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Just changing the world

Fair Trade
The ‘Just Change’ conference I blogged about two weeks ago has come and gone (it was on 11 November, to be precise). We've been talking about Just Change for over a decade now and, when writing a press release for the event, it hit me: we've also been talking about 'Occupying Markets' for over a decade and now it's an idea whose time has come. We're suddenly fashionable.

Just Change is a cooperative of poor producers, consumers and ethical investors. It started when the realization dawned that while farmers in India were committing suicide because of debt and crop failure (apparently there’s been a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides already), the ordinary folks who bought their produce were being cheated as consumers. Why not connect the two groups, we pondered. Lord Joel Joffe, an ethical investor and philanthropist, said to us, ‘It can’t work unless you get committed ethical investors on board.’

GIFT, a Hong Kong-based group brought a group of young business leaders to India to learn about Just Change. They met farmers, consumers and Just Change partners and subsequently funded the conference to attract investors. We are thankful to GIFT for kicking our butts and getting us to take this big step forward. We'd talked about it for years but procrastinated, allowing other priorities to take precedence.

The NI blog of 14 October, set the ball rolling. We were humbled by the response. A co-op from Nicaragua wrote in and pledged $100: a huge amount of money for struggling farmers. We put their pictures and message on a screen to include them in the proceedings and to inspire us. It worked. A couple from Canada also wrote in response, wanting to be in. It excited us that someone who'd read about it for the first time felt motivated enough to write to us and profess solidarity.

We also beamed the message and pictures of Unicorn, the Manchester co-op that has been selling our tea for some years now. The Unicorn people have had faith in us, believed in us when we were a fledgling group and the idea of Just Change seemed crazy and improbable. To us, these people’s presence at the meeting via emailed pictures and messages was immensely inspiring.

Friends and family arrived and chipped in generously. We wanted folk to understand that though money makes the world go round – including our tea, spices and food products – we were equally happy to have on board people who were willing to give us their time, skills, ideas and expertise. A retired bank manager offered his services along with a few colleagues. Someone else offered marketing skills. Another offered new ideas. Old friends Geetha and Raju who've supported our work for years, pledged support for the next five years, ‘we're in for the long haul,’ they promised.

It's given the movement a fresh lease of life, taken us one step further. The air was rife with hope and promise. Shravan Garg, Delhi editor of Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi daily, reportedly with the largest circulation in the world, told me ‘India needs new radical economic solutions. The idea is good. I think it will spread slowly but surely.’ Most people, even the cynics, went away wondering about the possibility of Just Changing the world.

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