Campainging With Common Cause Case Study – Fairtrade Foundation

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Common Cause.

This Common Cause Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories that share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“We’ve really learned the value of our relational economy. We were surprised that even people who were on the margins of our network, really wanted and needed to share their experience and to tell their story.”  Barbara Crowther

Fairtrade campaigners in Bristol

The Fairtrade Foundation was founded in 1992 to transform trading structures and practices in favour of farmers and producers. Over the years, local Fairtrade initiatives have grown around the country – there are now over 540 towns and 160 universities that have been certified Fairtrade. Local activists have achieved a lot over the years and many were beginning to ask ‘is our job done?’, ‘how do we stay involved?’ and ‘what’s next?’

Many campaigners see Fairtrade as being ‘theirs’, and in many ways it belongs to anyone that’s advocating it. They have worked incredibly hard and have been wildly creative in promoting Fairtrade, so understandably feel strong ownership and real emotion attached to the brand. However, now that the brand is trademarked there is potential for conflict.

I met with Barbara Crowther and Adam Gardner to learn about their experience of bringing grassroots voices into their organisational governance, and how they used an innovative facilitative process to achieve this.

What did the Fairtrade Foundation want to change?

The Fairtrade Foundation knows that campaigners and producers are the beating heart of the Fairtrade movement. Although the Foundation now has around 100 staff, local organisers are central to Fairtrade’s previous and future successes. In the last few years, the Foundation has become more accountable to Southern producers by including them on the board, but it still didn’t have a way to reflect the voice of the most active local campaigners in decision-making. As recognition of the Fairtrade brand grows, staff were keen to stress that Fairtrade is not only a certification label, but a movement of consumer citizens. This aspect of Fairtrade’s work wasn’t represented in organisational governance, and that needed to be changed.

Organisational capacity

Barbara and her team were hampered by weak supporter data, but had very strong relationships with key organisers on the ground. (To test this assertion, I asked Adam who their point-person was in Lincoln – and impressively, he had spoken to her only that morning!)

What did they do?

Faced with a number of options for bringing in grassroots voices (including becoming a membership organisation, creating a campaigns committee, or simply creating online forums) the team needed a process through which they could find out what local organisers wanted.

Rather than simply calling a sample of organisers before making an intelligent guess as to their common needs, the team decided on a more innovative process that included consultation events around the country using a process called Crowd Wise developed by Perry Walker at nef.

The process

Crowd Wise was run collaboratively with Rhizome, a facilitation and training collective. Together, they hosted five events, each a day long. Five different options for bringing in voices from the grass-roots were discussed; some of them evolving between events.

The organisers extended an open invitation: all were welcome, irrespective of how long they had been involved with their local group. Whoever cared about the decision was welcome to join the conversation.

Each event split the participants into five groups to advocate one of the five options on the table. By engaging with a different viewpoint than they’d necessarily suggest themselves, local organisers were much more able to listen to different opinions and let go of some of their own preconceptions. What stood out for theco-ordinating team was that previously challenging voices were receptive to other solutions because they had been involved in genuine dialogue.

You can read a full description of the Crowd Wise and Open Space process here. The final report on the Fairtrade Foundation’s process is available here.

This change in consultation methodology has been about building a more inclusive and democratic process internally, that will likely ‘spillover’ into other areas of the Fairtrade Foundation’s work.

Outcomes from the consultation

The final decision by members was to combine various options, central to which was the Campaigns Advisory Group (CAG) with annual regional events where representatives for the CAG are elected. The response has been overwhelmingly positive – the CAG is taken seriously by the membership and campaigners are being consulted by different parts of the organisation. The CAG consults campaigners before a new initiative is launched and helps campaigners from across the country to get in touch with one another.

The six founding NGOs that created the Fairtrade Foundation are also exploring reducing the number of their own seats on the board to facilitate representatives from the local campaign movement.

What have they learned?

  • The importance of personal relationships – the value of our relational economy. They were surprised that even people who were on the margins of the network really wanted and needed to share their experience and to tell their story.
  • The power of shared learning process. Yes, it can be slower and a bit messier – but they’ve ended up with a much more robust solution.
  • People can collaborate – Bringing together a group of diverse people who all care about the organisation meant that even when the end solution wasn’t seen as perfect by everyone, people were nonetheless willing to work with it.

Barbara and her team have shared the benefits of the process used for campaigns to see if there could be wider applications of similar methodology for other consultation processes. It has given them a new tool to find consensus in a very diverse movement.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

When working to bring intrinsic values into our campaigning, we have to start with assessing how we’re embodying these values in our own organisations. Not only did the Fairtrade Foundation want more representation of internal stakeholders , they used a process that allows for self-direction and universalism values to guide the conversation. Facilitated processes like Crowd Wise ensure a deeper, more long-lasting agreement that builds trust and goodwill – something many NGOs struggle to build between the center and the periphery.

How can we use better process design to embody our intrinsic values, and ensure more robust decisions that represent what our members want?


Adam Gardner

020 7440 8552

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