Our Perspective Uncut: The Story of the University of Guelph Fair Trade Team

By Danny Liang | Engineers Without Borders Guelph Chapter

We are torchbearers in a long relay that started many years before we even set foot on campus, whose brilliant flames were kindled and rekindled by countless people other than our team and our chapter, and whose fire we hope to pass on to the next generation of students who care in the month and years ahead. It is important to bear in mind that our story is simply one piece of the puzzle towards the University of Guelph getting designated as a Fair Trade Campus, a Juggernaut puzzle that involved many students, faculty, the administration, the university’s catering service, other EWB chapters and the CFTN.

The Engineers Without Borders chapter on campus has been raising awareness about Fair Trade for many years before most of the current chapter set foot on campus. Our Logopredecessors gave out Fair Trade chocolates at outreach events, made a giant signpost indicating the distances and directions of locations that serve Fair Trade coffee on campus and made one of those giant cut-outs where you can stick your face on the person in the old Fairtrade logo.  Though we do not know their full stories, we do know that they played an important part in our campus becoming where we are today, and they are surely very happy to hear the news of the campus’ designation! 

Likely at least partially due to student demand, the university first started to switch to Fairtrade certified coffee six years ago. In the last year or two, Camino’s Fairtrade certified chocolates also started sprouting up across the university. A lot more recently, Fairtrade certified teas also started popping up on campus.

A few of the Kodak moments from the perspective of the current Fair Trade team

These are the stories of Daniel, Spencer, Melissa, Chris, Mariam, Emily, Kevin, Vinosha, Kathryn, Kaela, Jeremy, Keeran, myself and many other people in our chapter:

  • Afternoon in Mid-November 2010: cannon outreach day for the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) campaign. Though the main goal was to chat with students about IATI and get signatures for our petition, we had a lot of volunteers so we decided to give out fair trade chocolates and stickers as well. It was clear then that a lot of people in our chapter were passionate about Fair Trade.
  • After lunch in early-April 2011: At the chapter transition retreat, after some home-cooked chilly, tea, freeze tag and hide-and-seek outside, our chapter brainstormed what should be some of our priorities for the following year. Most of the chapter was very enthusiastic about Fair Trade, so we decided to make the Fair Trade Campus initiative one of our chapter priorities for the following year, and to start a Fair Trade team.
  • A Wednesday evening in early October 2011: After Daniel and I gave a short talk about some of the basics about the Fair Trade movement; our chapter broke up into small groups, with a facilitator in each group. Along with other similar member learning sessions, our chapter discussed topics such as what are some flaws with the Fair Trade movement, how does it compare to other initiatives such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fair for Life, how does it create lasting change in the global supply chain, the split of Fair Trade USA, is it beneficial to co-operate with major corporations such as Wal-Mart.
  • A day in late November, 2011: most of the chapter came out to our Fair Trade team meeting on the Thursday before our massive outreach event the Monday after, which involved having interactive games, raffles, a petition banner and informational displays at the courtyard of the University Centre. The entire chapter came out to run the event and ensured its success, with members taking different shifts depending on their class schedules. Two of our team members, Spencer and Chris, spent the entire weekend crafting a spinning wheel game, others ordered chocolates, made questions for the games, made display posters and etc. The event allowed us to connect with hundreds of students, give out over 800 Fair Trade mini-chocolates, and fill a “I support Fair Trade” banner with over a hundred signatures.
  • Winter semester 2012: we contacted and met with the Hospitality Services, the university’s Vice President of student affairs, Sustainability Office, the Central Student Union and a few professors to discuss the Fair Trade Campus initiative and ask them to serve on the committee. For the most part, they were supportive of the initiative, especially after learning that our campus meets many of the requirements already, and that the designation will solidify the university’s reputation as a leader in sustainability.
  • Evening in late March, 2012: this was the night of our Fair Trade panel discussion. Our speakers included Dr. Adam Sneyd (professor in political science), Dr. Spenser Henson Poster(professor in Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs), Bill Barrett (co-founder of Planet Bean) and Sean Yo (a staff member who volunteered at a Fair Trade co-op in Nepal). The event drew a full house with about 60 people, and the ensuing discussions, and Q&A engaged all of the students and lasted for nearly three hours! To give an idea of how our entire team was responsible for making this happen: Chris and Melissa were the emcees for the event, Mariam bought the gifts, Daniel and I contacted the speakers, Jeremy bought some of the snacks, Spencer made the posters, Keeran and Kathryn brought the kettles, everyone in the chapter brought ceramic/glass cups to lent the attendees for the free beverages and helped with the set up.
  • 8:30AM on October 11th, 2012: the first Fair Trade Campus committee meeting. It consisted of introducing the committee members, a short update on the requirements of Fair Trade campus and where the campus is currently when it comes to meeting those requirements (previous readings about what is Fair Trade was also sent out before-hand), discussions about how we can best meet those remaining requirements, coming up with a list of actionable items to be done before the next meeting and making sure there is at least one person responsible for executing each task, and choosing a time for the next meeting (which occurred three weeks later)

In addition to those memorable moments, other memorable moments include when our team organized a Fair Trade movie night, a reverse trick-or-trick on Halloween (where we went around the neighborhood and sang Christmas carols before talking about Fair Trade) and participated in the national Disruption event.

Lessons Learned

We hope that they may be of some use to the Fair Trade teams across the country that is part of this movement.

  • Get in touch with key people across the country as soon as possible: people such as Michael Zelmer from Fair Trade Canada, Sean from the CFTN, Fair trade reps, especially from previously designated chapters. They will serve as an indispensable support network and are able to provide invaluable advice on the more subtle things involved in getting the committee together and getting the designation!
  • Fair Trade Campus committee: be persistent when contacting key people for the committee (if you do not receive a response, re-email, then follow-up with phone call, etc.), make sure that you pitch to each person differently according to their interests and role, and show how the Fair Trade Campus initiative aligns with their interests and role. Be willing to go that extra mile to learn their stories and the past projects of each person on the committee.
  • When organizing the first meeting, plan the meeting at least 6 weeks in advance. Some of the people on the committee will be very, very busy and their schedule will fill up long before. Instead of asking for the availabilities of each individual person on the committee and trying to coordinate, start by asking the availability of the busiest person on the committee (this was the vice-president, student affairs in our case), ask for three or four different times, and then ask the rest of the committee which of these times work best for them.
  • Have one person serve as the main person staying in contact with the Fair Trade Campus committee members. Having multiple people can lead to overlap, slower coordination of the committee, as well as butting heads.
  • Always do a 80/20 analysis on your efforts if you are feeling that too much is going on. If you are too busy, make sure that you do not let the committee slip and that you or someone on your team keeps up with following up with the committee. If needed, focus on lower input, large scale outreach events instead (ex. movie night, development beers, etc.).

Final Note

Victor Hugo once said “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”! We are confident that the time for Fair Trade has come! We are confident that we are on theTeam
 cusp of great change, a tipping point consisting of a massive wave of new Fair Trade Campuses springing up across Canada, of increased consumer awareness and activism, of the drumbeats of Fair Trade reverberating throughout Canada.  We are confident that we are not alone in the belief that the global economic system often exploits workers in developing countries. That we are not alone in the belief that tomorrow for everyone on the planet can be and should be brighter and more just than it is today, and that we all have a personal responsibility to make it happen. We believe that development should address the root causes of inequality instead of glamorous band-aid solutions, focus on capacity building and empowerment rather than simple charity, and work to systematically and sustainably eradicate poverty as well as other barriers to achieving good qualities of life and self-determination.  By doing that, we can all realize the universal dream of a more just, caring and sustainable tomorrow.