Trade vs. Aid

Today’s guest blogger for today is Heather Ford.

I’m making use of her generous Creative Commons license from her post recapping the Paul Rice and Greg Steltenpohl seminar yesterday at the DVF offices. Thanks, Heather!

What an inspiring day! We met with two incredible people at the DV Fellowship yesterday.

Paul Rice, CEO of TransfairUSA, talked about the Fair Trade movement in the US and his ideas about development after living in Nicaragua for 11 years, working with coffee farmers in the region to help them get the best deal for their coffee in international markets. He said that development was fundamentally flawed because it didn’t focus on building local capacity for people to solve their own problems. He has come to believe in ‘Trade vs Aid’ by giving farmers access to international markets and, by allowing them some control over prices of their products, ensuring that the people make their own decisions about community development. He said that Fair Trade farmers were using the money that they gained from exports ($1.25/pound vs the usual 25c/pound) to build schools, hospitals and their own production facilities, so that they are not dependent on others for basic support.

Apart from his incredible ideas about empowerment, Paul really made me realise how important it is to a) develop a brand associated with fair practice and b) to develop a market for local people by taking advantage of, rather than rejecting, the forces of globalisation. TransfairUSA has done this really well, by developing a certification system for fair trade produce and giving its clients the tools to actively promote the Fair Trade brand. Makes me think that Creative Commons South Africa should prioritise brand awareness, and focus on building a label for artists to promote their work and find new markets overseas.

Greg Steltenpohl, founder of the Odwalla Juice Company is developing an incredibly exciting new project called Interra. The system will allow people to link their credit cards to the Interra network, partnering with local businesses, non-profits and community networks in a reward program that stimulates the local economy. People can direct money or points from shopping at stores that are recognised by the community as ethical, thus stimulating a new local economy that also drives community development.

This is a revolutionary idea. If it is successful it will change how value is traditionally distributed in urban vs rural, developed vs developing and commercial vs non-commercial settings. Greg said that he is interested in using the Creative Commons model to license stories that people can store on the network about where they live, so that a host of pictures, text and audio can be linked to a particular address in a city – further reinforcing the sense of community identity that makes life in our modern society more grounding.

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