This profile was prepared when Paul Rice was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
After years of helping coffee farmers organize their own marketing cooperatives in Nicaragua and other parts of Latin America, Paul is now closing the loop by persuading such US market leaders as Starbucks and Safeway to carry Fair Trade coffee purchased directly from farmer cooperatives. While products bearing the Fair Trade Certified label may cost a bit more in dollar terms, Paul demonstrates to companies the added value of Fair Trade: consumers will pay slightly more for the Fair Trade guarantee that companies are respecting certain criteria - namely, direct trade, a fair return to farmers, access to credit, and support for sustainable agriculture. In something as simple as a cup of Fair Trade coffee, consumers can vote for a better world and support economic justice and environmental sustainability. For industry, Paul presents Fair Trade not as charity, but as a "win-win" approach. He believes that as companies find Fair Trade good for business, they will grow their Fair Trade product lines out of enlightened self-interest, rather than pity for the growers. By educating consumers and building market demand for Fair Trade coffee, Paul helps companies turn social responsibility in the global supply chain into a profitable growth strategy.In addition to helping farmers achieve self-reliance by building consumer and industry demand for Fair Trade in the US, Paul works directly with farmer cooperatives - helping them to organize more effectively, market their products to US companies, and access the credit they need to build individual and cooperative entrepreneurial capacity over the long term.