft heaven’.  We have recently started working with a buyer in the US but all their handicrafts are procured via women’s groups based in Ghana.  These include clothes for women, children and babies as well as gift and homeware items, all made from batik-work.  There are Christmas decorations made from the typical West African glass beads and many soap products, including the well-known African black soap.  These items are also sold locally in a retail store behind the Koala supermarket.  Whilst one of the directors relocated to Ghana from the US over 10 years ago, much of the work is carried out by volunteers without whom the organisation would be much the poorer.

During the week, I have been introduced to some of the local fayre which is very different to the foods I am used to.  There is Fufu which is either cassava (a root crop like maize) or yam that has been boiled and then pounded and there is also Banku which is a fermented corn dough.  Both are eaten dipped into say an okra stew.  I was advised against them with this being only my first ever trip to West Africa; my colleagues were concerned that I would find them very hard to digest.  Instead I safely, and unadventurously, opted for the chicken and ‘Joloff’ rice which was really very nice.  (This rice is cooked in a type of stew and the word is apparently borrowed from the Wollof dialect of Senegal and Mali).  Throughout my stay I partook of the wonderful fresh fruit and juices; my particular favourite was the local bananas which are small, marked, bruised and full of flavour!

As always, the visit passed very quickly.  That said, it was very worthwhile and we achieved nearly everything we set out to achieve.  John is due to travel to the UK at the end of this month in order to complete his induction programme and to attend our AGM in March.  Thereafter he will return home where he should be able to find further lending opportunities for Shared Interest and more importantly bring benefit to more producer groups in need.

 

 

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Going Bananas in Peru

I have learnt a LOT about bananas in my first few days in Peru so I thought I would share some banana facts with you.

Did you know that Peru is relatively new to bananas? Despite its late entry to the market the country has a competitive advantage in that the climate is relatively dry which reduces the risk of fungus and allows the farmers to cultivate their bananas without the use of chemicals.  It takes about 8 months for the banana bunch to grow.   First the ‘madre’ stem grows and three weeks after the flower appears small fingers start to grow.  A protective bag is then placed over the bunch to stop insects and birds attacking the fruit. 12 weeks later the bananas can be harvested.  The stem then dies and the farmer selects a “nino” child stem to grow and take the mothers place.  The process starts again.

Yesterday I brought you news of Banana co-operatives Cepibo and Appbosa.Since we met them we have visited two other banana groups, Bos and Apoq. Bos really felt like a community organisation. They have been using their Shared Interest term loan for a number of projects which include new storage, palletising and office facilities.  We went with the General Manager, Pedro Quezado to see the on-going construction work. Shared Interest’s lending has also enabled a government grant to be accessed to finance the projects. This new storage facility is important because it will reduce the waste created when containers are not available.  The next project will be a processing plant to make puree from the bananas which are rejected for export.  This will create 30 new jobs.  I spoke to one Board member, Mirta, who told me that she had worked with Bos for five years.  Previous to that she had sold her produce to the local market at a very low price.  Now she gets a good price for the bananas.  She told us that Bos had a very big impact on the community.  Each year they invite 750 local children to participate in learning activities.  Many more children go to school now and two young people have just graduated from university. This would have been impossible without the existence of Bos and the help of Shared Interest.

Later in the afternoon we met with Apoq is a small producer organisation with 458 members. All are small producers with on average 0.8 ha of land.  Since working with fair trade 7 years ago they have built their own packing plant and currently export 100% of their bananas. The social impact has been significant in this time.  They invest the Fairtrade premium to improve the packing stations and also help the producers with health and education.  They pay 50% towards a health insurance and the other half is paid by the farmer.  Training is provided on security, health, environmental impact and first aid topics.  Profits are reinvested back into the community with workers paid $10 per day, 25% more than the daily average.

I can’t resist sharing a few more banana facts…did you know that:

  • Bananas are the fourth most important staple crop in the world, and are significant for food security in many tropical countries. They are also the most commonly eaten fruit in the world.
  • If all the bananas grown in the world every year were placed end to end, they would circle the earth two thousand times.
  • World banana production amounts to around 81 million tonnes per year and due to the climatic conditions required to grow them, production is mainly concentrated in developing countries in Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.
  • Fairtrade bananas were first introduced into the UK in 2000.

