Five Fair Trade Facts
It’s likely many casual coffee drinkers would never notice a small, rectangular symbol on the bag of their favorite morning java. At first thought, the phrase “Fair Trade” conjures up an image of two individuals shaking hands and smiling after exchanging their products: a sign of mutual respect and goodwill. But what makes Fair Trade “fair?” Here are some quick Fair Trade facts:

  1. Fair Trade is a business model based on equality and economic justice with a focus on connecting consumers to producers by ensuring a consumer’s “day-to-day purchases can improve an entire community” of producers’ “day-to-day lives,” according to Fair Trade USA. This is done by ensuring producers are treated fairly at all intersections of the trading process.
  2. The Fair Trade model was inspired by the cooperative model, a business model which attempts to build up communities by keeping capital within the community which created it. This results in sustainable businesses which promote access to education and improved health for their communities as a market-based solution to poverty.
  3. Businesses are certified as Fair Trade through internationally-recognized certification organizations, such as Fair Trade USA and Fair Trade International, who audit supply chains and ensure transparency and traceability of materials. This guarantees exploitative practices such as forced labor or child slavery are minimized. Consumers can usually recognize Fair Trade products by the certifying organization’s label on the packaging.
  4. Fair Trade products can be found in almost every sector of the economy, from clothing and coffee to flowers and beauty products. Websites like The Good Trade help consumers locate products embodying Fair Trade ethics, while organizations such as The Human Thread advocate for companies to ensure their supply chains use Fair Trade standards.
  5. According to 2013 figures from Fair Trade International, there was a total of 30,000 Fair Trade International certified products being sold worldwide, with a retail sales total of 5.5 billion Euros, a growth of 15 percent  from the previous year.

These Fair Trade facts should serve as a general guide for those unfamiliar with the concept. The Fair Trade movement is important because it connects consumers to the production process in a world where economies of scale and an open world market limit contact. Producers create products to earn a living, but consumers can choose the products they purchase. This gives consumers the power to, as Fair Trade USA describes it, “vote” with their money on products which embody their own values. A vote for a non-Fair Trade certified product doesn’t necessarily mean a vote for exploitation and inequity, but a vote for a Fair Trade product knowing all the Fair Trade facts is a vote for a system which promotes transparency and economic justice.

Lucas Woodling

Photo: Flickr

These Numbers Have Faces Empowers African Young People to Lead
These Numbers Have Faces is a nonprofit organization that believes the problems in Africa essentially boil down to one issue: poor leadership. To combat this central problem, the organization is investing in the youth of Africa to ensure a better future through the development of honest and ethical leadership.

By investing in university students and young entrepreneurs, These Numbers Have Faces has impacted over 4,000 people. Eventually, it could impact the entire African continent. The organization has global, creative, corporate and church partners whose investments make its achievements possible.

Its approach involves five different avenues for positively changing the next generation of African leaders: university education, entrepreneurship investment, women’s empowerment, a refugee initiative and American internships for African students.

The University Leadership Program recognizes the excitement African high school students have for their futures and how that excitement often dies because of financial roadblocks keeping them from attending college. The program combines a social impact loan with leadership training, professional development opportunities, 200 hours of community service and an intentional support group consisting of family and friends.

These Numbers Have Faces’ Accelerate Academy Entrepreneurship Fellowship teaches the most promising East African entrepreneurs how to become thriving business leaders.

The organization is also committed to empowering women, recognizing that women will play an incredibly important role in ending poverty-related problems in Africa. These Numbers Have Faces invests in young women, providing education and tools to help develop their characters, skills and talents in order to change the trajectory of their lives.

The organization’s Hope Starts Here Refugee Initiative cares for refugees from the Dominican Republic, Congo and Burundi, educating and empowering them in order to give them a chance for a better future.

Finally, the organization connects students in Africa with internships in America. The students are recruited into six fields: business, science, engineering, technology, medicine and law. The program seeks to foster connection and engagement by training the most driven, promising students to be future leaders of their countries. The three-month professional internships involve placement at companies such as Amazon’s Lab126, Allion USA, Delap CPA, TMT Development, The Portland Timbers and Aspen Heights.

Luke Hammill of The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported the inspiring story of Jean Paul Mugisha, who eventually traveled to the U.S. for an internship with These Numbers Have Faces. His family fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo and lived on a mere 24 cents per day in a Rwandan refugee camp.

These Numbers Have Faces selected Mugisha, who had gotten a perfect score on the national physics test but was unable to attend college due to his status as a refugee. He qualified for a leadership loan and began pursuing his degree at the National University of Rwanda.

