Monday, February 18, 2008

The Utah Way

Sometimes we Fair Traders get dubbed as "naive" and "Utopian" because we promote seemingly intangible principles such as "dialogue, transparency and respect." We put our faith in long-term, direct relationships as the popularity of instant messages among avatars in alternative realities explodes (if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry...yet). We often invest sweat-equity, not to mention our own cold hard cash, on small-scale efforts leading to incremental change in a world that prefers "just-in-time" double-digit "return on investment." We are a starry-eyed lot, and as a previous post indicated, I sometimes get a little discouraged as to whether or not the movement can "go to scale" and "creating a tipping point" for Fair Trade activism (where DO I get all these buzz words????)

I'm happy to report that 48 hours or so with Ten Thousand Villages in Salt Lake City, Utah refreshed my faith in the importance and vitality of one-on-one relationships. My hosts were Scott and Julie, the only two paid staff at the store, whose work is supported by a corps of about 80 volunteers. I didn't get to meet all of the volunteers but each and every one I spoke with had a sincere interest in improving the world through Fair Trade and their own free time. A remarkable group.

If they ever leave the Fair Trade movement, Scott and Julie could go on the stand-up comic circuit. I don't think in all my travels I've had such witty AND informative tour guides. Most importantly they are incredibly gracious hosts who made sure ever detail of my stay was taken care of, including a late-hour pick up at the Salt Lake City airport (sending a guest to her hotel in a taxi just isn't the Utah way I learned). When we weren't touring their TTV store in the revitalized neighborhood of Sugarhouse, we were doing a series of media events (one of my radio interviews can be heard here) or having yummy meals with colleagues from the local chapter of Net Impact. Those socially-responsible business folks co-sponsored an evening event that drew more than 125 locals, as well as students from Westminister College, and nearby Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.

Without fail, every person I met was genuinely interested in Fair Trade and its over-arching principles. But they also asked tough questions about the realities of running Fair Trade businesses and taking on immense human development issues across the globe. They struck an important balance between idealism and realism that the movement really needs as it matures and evolves. They also were refreshingly down-to-earth without being out-of-touch or out of the loop (as someone who lives in the famous "Beltway" of Washington, D.C. this is a very hard to come by characteristic for me).

Although my time was brief, I came away thinking the Utah way--being friendly, courteous, concerned, sometimes silly, and always engaging--is pretty close to the way Fair Trade should be. Thanks to all the good folks who welcomed me to Utah (that's a photo of Scott Lowe and me below) with hopes that I can return the hospitality sometime in the future.

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1 comment:

  1. This sounds like it was an awesome trip!

    It is true, that we must balance idealism with the reality of things. It can be done, we just all need to work hard and take risks to make the industry, our businesses and the movement grow.

    However, we must also educate people about not over-consuming. Fair trade products should be a perfect alternative to other products that do the same job... but not just "added" to every day consumption. Does that make sense?

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