Fair-Trade Principle Eight: Providing Capacity Building

Fair Trade is becoming a popular concept, but unless explored and seen in practice, it’s a hard concept to understand in depth. Seven Women supports and applies the principles of Fair Trade in the grass roots development project we have created. The Seven Women organization seeks to increase positive developmental impacts for small, marginalized producers through Fair Trade.

The organization develops the skills and capabilities of its own employees or members. Organizations working directly with small producers develop specific activities to help these producers improve their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets - local / regional / international / Fair Trade and mainstream as appropriate. Organizations which buy Fair Trade products through Fair Trade intermediaries in the South assist these organizations to develop their capacity to support the marginalized producer groups that they work with.

Most of the learning the women have received have been 'in the doing'. In the beginning when the women were largely destitute and had no viable option of earning money for their daily basic needs, certain capacity building training (for example, management skills, production capabilities and access to markets) was not comprehensible or relevant to the women. Giving them basic skills which they could turn into an income to provide food for themselves and their families was the highest priority. It is a slow, complex and time-consuming process to identify when capacity building is going to begin to be relevant and necessary.

Once the women gained basic skills and began making products, the next necessary training was in quality control and product perfection, a big job because it is a tricky concept for the women to fathom and grasp. Once quality was improved, the women learned about the market and why quality is important. Next was the switch from wage basis, to piece by piece basis. Instead of the women getting paid per day for however many they could make, it changed to the women getting paid per piece they produced. This provided experiential learning for the women and many of their pays increased when they learnt that they were in control of their earnings.

As Seven Women stepped back as a separate entity and bought their goods like an external business would, the women had to learn business skills. These new skills included product pricing and time management for completing orders, which would prove essential for future orders from other businesses and organisations. By being tough, expecting a certain standard, and explaining what was required, the women learnt rapidly and perfected systems and processes which now hold them in good stead for other local businesses who order from them. It brought them out of their positions as employees to managers and taught them business skills which build self confidence.

Principle Nine: Promoting Fair-Trade, will feature in our next post.

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Byron - Seven Women, Melbourne