“There is no other way I’d go to school,” said Mugisha, who spent the summer of 2015 interning at Allion USA, a successful engineering service provider located in Beaverton, Oregon.

Jean Paul Mugisha is just one example of a life being changed through the work of this organization. Through its intentional, developed and sustainable programs, it is showing the world that these numbers do in fact have faces and that young leaders are the key to a better future for Africa.

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

USAID Helps Small Time Farmers Achieve Their Dreams
Although giving aid to countries is a great way to lend support, giving small businesses the chance to grow is the best way to make a lasting impact. When small business owners are able to achieve their aspirations, it only motivates others to follow in their footsteps. Although it is possible for an individual to achieve the dream of sustaining their own company, many require financial assistance in order to make that happen.

In the country of Mozambique, small time farmers and entrepreneurs regularly struggle to expand their businesses because the banks view them as a high risk investments. The local banks do not have copious amounts of money to lend out and that forces them to charge outrageously high interest on their loans.

Carlos João Tovela Sigue, a small time farmer in Maputo, Mozambique, has been able to support his family by growing a variety of different crops. Although he has been able to sustain a healthy lifestyle for his family, Sigue had aspirations of owning and operating a much larger enterprise. The giant hurdle standing between him and his dream was financial support. Sigue stressed the difficulty of expanding production without a bank loan, which is a problem many farmers and small business owners in Mozambique face.

One of the main factors hindering the banks from loaning money to Mozambican entrepreneurs is the country’s struggle with inflation. Statistics reported by the National Statistics Institute (INE) showed that Maputo, Nampula and Beira — the three largest cities in Mozambique — had inflation rates of 11.25 percent from Feb. 1, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. Additionally, the Mozambican Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee reported “an increase of 100 base points in the Standing Lending Facility (the interest rate paid by the commercial banks to the central bank for money borrowed on the Interbank Money Market).”

This caused the interest rate to increase from 9.75 to 10.75 and marked the highest interest charged in Mozambique since September 2012. Even though the interest rate decreased slightly for a whole year, it only took three months for the interest rate to revert back to the 9.75 mark once again.

Thanks to a collaborative effort from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), several Mozambican banks obtained the Agency’s Development Credit Authority (DCA). The DCA provided the banks with a partial guarantee on loans and pushed for them to loan money to entrepreneurs and small time farmers such as Sigue. The loan allowed Sigue to add another 12 hectares on to his farm, mechanize his framing methods and make improvements to his irrigation system.

Sigue not only paid back his loan in full, but was able to employ seasonal workers on his farm. Sigue’s prosperity over the first two years enabled him to take out a larger loan to sustain his dream for the long term. Sigue “plans to farm 350 hectares of family land, accumulate 700 cows, and buy a larger truck for taking crops for sale to the market.” The Mozambique government has recognized Sigue’s miraculous success and adorned him with many awards.

Sigue is the epitome of what can happen when small businesses are given enough financial support to better the lives of their families and evidently their communities. Mozambican entrepreneurs have been able to acquire 795 loans through the DCA program and the statistics show promising results as well.

Additional statistics show that over 160 thousand borrowers in 74 countries around the world have been provided with financing through the DCA program. When businesses are able to sustain themselves and better the future of their communities, even small time farmers can make monumental impacts.

Terry J. Halloran

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction Through Entrepreneurship
There are two types of programs most commonly associated with helping the global poor.

The first is government to government aid. The second is a direct service NGO that performs tasks like building wells and distributing medicine. However, another effective way to boost poverty reduction is through entrepreneurial assistance.

There is a persistent impression of the world’s poor as being entirely dependent on others and incapable of improving their own lives. Contrary to this belief, there is a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit in the developing world. After all, given the lack of government support in these regions, citizens have to become creative in order to simply survive. The problem is just that most of these individuals lack the knowledge, skills or financial means to turn their ideas into reality.

The Transformational Business Network (TBN) explains that growing entrepreneurship can be a powerful means of poverty reduction for three main reasons. First, it provides individuals with the tools to improve their own circumstances as opposed to relying on aid from foreign governments or NGO’s. Second, it gives people the means of achieving a sustainable income. Third, it improves overall economic growth which benefits all the citizens of a country.

The TBN identifies microfinancing as a popular means of facilitating entrepreneurship in the developing world. Microfinancing involves providing individuals with small loans, usually a couple hundred dollars, to help them set up micro businesses. Microfinancing has shown a large degree of success with an extremely high loan repayment rate and has grown into a multi-billion dollar global enterprise creating millions of entrepreneurs.