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International Year of Co-operatives

The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring 2012 the UN International Year of Co-operatives on December 18, 2009.

The UN resolution entitled ‘Co-operatives in Social Development’ recognises the diversity of the co-operative movement around the world and urges governments to take measures aimed at creating a supportive environment for the development of co-operatives. Click here to go to the UN IYC website to find out more about the UN Resolution and about other UN IYC activities.

The International Year of Co-operatives, or IYC, celebrates a different way of doing business, one focused on human need not human greed, where the members, who own and govern the business, collectively enjoy the benefits instead of all profits going just to shareholders.

Having an International Year of Co-operatives provides an opportunity to captivate the attention of national governments, the business community and, most importantly, the general public on the advantages provided by the co-operative model.

As a co-operative supporting co-operatives this is an exciting time for Shared Interest. Our members invest anything between £100 and £20,000 with us. We then lend these funds out to groups such as Naranjillo.

Peruvian Fairtrade cocoa producers, Naranjillo are using financing from Shared Interest to develop their cocoa processing plant. This should increase productivity as well as improve the co-operative’s efficiency and sustainability. Regional Development Executive Paul Sablich said: “Thanks to our funds, Naranjillo was able to expand its Fairtrade cocoa sales to Europe and the United States. We hope to continue helping their growth in the future, for the sake of the 2,500 cocoa farmers that make up the co-operative.”

To find out more about the IYC and how you can get involved, visit www.2012.coop to find out more about Shared Interest and how you can invest visit http://www.shared-interest.com/invest.htm

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Vanilla Farming in Africa

Those Shared Interest members amongst our readers will recognise the above image from the Christmas card that we sent out last month.

Kisembo Saburole Jockas is a vanilla farmer from a village called Bumate in Bundibugyo District in the West of Uganda bordering the DR Congo. He is a member of a farming co-operative set up by Shared Interest’s customer Gourmet Gardens.  

Kisembo said: “I joined this group because many of the other buyers in the area play games with us, squeeze prices or only take the very best beans.  Some even forget to pay at all!  Gourmet Gardens accepts all good vanilla and pays fair prices.  They also provide advice on organic farming and pay without delay.”

Gourmet Gardens was set up in 2002 with the aim of becoming “renowned for outstanding products that are produced in harmony with nature and in a sustainable and fair relationship with the local producer.”

During the years of the war, the people of Congo suffered extensively and the local economy still offers few employment opportunities, despite the relative peace that has returned to the area. Agriculture is one of the worst hit sectors of the economy.

Our members’ capital helps Gourmet Gardens with their cash flow, enabling them to pay farmers at harvest time rather than once the order has been processed. In the case of vanilla it often takes up to 12 months to complete the harvest to sale process. This pre-payment is a great help to the likes of Kisembo.

Gourmet Gardens’ Operations Manager, Clemens Fehr said: “Establishing and running an organic and Fairtrade certified farmer group within the DRC is challenging. However, over the years we have found ways to deal with most of these issues. The exception remained access to adequate finance. The support of Shared Interest means that for the coming season onwards we will be able to buy the whole vanilla crop from the project group and we will be able to assure timely payments.”

“The co-operation with Shared Interest means adequate and long-term access to finance.”

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Feeling Festive at Shared Interest HQ

Every year following the December board meeting Shared Interest staff and board members take part in a festive challenge.

Last year we were faced with a particularly difficult quiz. This year we went down a more creative route and were tasked with decorating Christmas cakes.

Surprisingly all teams took the challenge very seriously and there were some pretty impressive results.

In other festive news the 2011 Christmas card should be with all members by now, if you haven’t received yours please get in touch with the team.

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And the winner is….

Ten year old Liam from Benton Park Primary School in Newcastle

Congratulations to Liam and the rest of his class. The pupils all received a Fairtrade t shirt, complete with Liam’s design as well as a VIP trip to the cinema.

