NOV 4, 2015
Wise investors can help Fairtrade entrepreneurs blossom, thanks to social investment firms like Shared Interest
In developing nations around the world, there are thousands of smart, ethical and sustainable businesses upholding the bold traditions of the Fairtrade revolution.
Many have excellent growth prospects, with access to raw materials, skills and ingenuity to create fresh, interesting products, and at the same time consumers are becoming increasingly savvy in wanting to trace the supply chain of their goods.
But without access to the capital they need to help their business grow, some entrepreneurs can struggle to make the leap into realising their potential.
That is where an organisation like Shared Interest can play a crucial role. Shared Interest is a community benefit society, which provides unsecured finance, similar to trade credit, by linking social investors in the UK with Fairtrade organisations overseas.
Set up to harness socially responsible investment for the finance of Fairtrade, it has helped thousands of organisations over the past 25 years.
As well as its UK headquarters, Shared Interest has offices in Kenya, Peru, Ghana and Costa Rica, which has helped them in their aim of increasing their lending directly to producers. A large proportion of lending – just under half – is to producers trading in coffee. However, Shared Interest has worked hard to find more diverse products requiring their finance.
This has extended to fruit such as mangoes, pineapples, coconuts and dates, and nuts such as cashews.
Shared Interest has become a crucial player in the Fairtrade market
Due to the seasonality of these products in different regions, the demand for credit varies throughout the year.
For instance, when the coffee harvest in South America finishes, the Central American harvest begins, meaning their borrowing peaks never coincide.
This allows Shared Interest to commit to lend more money than their capital value total.
Lending some £48m last year to 400 organisations in 65 countries, Shared Interest has become a crucial player in the Fairtrade market, allowing producers to meet market demand and up-scale when necessary.
Toro Saifou, an account manager at Association TON (ATN), explains: “Without the financial support from Shared Interest we wouldn’t be where we are now. Sales volume and value are up, producers have increased and the number of employees has increased by 74 per cent. It has allowed us to expand under our own direction and to take opportunities as they arise.”
ATN was founded in Burkina Faso in the early 1990s. It was one of the first organisations in the country to dry mangoes, both as a means of preservation and to add value.
Their first drying unit in Niangoloko is now one of 15 mango-drying ovens in operation – but as a means to grow, the company needed to find a source of income outside of the mango season.
Three years ago ATN began dealing in raw cashew nuts. But diversification in itself does not provide the answers. Cashew harvesting in Burkino Faso begins in February, and dried mango is exported up until September, still leaving four months of the year without significant income generation or employment. ATN therefore needed access to capital to tide the company over and allow it to grow.
ATN approached Shared Interest for assistance in funding a truck to help them collect raw materials and to improve processing facilities, in the hope this would bring threefold increases in production and a 50 per cent increase in profits.
Saifou says the investment they received is “personal in the sense that we provide jobs and this means the community rely on us for regular income. But it’s also about our potential to be a sustainable and robust business”.
There is a social echo in Britain too: the concept of investing money in good causes is appealing to a new generation of investors who are wary of the complex moral grounds of traditional investment.
More than 9,000 UK individuals invest between £100 and £100,000 in Shared Interest.
This share capital is pooled and used to give loans and credit facilities to Fairtrade businesses like ATN, worldwide.
As an ethical investment organisation that acts co-operatively, Shared Interest allows members to withdraw, and add to, their funds at any time.
A minimum of £100 will keep their Share Account open, and while this is the case, investors are changing lives across the world.