As the year comes to a close and a new one begins, it is traditional that one reflects on the year gone by and plans for the year to come. We, at Just Change India, didn't wait for the year end. We did our review and planning a couple of months ago but we figured now is a good time to share the highlights with all of you.
The last year was focused on supporting the 3 branches of Kerala to run on their own so that the JC spearhead team of Shikha, Dilip and Subhash could shift their focus to expanding JC to other partners. The branch teams rose to the challenge – the women now manage the various systems completely on their own. The Just Change Trust's role is now limited to a monthly visit to ensure that everything tallies.
November also brought us a visit from Mr. Narender Kande, of the Navajbai Ratan Tata Trust. Narender's inputs, as usual, were insightful and left us with much to mull over and discuss. We look forward to his visiting us again this year, and thank the Trust for their support to Just Change over the years, seeing us through from action research to growing into a Producer Company!
So what next? The major thrust for the coming year will be to now support our member in Orissa – the Paschim Orissa Krishi Jibon Sangh (POKS) – a large federation of various farmers groups initiated and supported by Sahabaghi Vikas Abhiyan. We are in the process of developing a detailed plan of engagement in Orissa. Closer home, we have established contact with Sneha, a women's organisation working with fisherwoman on the Eastern coast of India – the region that was hardest hit by the tsunami. We have just launched a pilot to sell tea in one of their federation. More on that later.
And finally, we have also decided that we will work more intensively on developing the JC concept of Participative Capital. Last year, a young lawyer volunteered with us and did some research on how to operationalise this concept. We intend to move it the next level of fine tuning the ideas and hopefully launching our first pilot.
So while 2010 was a very nose-to-the-ground,get-things-sorted kind of year 2011 promises to be much more exciting, as we lift our sights and expand our horizons. Wish us luck!! And lets hope the New Year blows with winds of change – Just Change!
Love from Stan
Changing Gears - JCUK
After years of working purely on volunteer effort, JCUK now has a part time Project Manager! The Just Change UK band of volunteers and Directors have done a tremendous job spreading the gospel according to Just Change. We have been receiving more and more requests from organisations, community groups and ethical retailers wanting to be part of our unique venture. While the JCUK team have done their best to respond, it has been impossible to keep pace with the demand.
Enter Esmee Fairbairn Foundation! After knocking on many doors, we finally found someone who understood our vision and was willing to think outside the box along with us. With ESF support JCUK has been able to recruit a part time Project Coordinator. We were stunned with the response to our ads – nearly 80 top of the drawer people. It was a tough job shortlisting possible candidates but one person did stand above the rest – Louise Taplin. We are happy and proud to welcome her aboard.
Louise comes to us with years of experience working in Fair Trade and more specifically in tea and coffee. With more than nine years experience in fair and ethical trade organisations, she brings a wealth of expertise and a huge commitment to trade justice. At the Fairtrade Foundation, she managed tea, coffee and spices – so she knows a lot about our products! And at Trading Visions, she worked with Divine Chocolate and their cocoa co-operative in Ghana to educate the UK public about the challenges facing small scale producers. She has also worked on global citizenship educational projects and is familiar with the UK charity and co-operative sectors.
Louise says she is indebted to India because this is where, as a young student, she first encountered serious poverty and inequality, and began to develop a passion for social and economic justice. In recent years, she has been keen to explore more radical forms of fair trade and sees Just Change as a challenging new way of trading between communities and across continents.
Spicing up Christmas in Snowy England!
Two years ago, as an experiment, the JCUK London group sold 50 spice baskets as Christmas gifts. As they were very popular, this year we decided to aim for 200 baskets. JCI packed a range of 8 spices (1,600 sachets!), designed beautiful labels, developed recipes and sent us photos of the people who were working to source all these wonderful goods.
Boxes packed with spices were sent to London, Manchester and to our new partners in Sheffield and for a while our homes were filled with the most amazing aromas of cinnamon and clove! We all set about assembling baskets, bags and recipes cards ready for the Christmas rush. It was quite an undertaking!
As we showed the baskets to friends, orders began streaming in. JCUK colleagues in Oxford and Cardiff took baskets to sell at local fairs, friends as far away as Durham came to pick up supplies. At Christmas fairs in locations such as Oxford Town Hall, and St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington, North London, people looking for a special ethical gift snapped them up! New Internationalist loved the spices and is thinking about including them in their 2011 catalogue.
The spices have made their way into the hands and homes of people up and down the UK, who will no doubt enjoy experimenting with the delicious recipes. They have also provided an opportunity for one of our new community partners, the Burton Street Foundation in Sheffield, to generate some income to put towards their own work, providing valuable services and support for local people with learning difficulties. The spice baskets have also sparked interest among potential new volunteers for the JCUK network. A group of teenage ethical entrepreneurs called ‘Not Just Us’ in Huddersfield made contact with the Manchester group to source spices for a Festival of Light event in Huddersfield town centre. They sold some to town centre shoppers and Paresh, a vendor selling Indian hot food on the stand next to them, was very interested in large packs of ethically sourced spices for catering, something we could explore in the future! The Manchester volunteer group also sold the spices in beautiful handmade paper bags from India at local markets. In the end we wished we had aimed at 300 baskets. But perhaps it’s good to leave people wanting more!