Microfinancing does have its limits. The Carnegie Council identifies two different types of entrepreneurship: opportunity entrepreneurship and necessity entrepreneurship. Opportunity entrepreneurship involves the creation of real businesses that have the capacity for significant growth. Necessity entrepreneurship usually involves self-employed individuals who are barely surviving.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor project found that opportunity entrepreneurship is a much more effective way of growing a nation’s economy and lifting entire populations out of abject poverty than necessity entrepreneurship. Microfinancing, however, tends to create more necessity entrepreneurs.

USAID’s PACE initiative is currently engaging in a comprehensive strategy to increase both necessity and opportunity entrepreneurship by partnering with over 40 accelerators, incubators and seed-stage impact investors. According to the PACE initiative website, the idea is “to catalyze private-sector investment into early-stage enterprises and identify innovative models or approaches that help entrepreneurs bridge the” gap between promising enterprises and potential investors.

The PACE initiative also hopes to expand the entrepreneurship knowledge base by partnering with a number of organizations including the Omidyar Network, the Argidius Foundation and Emory University. Together these groups are launching a research project designed to assess the efficacy of accelerator programs, providing these programs with “statistical data and market insight to better inform their own decision-making.”

It’s clear that the future of anti-poverty efforts will and should involve an increased investment in entrepreneurial enterprises.

James Long

Photo: Flickr

Business Opportunities for Ethiopian Women
On May 24, 2012, the World Bank approved the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project (WEDP) to provide business opportunities for Ethiopian women. This simple project has provided over 3,000 women with business loans and an additional 5,000 women with business training.

The project’s objective is to “increase earnings and employment of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) owned or partly owned by participating female entrepreneurs in targeted cities.” The $53 million project will close at the end of 2017.

WEDP aims to minimize the financing gap in Ethiopia. In developing countries, 70 percent of small and medium businesses owned by women cannot obtain the financing needed for them to grow. The project tackles this issue by providing loans to female business owners.

The loans are offered through the Development Bank of Ethiopia and microfinance institutions. WEDP receives additional financing from the international development agencies of the United Kingdom and Canada.

More than assisting with access to microfinance, the program also provides women with skill development, technology and product development. By the end of 2017, the project aims to provide loans to 17,500 Ethiopian women entrepreneurs as well as to improve access to and increase the capacity of existing microfinance institutions.

The investment in women entrepreneurs yields high return opportunities in emerging markets. Historically, women in developing countries played minute roles in entrepreneurship. Expanding their participation through microfinance drastically improves economic output. Because women entrepreneurs tend to hire other women, they are also key drivers of unemployment reduction.

WEDP has had far-reaching impacts, benefiting well over 3,000 women through a line of credit backed by the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries with a repayment rate of 99.4 percent. The average loan size for the project is $11,000, nearly double the amount that women entrepreneurs were able to receive prior to the project’s implementation.

Recognizing the impacts of women entrepreneurship in Ethiopia and the importance of microfinance, the World Bank adopted the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Finance Project to complement the WEDP. With a similar objective, the SME Finance Project also provides loans to entrepreneurs.

Financing constraints of Ethiopian SMEs are one of the key obstacles to job creation, growth and new business opportunities for Ethiopian women, according to a recent World Bank study.

Further, small enterprises are more financially constrained than micro or medium/large enterprises. The development of microfinancing projects to target small enterprises will further build upon the success of WEDP, promoting economic prosperity throughout Ethiopia.

Anna O’Toole

Photo: Flickr

Solar and wind energy projects have been praised as potential ways to reduce global poverty. But German start-up organization B-Energy is promoting efficient use of another form of renewable energy to improve life in the developing world.

B-Energy has supplied households in Africa with biogas balloon backpacks, digester systems and stoves to help them convert organic waste into harnessed biogas. The energy that the bags and digesters produce can serve as cooking fuel and provide people with a source of income.

Developing countries have struggled to supply stable forms of energy to many of their inhabitants. According to the World Energy Outlook, approximately 80 percent of people without electricity live in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. With no other alternative for energy, many people rely on biogas and struggle to efficiently transport and store it.

Founded by German entrepreneur Katrin Puetz, B-Energy serves as an innovative and affordable system that offers a reliable source of energy from human and animal waste and agricultural residue. B-Energy’s method revolves around its ‘B-pack’, which is an inflatable balloon backpack that holds methane gas produced from waste in a biogas plant or digester. People without their own plant can refill their B-packs at a nearby digester.

