8 Ways Fair Trade Enterprises are Building Capacity

Posted: Wed. Mar 31, 2021

“Fair Trade is a means to develop producers’ independence. Members maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust, and mutual respect, so that producers can improve their skills and their access to markets. Members help producers to build capacity through proactive communication, financial and technical assistance, market information, and dialogue. They seek to share lessons learned, to spread best practices, and to strengthen the connections between communities, including among producer groups.” – Fair Trade Federation Principle 3

Learn how eight FTF members are uniquely realizing this principle below!

To Dandarah, these two quotes brilliantly capture the essence of capacity building and the reason it is one of the principles of fair trade:

  • “Building capacity dissolves differences. It irons out inequalities.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam 
  • “Equality of opportunity is the essence of social justice.”– Tony Honoré 

Dandarah’s relationship with producers goes beyond the regular relationship between a business and its suppliers but is more akin to the relationship of partners. Dandarah regularly holds meetings with their artisan partners for the purpose of product development where they discuss new designs, new colors, and new materials. They also engage artisans with different business and technical resources, such as providing weavers with specialized books to try new designs and business advice on various topics such as the cataloging of products, inventory management and SKU creation, as well as applications and other tools useful for growing their businesses. This focus on building producers’ capacity and supporting them during good and bad times is a key defining characteristic of fair trade enterprises.

As a longtime Fair Trade Federation member, African Market Baskets has been committed to the principles and values of fair trade for over two decades. They partner directly with the renowned basket weavers of Bolgatanga, in northern Ghana, and their mission is to contribute to the transformative power of the weaving community and strengthening of the local economy. The weavers have autonomy in what styles of baskets they weave, and African Market Baskets pays top-dollar for them, forming connections over the many years rooted in loyalty and respect. 

Their partnerships consist of open and healthy dialogue, and they work together to direct non-profit funding to impactful projects. Whether it be building a weaving center or providing healthcare and school supplies to families, African Market Baskets’ aim is always to work together to build the tools – through financial means and improved infrastructure – for better livelihoods. In a place where women have often been marginalized, they are honored to work with the weavers as they build capacity, reflect their cultural heritage, and embrace independence.

Ganesh Himal Trading’s Worker Development Funds (WDFs) are social benefit packages that complement already existing fair wages and steady employment. Whether used for children’s school fees, medical expenses, funeral costs, family emergencies, or retirement, WDFs provide additional financial support and independence for producer groups and their members. WDFs are a premium, where an additional amount is paid by Ganesh Himal Trading for each piece purchased from a producer group. These WDF’s are controlled exclusively by group members who decide collectively how they will be used.

 As we have watched WDFs in action over the years we’ve seen:

  • women needing emergency surgeries borrow money from their WDF, interest free, to pay medical bills;
  • members given access to WDF micro loans of up to $200 a month at 1% interest;
  • groups using WDFs for immediate relief following the earthquake of 2015, when foreign relief funds were being blocked by the government; and 
  • groups using WDF for school fees for members’ children.

Since 2014, Ganesh Himal Trading has contributed a total of $47,670 with per piece amounts ranging from $0.10-$1.00. These funds provide not only a safety net but also opportunity for producers to invest in their children, communities, and future.

Gitzell Imports is deeply committed to creating opportunities and building capacity. This past December – in the middle of the pandemic, – founder Zellipah decided to expand their Kenyan bags business. She visited a few suppliers who work directly with weavers and established three new relationships. The suppliers wanted 50% as down payment and said the project was going to take five to six weeks. 

Zellipah introduced them to the idea of breaking down the units into weekly deliverables and asking down payments for just that week’s output, to be paid in full on delivery, along with the down payment for the following week. The first week was tough, but by week three, they told Zellipah it is the best lesson they’ve ever learned for new relationships, and have said this “lesson was priceless”!

After recognizing the lack of economic opportunities in Cajolá, Guatemala, Caryn Maxim organized a group of women to weave and sew handmade textiles to be sold to the U.S. market. It was a way for a group of women, mostly without access to education, to make a living, to be able to care for their families, and to avoid having to migrate for economic reasons. These days, the women of Mayamam Weavers participate in trainings to improve weaving and sewing skills as well as literacy classes. 

All along, Caryn’s goal was to not be needed, and in 2018, the Sales and Marketing Council was formed, made up of the Production Coordinator, Sales & Marketing Coordinator, Finance Coordinator, Quality Control Coordinator, New Products Coordinator, and rotating representatives from the three different work areas: foot loom weavers, seamstresses, and backstrap weavers. Their initial objective was to develop the Guatemala market, but it evolved into the Council managing the entire business. The main secret to their success lies in the members working together in one location where they were able to develop and easily share skills, creative ideas, and expertise.

Continuous growth is a core value at Global Mamas, which is why over nearly two decades the Mamas have participated in thousands of hours of training on personal and professional growth. The technical trainings offered allow the Mamas to refine their skills as batikers and seamstresses resulting in significant bonuses as they create consistently top quality work. Global Mamas also offers financial and business management consulting to ensure the Mamas’ businesses thrive as they continue to grow. 

At the request of the Mamas, the programs over time have expanded to focus on personal development through opportunities like our SMART Goals training with peer support. Many Mamas have also expressed interest in learning more about preventative health care, so they’ve leveraged partnerships with health-focused NGOs to provide training on topics such as improving nutrition and managing menopause. 

Global Mamas is extremely proud of their leadership team, all of which have been promoted to managerial positions over time thanks to the focus on mentorship and employee development. Last year, the current and up-and-coming managers participated in a leadership development program that focused on strengthening their abilities to mentor the next generation of female leaders at Global Mamas.

The motivation behind achieving success for Mata Traders is to increase capital investment with their producer partners each year. In 2008, when founders Maureen and Michelle first visited the cooperative they work with in Mumbai, the director told them that they were their smallest buyer. 

Because keeping their members continuously employed was their top priority, Mata Traders’ initial order, no matter how small, was in strategic alignment with their larger goal, as long as they could meet or increase that fiscal commitment year over year. Consequently, as their investment in the cooperative has increased, the cooperative’s investment in the surrounding community has grown considerably. 

Ensuring producers have autonomy through close relationships was a main motivator for the founding of Lucia’s Imports. Owner Teresa opened Lucia’s after seeing the social, political and economic mistreatment of many indigenous inhabitants of rural Guatemala during her studies there. Working with Lucia’s Imports, the talented Guatemalan partners have been able to change their situations by sharing their beaded jewelry, pottery, and weaving. 

A jewelry artisan, Josefa, has provided for her children – and enabled them to attend university – as the breadwinner in her household, showing the power of investing in women. Macario, a skilled weaver, has been able to send all four of his children to school, breaking a generational cycle of poverty. Other artisans have opened workshops or developed new products like the popular Sugar Skull Skeleton Mug, which highlights traditional skills and culture in a modern design. 

When Teresa started Lucia’s, she never imagined the impact it would have on an entire community. They’re all excited to see what will come as generations of Guatemalans create lasting change through fair trade partnerships.

To learn more about the Fair Trade Federation community, explore the 200+ FTF member enterprises.

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