Tipping the balance

I’ve just finished a series of 12 phone interviews with campaigners from the Fairtrade Towns network, and NGO partners of the Fairtrade Foundation. This was one small part of the Foundation’s mid-point review of their 5 year Tipping The Balance strategy.

The excitement for me in this kind of work is having the opportunity to connect with dedicated and passionate campaigners who have found their niche, the campaign that gets them out of bed in the morning wanting to change the world. The interviews confirmed what I already know, but can sometimes forget – a campaign backed by a coherent social movement is a very powerful thing indeed. One thing I’m left with is that grassroots campaigners, at least in this case, have clearly tipped the balance.

Of course it’s a challenging time for the Fairtrade movement: many large transnational corporations are climbing onboard and putting the Fairtrade mark on their products. Some of these corporations have been anathema to many campaigners for years and are now (uneasy?) allies. Fairtrade more than many campaigns highlights the issues raised by using  the current economic model as a tool for change. But if you accept that model, it’s fair to say that Fairtrade in the UK is a success story.

Personally I’m uneasy about solutions that advocate more sales/economic growth as part of building utopia. Not surprising perhaps for someone with a background as an anti-capitalist activist. But I don’t have pretend to have the answers to poverty and social injustice.  The challenge for me is to ensure that as I listen to campaigners I hear their story and not my own.

And that’s one of the things I’ve always loved about facilitation, whether it’s  facilitating training, meetings, or consultation: it nudges me into this slightly surreal bubble where I have to put my own ‘stuff’ to one side and focus on other people. It’s a great form of self-development and self-discipline. Starting to facilitate was certainly a personal tipping point in my work within groups. It felt like I ceased to be a problem and started to be part of the solution of good group-working. And if in some small way that facilitation work can help to tip the balance in the wider world…well that’s what Rhizome’s all about.

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