According to the BBC, each bag comes with a metal pipe, which users can attach to a gas-cooking stove. The bags hold 1.2 cubic meters of gas—enough for about five hours of cooking—and spare households from relying on wooden fires to prepare food.

Another key aspect of B-Energy’s system is that it creates entrepreneurial opportunities. As a “social business venture,” Puetz’s start-up encourages individuals with biogas digesters to sell their biogas to households. People with B-packs can also profit from supplying their leftover gas to others. B-Energy even provides aspiring entrepreneurs with a beginner’s kit—which includes a biogas digester, B-backpacks and stoves—and professional training to help them launch their biogas business.

Since its inception in 2014, B-Energy has steadily grown, establishing franchises in Sudan and Ethiopia. Puetz refused to accept grants from global charities in order to prove that her enterprise can be self-sufficient.

Moving forward, a significant obstacle for B-Energy is to determine how to lower the cost of its system. The Inter Press Service has reported that Ethiopians have to pay approximately 12,000 birr—equivalent to $600—for a biogas plant, two backpacks and a cooking stove.

Puetz hopes to make the B-Energy systems more affordable by allowing franchises and households to pay in installments. This change would expand access to his innovative energy solution and assist countless more in need.

Sam Turken

Photo: Geographical

Social Entrepreneurship
Oftentimes, business and altruism seem to be at odds. Social entrepreneurship aims to dismantle that notion. This effort takes a number of shapes, but specifically, entrepreneurial initiatives addressing global health are on the rise. These types of businesses intend to implement solutions to health care problems faced by marginalized groups in ways that bureaucratic governments and health organizations cannot.

To backtrack, a social entrepreneur is someone who seeks to establish sustainable social change on a large-scale. They intend to promote social values while keeping fiscal responsibility in mind.

A key characteristic is innovation. A social entrepreneur should be able to adapt new or improved methods to fit the targeted populations in order to help the world. A social business is one that does not sacrifice responsibility for profit, but rather shoots for responsibility while turning a profit.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the rise in social entrepreneurship is an unmistakable trend in full force. At least 27 universities worldwide are currently offering courses or programs in that particular field of study. There are at least 25 annual competitions for social entrepreneurship, which reflects the rising popularity of this sect of the business world.

Unlike other businesses, social ventures do not rely on patented technologies or methods, but rather search to inject something new, namely perspective, into an already existing system. With healthcare, this means companies can circumvent the norm and introduce a unique lens through which healthcare is delivered.

Outside of the private sector, social entrepreneurship is changing the way the public sphere operates as well. Governments and NGO’s are learning from these ventures. From organizations in Bangladesh and Thailand to the U.K.’s own Oxfam, NGO’s are adopting entrepreneurial methods to maximize the effectiveness of their operations.

Governments are beginning to endorse social entrepreneurship as a valuable ally to local economies and social change.

Connor Borden

Photo: The Startup Couch


The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) took a stronghold in Northern Uganda in 1986. Its leader, Joseph Kony, commanded his troops to overthrow the Ugandan government by abducting thousands of children and forcing them to work for him.

The Lord’s Resistance Army only had access to Northern Uganda, leaving half of the country in disarray while the other side of the country focused on economic and social advancement.

During its malevolent attacks, the LRA was known to kill the weak and old with machetes, swords, or stones. To further elicit fear, Kony would maim victims, leaving his mark on villages.

Kony’s attacks have scarred and uprooted the lives of nearly all Acholi people, who make up the majority of persons living in Northern Uganda. Due to fear, many have taken refuge and fled their homes. Many continued to stay in hiding even after Kony’s attacks became less frequent beginning in 2006.

Due to Joseph Kony’s reign of terror, nearly the entire population of Northern Uganda was displaced. Little was done to ensure that children had access to education, leaving the region with two generations of uneducated youth.

As the Acholi people began to feel safe enough to return to their homes, they became aware of the destruction that happened in their villages. There were no real jobs available, there was no access to education and there was no infrastructure.

Unlike in the rest of Uganda, where children have a chance to receive an education, the dire lack of facilities in Northern Uganda reinforces the cycle of poverty.

Many international organizations are trying to give Acholi children access to education and to help break the dreadful cycle of poverty that is looming over them. For example, War Child is an organization that seeks to ensure that children’s lives are not ruined by war.

