Last week I attended a conference for the Association of Provincial Bursars, which gathers together the financial decision-makers and influencers overseeing the good works of the various Church provinces (domestic and international). And this week I attended the 20th anniversary celebration event of Fairtrade in the UK.
Being a relative latecomer to the world of socially responsible activities (but no less a convert), I am struck time and time again by the dedication, wisdom and resilience of those who have been involved in entrepreneurial development projects over a long period, and in the face of many obstacles and opposition. It is contagious and affirming to be present amongst such a diverse collection of inspirational people and projects.
Personally (and now professionally) I’m interested in the question of how trade and investment can help us overcome some of the challenges we face as a civilisation. In particular, how we can help alleviate some of the enormous disparities between ourselves and those struggling in the developing world to survive. After all, the issues faced by these communities are inextricably linked to the issues of all of us (and those of our children and grandchildren after us), from climate change through global economics through poverty alleviation.
“This is personal, it touches our lives” says Ed Mayo, Secretary General, Co-operatives UK. Just how personal it gets boils down to a little more reflection perhaps. "When we don’t know the cost of a bunch of bananas, when we watch them rotting away in our fruit bowl, when we throw them away without hesitation, spare a thought for the person who knows full well what the true cost is - this being the person who carries them over 50km of tropical heat to get to a market where they may or may not bring home a little money," says Nick Hewer of the Apprentice.
The call for greater consciousness is clear:
"Take care. There are people in your shopping basket"
- Church of Sweden via Sue Bentley, Chair of Fairtrade’s National Campaigner Committee
It’s difficult though, knowing what to do, isn’t it? If you are not personally one of those directly involved with your day-to-day work in development and fair trade as a producer, retailer, government, or other organisation. Or is it?
“Just because you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you can’t do something”, says Ed Mayo. "As you go about your day ‘consuming’, you could be a little more conscious. With your purchasing decisions you could help to create the dream where one day ‘fair trade’ produce is the only choice available in supermarkets and shops."
Or you can think about where and how you save and invest your money, and consider financial organisations “who (via investment) really influence the way in which business and trade is done in the world”, says Jenny Willott, MP Cardiff Central. For example, savings and investments labelled as ‘social investments’, ‘ethical investments’ and ‘environmental investments’, where you get back so much more than money. Perhaps something around:
Take care, there are also people in your investments and savings decisions
Oikocredit is one such financial organisation which, although not very well known in the UK/IRE, has been a leading worldwide social investor in Fairtrade organisations, social enterprises, cooperatives and microfinance institutions for almost 40 years. Oikocredit puts people and communities such as these banana farmers and other disadvantaged groups at the heart of its mission, working through 806 like-minded cooperatives and organisations across 63 countries, so that people and communities in developing countries can build their own businesses, support their families, sustain their communities and help protect the planet.
In return, the joint efforts of these people and organisations have enabled Oikocredit to deliver a 2% return to people like you every year since 2000. There is no fixed notice period and investors have always had 100% of their capital repaid. So this is investing in a way that’s about much more than money. It’s about fairness, justice and feeling good about where your money goes.
This way of thinking about our individual choices was supremely summed up by Mark Price, Managing Director, Waitrose, recalling the words of Václav Havel - Czech playwright, essayist, poet, and politician:
The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.
So next time you watch those bananas rot away in your fruit bowl, spare a thought for what it actually 'cost' someone to get it to your fruit bowl in the first place. And next time you’re thinking about putting a little money aside think about social, ethical and environmental investments as a win/win way to do 'something'...