New Internationalist

Let’s make the economy work for the people

I’m quite chuffed because my last blog on Occupy Wall Street (‘Can America’s Spring change the world?’) now seems almost prophetic. An English friend said ‘we should be doing something similar here in Britain’ and a week later, I’m reading about tents pitched in the City of London, exhorting all to Occupy the London Stock Exchange on 15 October.

Back here in Gudalur, India, we’ve been thinking about how to bring justice into the economy for more than a decade now. From 1986, we, ACCORD, an NGO working with adivasis (indigenous people), began reclaiming ancestral land. To secure these rights, we implemented a livelihood strategy, planting tea to ensure land possession and an income for these people. But just when we felt things were going well, people had food for their families and malnutrition graphs were improving, the bottom fell out of our world. Tea prices crashed to rock bottom and our secure livelihood option disappeared.

Yet consumers in Bangalore, Bangkok and London never pay less even when the prices crash. Where does the extra profit go? The farmer is cheated, but so is the consumer, you, the person who buys food for your family. So why not unite poor producers with poor consumers, we wondered. Thus Just Change was born which did just that, allowing them to work together in mutually beneficial ways. Clean business is possible, we discovered.

Wall Street epitomizes all that’s wrong with the economy and we are delighted that our firm conviction, the idea that the economy should exist for people, appears to be echoed by protesters across the globe. Just Change is taking its next big step soon, hoping to rope more investors into the family. In collaboration with The Global Institute For Tomorrow, a Hong Kong-based think tank, Just Change will unveil a pioneering new concept called ’participative capital’, which allows ethical investors to link with producers and consumers across the world in ways that ensure a more just, equitable and sustainable economy.

We must throw out the clichés of both communism and capitalism. No more jargon. Our participatory model allows for investments to be made in a manner where ownership, benefit and risk are shared by all. This is possible only if we radically redefine the role of capital, otherwise the divide between those who have the money to invest and those who do not will only increase. This alarmingly widening gap is at the heart of social unrest across the globe and is a recipe for disaster.

The meeting to talk about participative capital and ethical investing will be held in Bangalore on 11 November, 2011. We would love people from across the globe to join us as investors. We don’t merely want money. We want people who are excited by the concept, who believe that equity and justice should be the cornerstone of all business, which includes paying farmers and producers a decent price, not merely out of a sense of fairness. It’s about going a step further by making them equal partners in the food supply chain.

We hope to create a webinar to enable people to join us in Bangalore. If you wish to be a part of the global Just Change family, do send us sound bites, tiny video clips and your pledge as an investor. It’s really exciting, we have people who want to Just Change the world from the US, Canada, UK, Germany, India, and even Africa.

The internet is a key player in every new revolution! If you’d like to be a part of it, please write to us. We will send more details to those who express interest. Do come on board.

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  1. #1 Karim 18 Oct 11

    Kudos to Mari, Stan, Dilip and all the Just Change team. Changing the role of capital is long overdue, and the Global Institute is honored to be contributing to making it a reality.

    One of the most exciting things about the concept of participative capital is the potential it has to go global, and not only in rural economies. While Just Change fights to bring justice to rural economies in India the same fight is taking place even in the most ’developed’ of economies - the good ol' U.S of A... check out this paper from Harvard B-school professor turned corporate-globalisation critic David Korten:

  2. #2 Nikki van der Gaag 19 Oct 11

    Great to see your predictions coming true!

  3. #3 Dilip 19 Oct 11

    Its great to see this happening. Really looking forward to it becoming quite a movement!

  4. #4 Sabita Banerji 23 Oct 11

    Congratulations on the prophecy! Last night the Oxford Just Change Group, which has been selling Just Change tea to individuals and communities and forging links between the Indian producer group and community groups in the UK, launched Just Change spices in Oxford. Dr Alex Nicholls MBA, lecturer in social entrepreneurship at Oxford University's Said Business school spoke at the launch. He pointed out that with the crisis that the conventional economic model is currently going through, and with the Fairtrade movement itself facing challenges and dilemmas, the time has come for the world to look again at organisations like Just Change, that return to the heart of what fair trade is about - ie the relationship between producers and buyers. I hope that Dr Nicholl's words prove prophetic too. Imagine a world where everyone traded as though what was most important was not how much profit the shareholders make, but how much benefit was shared among everyone involved in the trade...

  5. #5 Cynthia Stephen 23 Oct 11

    Sure,Mari, count me in, and if I am not booked up elsewhere - perhaps even if I am - I will be there. Just let me know the time and place. All the best, and let us hope this initiative will live long and really make/be the difference.

  6. #6 Geetha 23 Oct 11

    Looking forward to attending the conference and getting a better understanding of what all of this mean in this current economic environment.

  7. #7 Cedric Prakash 23 Oct 11

    Thanks Marie would like to be part of this JC initiative,dont know how,,,but I am on board!CP

  8. #8 Cyril sj 25 Oct 11

    Count me in. I sure want to come aboard. Will pass on the news to my friends.

  9. #9 Nick 27 Oct 11

    This looks like an excellent step forward for socially committed investors who currently have limited options which have equity & justice as an intrinsic element - a fresh approach to the new vogue for 'impact investing'. Good luck

  10. #10 Rohan Preece 30 Oct 11

    Prioritising profits before people dehumanises us all. In India and across the world, not just in the recent past but for hundreds of years now, lives, cultures and entire ecosystems have been wrecked in the name of economic progress for the few. Equitable participation is essential as we go forward - rather than just the ability to shout the loudest and pay the most. Best wishes to all involved in this attempt to create a more just and more human way of being, and of doing business.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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