18 May 2011
Context...Social Dividends And Choosing Charities For Steenbergs Web-shop
So following on from my last blog, we see Steenbergs' brand as being entangled with our range, the quality of our products and the context of these products. Where the spices, teas and blend ideas come from tells us about different cultures around the world and how people interact with their environment, both as nature and as the human world. Spices grown rurally in India, for example, are part of a history that stretches back into deep human history but then links back to villages and urban environments in a quickly expanding and modernising economy like India. We must understand and smile at the strangeness of this paradox of old, rural and traditional farming mixed with modern industrial processing of spices and teas, together with the fact that they are shipped from Cochin in normal shipping containers on big containerships and not quaint sailing boats - the old and the modern, the rural and the industrial all get mixed up together in the environment of Steenbergs' spices and teas.
This social aspect of how our retail products that we pack in North Yorkshire for sale in urban and rural shops across the UK and elsewhere, connects to internet customers almost everywhere, and links back to the Wynad region of Kerala in India or the Uva Highlands in Sri Lanka or Mananara in Northern Madagascar is hugely important to Sophie and me. And while paying a premium of around one-third for our spices, herbs and teas generates profits that enables people to earn a living wage and reinvest into their businesses and communities, we are not sure that this is enough. After all Steenbergs is at its heart a social enterprise and while we have very limited resources, so we cannot make much of a difference through our financial capacity, we can reach out wider to the community of people who buy our products. We feel we must try as if we don't make even a few small steps then the journey is never started.
We tried this once before with Peace Tea and Green Tea but it did not work because the products were not successful enough, so we would like to retry to generate a social dividend from sales at Steenbergs and believe that the best way to do this is via paying out a fixed amount from each web shop sale via www.steenbergs.co.uk to relevant charities. We are fixing this at 20p for each web sale and will not make any adjustments to costings for this, i.e. it is a straight cost to Steenbergs and not our customers, which we will backdate to the start of 2011 - if we had done this for 2010 it would have been well over £1,000.
At the outset, as we have only really just firmed up the idea after our own flood, we are thinking of two charities - Practical Action or Water Aid. However, in the future we would like to consider other more homegrown and smaller charities or projects, particularly those run locally and that foster genuine development like microcredit schemes rather than those that create aid dependency and those without any political or religious agenda - with smaller charities, we can make more of a difference whereas for mega-charities our donations will be just a drop in their ocean of income . We also would like the charities to be active where we are linked with for our purchasing, so enhancing this context for Steenbergs products. For example, from our quick scout around, we like ideas such as the Asha Trust, Grameen Bank and the Women's Bank in Sri Lanka and Zahana in Madagascar. But in the end, we want to hear from you what charities we could support as every year we are looking to our customers and supporters to choose one to benefit from this social dividend.
With this co-operative spirit in mind, we want people to tell us which of Practical Action or Water Aid we should all support this year and ask that you email your choice to firstname.lastname@example.org or tell us via Twitter or Facebook, where we will also explain the choices in a little less depth. Every year we will hold a similar collective decision, so you can help us choose possible organisations and then make a choice openly and together.
In outline, here is something about the 2 possible charities this year or you can go to their websites for more gen.
Practical Action grew out of an idea from the economist E. F. Schumacher in the 1970s that people in poverty needed technology that met their context rather than grandiose schemes coming out of the developed world. The founders termed this Intermediate Technology and technology as being "physical infrastructure, machinery and equipment, knowledge and skills and the capacity to organise and use all of these." They work closely with communities and at their scale and relative to their power, knowledge and available resource and using sensible, practical ideas like treadle pumps for irrigation, zeer pots for refrigeration and nanotechnology ideas such as filters to remove contaminants and pesticides from water. These small steps enable communities to lift themselves out of their poverty and then hopefully move out of dependency to build their own wealth. Practical Action works in (amongst other places) India and Sri Lanka, our major two countries for supplies of spices and teas, including Biofoods and Greenfield in Sri Lanka. There is lots more information at their website at http://practicalaction.org/.
Water Aid on the other hand focuses as its name suggests on water and sanitation, seeking to improve communities lives by removing the scourge of contaminated water and poor sanitation which are major causes of premature death amongst infants and vulnerable adults throughout the world. Water Aid's vision is to transform "lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world's poorest communities." They use sustainable technologies like rainwater harvesting, spring protection and hand dug wells, together with dry pit latrines and ventilated improved pit latrines. Water Aid is active in many countries including India and Madagascar, where we get our fantastic Fairtrade vanilla from in Mananara. Their web site is a great source of information and awe inspiring - www.wateraid.org/uk
Please take some time to think it all through, then come back to us for your choice and let's try and make a difference, however small that may be. Email Steenbergs at email@example.com or call Sophie or Axel at 01765 640 088 and tell us your thoughts.