When we look at the WFTO family today we are proud to see some of the most inspirational Fair Trade organisations in the world, led by people who have proven themselves as Agents for Change. One of these Agents for Change is the founder of Cards from Africa – Chris Page.
Chris found himself in Rwanda, in 2001, as part of his wish to engage in missionary work. He immediately became aware of the prevalent problems of the country. After the genocide in 1994 and multiple years of instability and wars, Rwanda found itself in a difficult economic and social situation. The small landlocked African country suffered from high incidence of mortality, poverty and disease. In addition, the civil unrest and wars left a number of children orphaned and fending for themselves. It is estimated that approximately 8% of the population of the country is orphaned and struggles for survival on a daily basis.
In an interview for Liberti Magazine, Chris asserted that his role in Rwanda is tied to improving the lives of orphans and their siblings by providing them with stable employment. The idea for making greeting cards came from two sources: pure business strategy and inspiration for change. Page knew that the only way to sustainably improve the lives of the orphans would be to help them earn a fair wage. He himself admitted to selecting the card business after a long and careful consideration. It is a type of work that is labour-intensive, high value, lightweight and requires no highly-skilled workers, but easy to sell and export abroad. At the same time it provides workers with an opportunity to express themselves, and send a personal message through their work.
However, what is really unique about Cards from Africa is that the company was created on fundamentally Fair Trade principles. The way out of poverty for the orphans was not a dependency-creating donation scheme but simply a profitable business. Through Cards from Africa, the orphans are able to provide an income to themselves and their siblings – hence sustainably improving their lives and giving them a chance to determine the direction of their own lives. It is in this principle that Fair Trade finds one of its strongest manifestations.
Today, Cards from Africa employs 80 people who manufacture beautiful handmade cards. An estimated 12,000 cards are sold internationally every month. The demand provides the local artists with higher salaries than the average workers for Rwanda. As Chris puts it, it would take just 0.01% of the United Kingdom greeting cards market sales to provide for the stable employment of 300 orphans in Rwanda. This is his long-term aim for improving the livelihood of orphans and their siblings.
Chris has proven that good intentions and good business ideas can be combined and used to improve the lives of the disadvantaged. This is the essence of Fair Trade.
By Anton Delchev