Interview with Manitoba Council for International Cooperation

Tom Hanlon-Wilde (Co-executive director of La Siembra) : What is the main role of the MCIC?

Zack Gross (Outreach Coordinator at MCIC): Well, fair trade is one of the high profile things we do. We are one of a half dozen agencies that act as councils of international development NGOs. We receive money from the province and then about 40 member organizations apply to us every year for their international work. Other than the grant evaluation and decisions related to that, we offer capacity building to a number of international groups. Additionally, we do public engagement work, from climate change to fair trade to food security. A lot of that work happens in schools, a lot in church groups, and in the community. So were a service organization, a great one I think, doing the international funding and outreach work.

I have been involved in fair trade as long as anybody. About 6 or 8 years ago a small group came to MCIC to boost Manitoba’s activity on fair trade. Fair Trade Manitboa is one of our main projects and so what was a project is now a full time job.

Tom: What led your organization to co-host CFTN 2016 and what do you hope to achieve at the event?

Zack: Given our work on fair trade, we’ve been involved in a lot of attempts to create a national effort on fair trade. Most of those things went no where as there wasn’t any money in the system and we only had a bit of volunteer work. Engineers without Borders help originate financing to get things going, so we developed the Canadian Fair Trade Network and the CFTN Conference is a way to advance the work of the Network. The first conference was in Calgary, had about 75 people and we saw if it was viable to do something. Each of the subsequent events were held in large city with a good meeting place, but not much attention was paid to what was happening on the ground for fair trade in each place.

For the fourth conference, we at MCIC saw that it was worth putting in a bid. We do a lot here and see it as a legacy – host the event and, like the conference title says “Building Momentum” we want to use it to build movement. We are hoping it can spur Winnipeg into becoming a Fairtrade City, that we can sign up a few Fairtrade campuses and a few Fairtrade businesses, so the conference is already something beyond being an event. Also, for Cocoa Camino and other organizations that don’t have an office here, this is an opportunity for local businesses to make connections and build momentum here in the province. One of the interesting things is that the previous conferences had a local sponsor – McGill hosted the Montreal event, a prior one was piggybacked onto an Engineers without Borders meeting. This conference is self-funded. The crowd sourcing, local businesses and sponsors are mostly local.

Tom: Do what extent do you see fair trade products as becoming part of mainstream consumerism?

Zack: People here are interested in fair trade. Schools, campuses and business want to meet the criteria to be in fair trade. We hope by the time folks arrive to the Winnipeg International Airport, the Airport Authority staff will be working at a Fairtrade workplace. That would be a first and a nice thing for people to recognize. Same thing with Manitoba Telephone System – they do a lot of good things and their staff is interested in making their staff rooms Fairtrade workplaces. It’s partly good quality products, it’s partly the right thing to do, and as fair trade grows the prices are more competitive.

Tom: How did you personally first get involved with Camino?

Zack: I eat about a hundred thousand chocolate bars – how’s that for involved?! There’s an organization in Brandon, Manitoba, called Marquis Project – it’s a small NGO named after Marque wheat, and it was started in late seventies. I have an entrepreneurial spirit so when we had events, I would try to sell things. If we had a speaker – sell the book. If we were hosting an international group – sell the crafts from that place, be it Uganda or Tanzania. Those first Bridgehead coffees, we sold those. Like a lot of groups, our funding was cut in the 1990s and we started a fair trade shop in downtown Brandon. One of the FT companies we contacted was Cocoa Camino, and when I moved on from the store I held on to my account with Camino to keep promoting fair trade. Nothing works like the Cocoa Camino minis. We met with the Premier’s staff today seeking funding for the conference and to invite the Premier to speak, and I took a little bag of Cocoa Camino Fairtrade minis and even though it was early people dug right in. And people really know Camino, either through fair trade or if not then from Dragon’s Den.

Tom: What other activities is MCIC leading in 2016?

Zack: We have quite a bit going on after the conference. The CFTN 2016 Conference is very useful in that it is something great to bring to any meeting. My job is to promote fair trade purchases – stores, businesses, even the casinos. And now when I visit businesses, I’m amazed how interested people are to talk about procurement and fair trade. I also have the Conference to talk about and to recruit people for the tour to Peru in April. That tour is being organized by former Camino leader Jennifer Williams. Then all the follow up to those events – getting those people who are looking for fair trade products and help promoting fair trade. Most of our engagement work is funded by Global Affairs Canada and we are currently near the end of the second of a 5 year funding cycle. We want to have businesses and organizations signing up and the Conference and tour are great ways to recruit for fair trade activities of all kinds.

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