Tricia & Louise, JCUK
Here in Gudalur, putting together the JCUK spices pack was fun and exciting, as this time we were able to purchase our goods directly from producers! Peppercorns, cardamom and of course, tea, are from our members in Gudalur. Chillies and coriander are from our partner, Aharam, whose farmers are around Madurai, in Tamilnadu. Turmeric is from Organic farmers in the Sittilingi Valley of Tamilnadu. All these were processed into powders by women members of BVM branch of the Just Change Company in Kerala. The adivasi soap unit, in Gudalur, took a few days off soap making, to pack and parcel the spices to send to JCUK. We are glad that they were a runaway success, and look forward to sending you more spices next year! Maybe we could help source handmade baskets as well!
Subramani, JC India
Four Years and Counting...
The Just Change village consumer society in Ambittampotti, along the banks of the Chaliyar river in North Kerala celebrated their 4th anniversary last month! Four years ago, with much trepidation, three women's self-help groups (SHGs), pooled their resources and started their own village shop – (Village Consumer Society or VCS in Just Change speak)! The Just Change Local economy study done by the women themselves shocked the women. They could not believe how much of their hard earned money flowed straight out of their economies to shops, banks, and others further up the economic ladder. The three groups - Kavita, Sangeetha and Chaitanya - set up shop in their Mahila Samajam (women's society) building. Not only did all the members start buying their groceries from the shop, they convinced their neighbours and relations to do the same! Parukutty, a retired farm worker, took on the responsibility of running the shop, with support from other members of her SHG. Sales began to pick up, but the first real inroads they made were because of sugar! Sweets are a big part of festival celebrations, and the price of sugar tends to go up around any festival. Thanks to Just Change, they were able to sell good quality sugar, at fifty paisa less than the local market prices. Suddenly, everyone was going to the Ambittampotti VCS to buy sugar! Almost all other local shops were forced to keep their sugar prices down. People began to take notice of the small women's shop, that so far hadn't made more than a tiny ripple in the pool of the local economy.
From that point on, there was no turning back. Within a year, they hit a turnover of over one million rupees! Thanks to support from BVM and the Just Change Trust, they have built up a strong committee from amongst their members. Under the skilled leadership of Parukutty, the committee even registered a case against a man who refused to repay his liabilities to the shop! All the women marched together to his house, and sat in a 'dharna' outside until he agreed to talk to them. When talking failed, they took legal recourse at the local police station. “We realised that much more important than learning business, is the fact that we can come together in a crisis and support each other” says Parukutty.
The business continued to grow and by the third year, they were distributing small profits to their members! The SHG's took a loan to expand their shop, to make more storage space and more seating space, so members aren't perched on sacks of rice during meetings. The VCS contributed towards buying the roof and getting an electricity connection for the building. This year, rather than distributing the profits, the members decided to pool the money back into the VCS. They felicitated the members who had patronised the shop most with prizes and a special mention and recognition! They have a host of new ideas to keep money flowing within their local economy rather than out of it – mobile phone top ups, womens clothing and so on. Two women have already started mills for grinding rice into flour. We wish them luck as they begin their fifth year! Four Years and Count
Courting the Women of Karaikal!
Karaikal and Nagapattinam are two districts on the East Coast of India. Sneha is an organisation that has been working for years on the coastal rights of the fisherpeople. In recent years they have been mobilising the women and have set up innumerable women's self help groups. These groups have federated into 6 strong federations – spread across twenty one thousand families.
Ever since the tsunami, the women have been looking at ways of strengthening their livelihoods by entering into the market in a more cohesive manner. They had visited us here in Gudalur, interacted with the AMS and were introduced to Just Change. Inspired by this visit, they have set up a company called Samuthra (which means ocean). Each federation had already done market research on local tastes, preferred brands, consumption patterns and so on. Tea tasting sessions were held and Just Change Tea got the thumbs up. They decided to pilot a tea business in two of their federations, using this as a livelihood opportunity for some of their members as well.
The Just Change team visited them in August and conducted a workshop to plan on how to take the business forward. Members from the AMS shared stories about their land rights campaign in the 1980's and why they planted tea. The “story of tea” showing how the green leaf grown by the adivasis in Gudalur finally reaches their cup, with calculations of who benefits how much along the way was the highlight of the workshop! They, being astute business women, were quick to grasp the concept. When asked “So what do you want to change in present mainstream market model”? their response was immediate. “Better Prices to the adivasis, better and cheaper tea to us”. They then sat down in groups and drew up business plans. We were quite taken aback with their knowledge of the market.
After lots of to and fro-ing we finally came up with a packaging for the tea that everybody approved of. And early December we shipped our first consignment to Samudhra. Branded “Golden Leaf”, two hundred kilograms of tea were supplied by the adivasi farmers of Just Change to Sneha. AMS and Just Change members travelled to Karaikal to be a part of the celebrations at the 'Karaikal Tea party ' – a huge function to launch Just Change tea by Samudhra!
That's it for now, folks! Just Change tea and handmade soaps are on the Amnesty International catalogue - so don't forget to place your orders, if you haven't already!