New Internationalist

Just changing the world

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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  1. #1 Vijay Kumar 15 Nov 11

    Apt, crisp and thought-provoking.

    Hope Just Change brings about ’just change’ in the marketplace, ushering in an economic system that enables producers to get a better return for their produce and consumers to pay the 'right' price - a benefit that will flow from the absence of an unwarranted long supply chain.

  2. #2 Nina Jatana 16 Nov 11

    Hi Mari,

    This event provided us all with a much needed injection of inspiration. Amidst all the rhetoric about needing change Just Change has provided just that! Giving much food for thought for those who attended the event - how to use capital differently thus redefining its purpose. Everybody within Just Change has worked immensely hard over the past several decades to challenge mainstream conventional economics for the betterment of some of the most marginalised communities in India and beyond, and I wish nothing than to spur on their work in anyway possible.

    Best wishes

  3. #3 Nina Jatana 16 Nov 11

    Great piece Mari. You captured the injection we all need to move from the rhetoric about change to 'just change'. I know you and the JC team have worked hard at this for the several decades and I hope all who joined in the event can continue to play their part in the coming decades.

  4. #4 Dilip 16 Nov 11

    It really was a time when so many different people came together with one idea to make the markets work differently. I'm delighted to be a part of this process, and do hope that things will work out and spread around the world.

  5. #5 DavidCohen 16 Nov 11

    Mari Marce Thekaekara's report is inspiring. Historically in the US there has been a constant effort to separate and divide small scale producers from consumers and white and African American workers from each other, and now Hispanic, Asian and Native American ones as well.

    Social justice and constructive social change must begin with people formulating ideas from their experience and organizing in ways that engage and involve people. People are the subjects not the objects. They do the organizing and advocacy of ideas necessary to achieve fundamental and fair change. The India example is the beginning of change that can effectively tangle with power.

    I hope the protests of Occupy Wall St. lead to moving from protest to a politics that achieves the economic equity human dignity demands. There have been over 1600 protests. It's a story of trans-national advocacy.

    We have to stay in the effort for the long haul.

    David Cohen
    Washington DC

  6. #6 Cynthia Stephen 17 Nov 11

    Yes, just what we need - a change - and it should be just, too. I am hoping to get involved in several ways - I was at the launch and it seems to be the way to go. We must build this up from the roots up, so count me in as well.

  7. #7 Sushil 20 Nov 11

    Thanks for another inspiring article Mari. We are working on bringing the concepts of Just Change to our work here in East Bay, California!

  8. #8 Bindu Ananth 20 Nov 11

    Dear Mari & Just Change team, great to hear the conference was a success. As you say, there is a lot of introspection on the best form to organise businesses, particularly one with a broader purpose. Look at this article from last month's HBR:

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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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