Diana got interested in Shared Interest by having an awareness of world poverty, supporting Make Poverty History, and wanting to support Fairtrade. Many years ago, when Diana had a bit of spare cash, she became an investor in Shared Interest and thought that it was a good thing to do. And when she retired, Diana looked at volunteering opportunities and was impressed by Shared Interest. Diana is not a staff member, so these are her personal views, not necessarily those of Shared Interest.
How did Shared Interest get started?
Shared Interest very much grew out of the Fairtrade movement, which was very strong in the North East, and I think we can be very proud of that. A guy called Mark Hayes had the idea in discussions with Traidcraft, who were founded in Newcastle in 1979 and were later based in Team Valley, Gateshead. He realised that people who produce Fairtrade goods often have a shortage of capital and so he founded Shared Interest as an ethical investment cooperative in 1990.
What does Shared Interest do?
From that beginning, Shared interest is now a medium-sized ethical investment cooperative, with over 30 staff, mostly based in Newcastle, with representatives in Africa and South America. They make loans on good terms to producer groups across the world, so that they can grow their business and develop their community.
Typically the people who get the help are cooperatives in the developing world producing coffee, cacao, handicrafts, honey etc. And they are established businesses and have to have three years of accounts.
It is a good thing, because the only other options for finance for many businesses are loan sharks, and there are other business problems, such as constraints on finance, producers being paid too little or too late, and volatile markets, especially in coffee. Also climate change is affecting things, as did Covid-19. So extra funds can help to combat these problems.
What are the principles underpinning Shared Interest?
Shared Interest is part of the Fairtrade Movement, concerned with building businesses that thrive and have good working conditions. It is about benefiting whole communities, and they are keen on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and single out these five in particular:
- No poverty
- Gender equality
- Decent work and economic growth
- Responsible production and comsumption
- Partnership for the goals
Consequently, Shared Interest produces both annual financial reports and annual social reports. They always have their eye on the wider community and the social benefits of what each partner is doing.
Can you give some examples of the work that Shared Interest is involved in?
In 2022, Shared Interest had a pot of money, £51 million, which they lent to 204 Fairtrade organisations in 45 countries, the most going to Peru, a sum of over £17 million. These organisations had 388, 320 employees. Nearly half of them are coffee producers, about 22% cocoa producers. I am personally very keen on Fairtrade cocoa production as chocolate is an area which is notorious for exploitative working conditions.
One example is the coffee cooperative Kibinge in Uganda – I think it’s a good example because as I said almost half of Shared Interest’s loans go to coffee producers. They were having problems with packaging and transportation, especially when the Covid-19 pandemic caused a shortage of shipping containers at Mombasa. Then there were the effects of climate change: higher temperatures speed up growth and lead to imperfections and unstable rainfall. However, Ugandan coffee is in high demand, so finance from Shared Interest has been able to really help Kibinge.
Apicoop in Chile is another good example. They are a cooperative of honey producers. They have a very dynamic director, Chino Henriquez, and I feel very lucky to have met him briefly. Being a cooperative they are an example of very poor producers working together and protecting each other. There was a large volcanic eruption in 2018 and they could share losses and help each other and Shared Interest loans helped them.
About ten years ago, they realised that they needed to diversify so they started producing blueberries. Shared interest funding helped them to do this, and to buy tractors and make their business more sustainable.
Chino Henriquez is quoted as saying:
“Our business is not really about honey or blueberries. It is about people. Producers are now sending their children to university, to see this as a result of the income from honey and blueberries is the true meaning of success.”Chino Henriquez
Thirdly, there is Lemberona, based in Vienna. A few of the loans made by Shared Interest are to Fairtrade retailers in Europe rather than producers in the developing world. This enables retailers to pay producers earlier and promotes Fair Trade generally. The co-founder is Elmira Bertagnoli, who is originally from Uzbekhistan. Based in Austria Lemberona specialises in imports of dried fruit, herbs and nuts. It started by importing Fairtrade organic fruit from Uzbekhistan. As the exports are from Uzbekhistan Elmira understands both ends: producers and customers. The producers didn’t have access to finance so Shared Interest finance helps pay producers earlier in the chain. In 2016 they diversified into buying herbs from Egypt and dried fruit from Sri Lanka.
Why are you involved in Shared Interest?
For me, their aims and ethics are bit of light in a dark world. I have seen a little of the organisation and how it works. It is very well run and a good combination of heart and head. It comes out of concern for the world, but is about doing something about it in a very efficient way. It isn’t patronising, but is enabling people.
I invest money in Shared Interest as it is an ethical investment and I can’t think of a better place for my money. I like to think that my money is doing something good.
How can people invest?
The pot last year was £51 million, entirely from UK investors who choose to do this. You can invest any amount from £100 to £100,000. The current interest rate is 0.25%, but you can withdraw at short notice. Shared interest is about ethical investment – as they say, it won’t make you rich, but it will enrich the lives of others.
Money invested doesn’t have the usual protections, because Shared Interest is not a bank, and they emphasise that there is shared risk. But nobody has ever lost money, there are very big safety margins and it is extremely well managed. I never worry about my money. My investment gives me no worries whatsoever.
If you have some spare cash, and you want to park it somewhere where it can do some good in the world – or you’re just interested in Shared Interest’s work –, have a look at the website or give them a call. The staff are very helpful.
You also might want to think about volunteering, and you don’t have to be based in Newcastle – there are people all over the country involved.
Shared Interest also has a charity attached called the Shared Interest Foundation. It tries to tackle poverty, with projects for women and young people, and you can donate to them.
Lastly, I would encourage people to buy Fairtrade stuff and generally spread the word to others.
To sum up the work of Shared Interest, Diana quoted their tagline: “Investing in a fairer world.”