The Real Radio team visited Benton Park last week to deliver the good news in person, Liam was thrilled to have won and the rest of his class were very excited to be included in the prize.

To see Liam, his t shirt design and pictures from the Real Radio visit click here.

We are currently in the process of evaluating our Fairtrade Fortnight campaign but initial findings suggest that our work with Real Radio and the Newcastle Fairtrade Partnership has been successful in achieving the aim of raising the profile of Shared Interest and Fairtrade within the region.

We look forward to building on these achievements during Fairtrade Fortnight 2012!

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An informal settlement experience

By Account Manager (Africa) Rita Musyimi

Approximately 25% of Nairobi’s population lives in the informal settlements, also known as slums. Most of the people moved from their rural homes in search of job opportunities in the city. However these jobs proved elusive and they found themselves living here. Even so an entrepreneurial spirit is ever present in these settlements. There are money making opportunities that could be leveraged to increase economic activities and strengthen the communities. Private social enterprises have come to the rescue of these communities. As a social lender Shared Interest falls under this ‘’rescue team’’. On day three, we visited an existing handicrafts producer and a potential new customer based in these settlements. In the former case opening up a line of credit for the producer has meant that they have stayed in business for several years and grown their business to compete globally. In the latter case, recycling and reusing of materials was the mainstay of their operations. The youth involved were not only working on a project that is eco-friendly they were also carving out a decent living. The quality of the products produced right in the middle of an informal settlement where ventilation is a big problem is amazing. From this seemingly nonplussed environment the youth do have a computer and internet connection. It is also clear that their customer care standards are unrivalled by most big companies. It is difficult to fathom the source of these quality products especially when you see them displayed in exclusive stores in Nairobi. With a little bit of help, with better ventilated premises, these youth can do wonders.

Youth and Ingenuity 

Some of the producers visited in Nairobi and its environs were quite young. They are using their creativity and innovation to earn a decent living. How do you fancy running a business in the shell of an old bus? Yes, a potential customer is doing just that. There are two such bus shells on their premises. After the bus company decommissioned these buses the young man and his family moved them to a rented location in the outskirts of Nairobi. He saw an opportunity in them and created an ‘office’ and ‘factory’ from them. He also does not pay for some of the raw materials. Overgrown bamboo trees are a nuisance to a nearby school as they are a breeding ground for snakes. This man offers to cut them down. The school is happy to have this done for free. For this young man the bamboo is used to create wonderful gift items. When not using bamboos, they prune overgrown branches from cypress and jacaranda trees in the compound and surroundings. What he saves in the bamboo, he has to pay for the pruned cypress and jacaranda.

Brace yourself for the location of his board meetings. This is where we were invited to discuss all matters financial. It is right under a tree shade and the seats are tree stumps carved out to make a very comfortable sitting area. With such ingenuity it would be unfair of me to ask how he makes his power point presentations. I reckon he would provide another very innovative answer. Actually, wasn’t his power point the whole tour from bus to tree? Successful and environmentally sustainable businesses are made of stuff like this, we can all agree.

Moving on to another producer…How do you provide quality assurance training to women who have minimal or no formal education? It is happening right in the heart of Maasai land. The two educated project managers tailor the training around the practical things that the women do on a daily basis, like buying lessos (clothing used by the Maasai).  Lessons on quality are derived from this. No written manuals (they can’t read them in any case) and the associated costs. Talk about keeping costs at a minimum, how clever is that!

Matters personal 

In between and at the end of the official trip are two weekends. This is time well spent with family and friends

As the trip comes to an end, I recap the whole experience and realise that indeed I soaked it all in very well. And yes, I remember some more words of the song:

‘’My Land is Kenya

So warm, wild and free

You’ll always stay with me

Deep in my heart, deep in my heart’’

 As I return to my adopted home in Newcastle, I say Kwaheri ya kuonana (So long) to ‘Enkare Nyirobi’*

*The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyirobi, which translates to “the place of cool waters”.

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