War Child is helping by sending 2,000 of the poorest Acholi children to school. This involves training and giving grants to parents, siblings and other family members. In some cases, the grants are given to children directly, so that they may set up their own income-generating enterprises.

The organization is also training teachers in Northern Uganda to teach at a higher standard and to run schools efficiently. War Child also has a Youth Entrepreneurship Operation which provides loans to young Acholi people money to start their own businesses. War Child provides not only funding, but also mentorship and verbal support.

Between getting children in school, hiring and educating teachers and providing entrepreneurship starting blocks, War Child is bringing hope back to a recovering region. The humanitarian community hopes that other organizations will soon be inspired to undertake similar initiatives, in order to help rebuild lives in Northern Uganda.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

Social Entrepreneur CorpsFounded by Greg Van Kirk, the Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) diagnoses needs and implements innovations that help marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable families build a better life for themselves.

The volunteers and employees of the SEC play an important role in creating impactful social innovation. They can “gain the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become the high impact leaders and social entrepreneurs of the future.” In addition, the SEC has been “leading innovative and dynamic impact immersion programs for 10 years and over 1,000 participants have joined [their] diverse programs.”

The organization utilizes well-structured programs where participants are mentored by field leaders, who are experienced development professionals.

One of the SEC’s initiatives includes a needs and feasibility analysis, in which participants perform research through observations, surveys and informal conversations in order to analyze needs of impoverished communities.

Another is an innovative-design initiative, in which participants use their research to develop and give consultations to local community members on ways to improve their state of poverty.

As one SEC participant states, “from giving presentations in Spanish to local organizations to going on campaigns in rural regions, every activity gave me the chance and the courage to step out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries as far as I could.”

Communities in Latin America, for example, are reaping the benefits. The Jutiapa region in Guatemala had a successful village campaign which benefited women entrepreneurs in the region. In one day, participants “served over 150 people and helped the women to sell 69 pairs of glasses, 35 eye drops, 30 packets of vegetable seeds, 8 solar lamps/cell phone chargers and one water purification bucket.”

The female entrepreneurs earned nearly $240 in net profits, which is the equivalent of over two months’ wages for the average rural Guatemalan.

The Social Entrepreneur Corps has played an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty in Latin American countries. The organization’s efforts continue to inspire families and communities.

Vanessa Awanyo

Smartphone App Blindness Kenya
The product of collaboration between The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a group of Kenyan doctors, The Portable Eye Examination Kit (or PEEK), is a smartphone app that promises to help deal with blindness in Kenya, Business Daily Africa reports.

According to PEEK’s official website, any smartphone equipped with the app can provide accurate eye tests by taking high quality photos of the retina. Such photos will enable an ophthalmologist to “view cataracts clearly enough for treatment classification, detect signs of glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and signs of nerve disease.” The app displays its versatility in that it will also help doctors with identifying other health problems including “severe high blood pressure and diabetes.”

According to their website, PEEK’s developers believe that this advanced technology simplifies the process of retinal analysis, saving users considerable time and effort, compared to the traditional method of using an ophthalmoscope.

In a March 3 article, Ventures Africa reported that PEEK has recently been launched in the Trans-Nzoia county in Kenya. As it is explained later in the article, this particular county was chosen due to its high rate of vision problems. In an interview with Ventures Africa, one of the co-founders of the app Dr. Hillary Rono said that “out of the 2.5 million people in the region, 80 percent have eye problems that, if not checked, would lead to avoidable blindness.” More surprisingly, “five in every 1,000 people in the region are blind,” Dr. Rono continued.

PEEK has been brought to use in up to 350 schools in Trans-Nzoia, as reported by Business Daily Africa. Ventures Africa reports that “21,000 school children in the district and 900 were found visually impaired and were referred to the Kitale County Hospital Eye Unit for treatment.”

PEEK has already made considerable strides in combatting blindness in Kenya, and its developers hope to expand the project in the future. According to Business Daily Africa, the app is in line with Operation Eyesight and Christian Blind Mission, sponsored by the Standard Chartered Bank. The project has “helped to restore sight to more than 8,000 children,” said the bank’s chief executive Lamin Manjang. “The project has a target to reach 120 million people globally.”

Although considerable progress has been made in the fight against blindness in Kenya, much work remains to be done. “With around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 20 women color-blind, it’s important to be aware of what you can and can’t see,” says PEEK’s website. Developers are still exploring ways to add new capabilities to the app, including a wider range of color blindness and contrast tests.

Hoa Nguyen

Sources: Peek Vision, Business Daily Africa, Ventures Africa
Photo: TechIslet