In November, a group of Middlebury Institute students had the opportunity to visit the Fair Trade USA Headquarters located in Oakland, California. Coordinated by Celina Lima MBA/MAIPD ’18, president of the student club Fair Traders at MIIS, the tour was a networking event that brought together past and present students in an effort to create a bridge for future collaboration between the $20 million non-profit and the Institute.
Fair Trade USA is a non-profit certifier, auditor, and licensor that works with brands to ensure best practices and advocate for fair trade principles. Employees consult on supply chains and provide labeling for brands who have become fair trade certified. Departments vary by expertise: marketing and sales, technology, industry experts in coffee, sugar, etc., and more. The organization is changing the way business is done so that trade becomes more ethical and sustainable.
“I kept seeing the opportunities that the Middlebury Institute presents to Fair Trade USA,” says Lima, “because of our unique skill sets and our proximity to their offices. There are so many students here who are passionate about topics like human rights, environmental sustainability, and ethical business that the mission alignment was very clear to me from the start.”
Earlier this year, the “Fair Traders” made the Middlebury Institute the first ever graduate institute to be Fair Trade designated, which means that the campus is sustainable in its purchasing and holds a public commitment to Fair Trade values. As a result of this designation, the club has held multiple awareness raising events, consulted for Fair Trade businesses, and co-hosted a Holiday Pop Up Market to promote ethical purchasing. These activities were supported by Kylie Nealis of the Fair Trade Campaigns and Towns team, which oversaw the team during their Fair Trade designation and coordinated the meet and greet.
Alumna Nathalie Marin-Gest MBA/MAIPS ’13, director of Produce and Floral, enjoyed the visit from students. ”I think there is so much synergy between the Middlebury Institute and Fair Trade USA and the mutual support should keep on growing!” She also commented on the importance of the institute for Fair Trade USA, citing two employees who have participated in the Certificate in International Development and Social Change (DPMI) program.
Owen Karssiens MBA ‘12, recommended to the students that they narrow their field of focus and leverage their networks at the Middlebury Institute to find an impactful career. Fair Trade USA allows him to work in a field he is passionate about—ethical supply chains in developing nations—that many students have in common yet don’t know how to access as a career. “By getting their heads out of the books and talking more to industry professionals and peers at the Institute, they can have a better time of finding a meaningful career that they might not even have known existed.”
“I personally loved how friendly the Fair Trade team were, and the energy and excitement they had to share their work with us,” says Tangut Degfay MAIPD ‘18. She says it is important for students to be exposed to “different systems that are out there governing our consumption and more, and as policy students, we should be able to understand such policies at the core, and hopeful be able to incorporate with our future endeavors.”