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How do I start a fair trade campaign in my own school or town?

Starting up a Fair Trade campaign on campus? Knowledge is power. Here are some questions that will help you be effective.

First, be sure to become very familiar with the Fair Trade College and University (FTCU) website, as they have a lot of resources. You are encouraged to keep in active contact with their FTCU Fellow as well.

It is essential to gather as much information as you can about the situation at your university, who holds power in making decisions, who influences those in power, what processes would be involved. Sometimes these can be difficult to find out, but they are crucial. For instance, here are questions that I would ask anyone starting a Fair Trade campaign on campus. 

Don’t be intimidated by them. They are means for you to gain power and to be effective. Just answer as many as you can, and then you'll know what you need to find out. You don't have to answer all of them to move forward, but try to find out as much as you can.

Students: What kind and degree of student interest do you have at this point? Just starting out exploring this possibility? Are there particular student groups that are interested and supportive, and any others that might become allies? Of interested students, how many will be back next year (everything won't fall into place in a few months)? Will student government likely be supportive, resistant, or indifferent? What is the process for getting a formal resolution supporting Fair Trade? Who in student government could you work with concerning process, wording, etc.?

Faculty: Do you have any faculty members who have shown interest in this? How strong is that interest? Are the faculty members willing and able to actively support this? There should be at least one faculty member who can be a "champion" of Fair Trade on campus.

Administration: Do you know anyone in the administration who is interested in or supportive of Fair Trade? Do you know any administrator who would crucial to win over? Do you know of any who are likely obstacles? Key administrators go from whoever in the university is the main liaison with the food service provider all the way up to the Chancellor/President.

Food Service Provider (FSP): Who is your food service provider? Who is its head/director? Do you have a sense of whether s/he will be supportive, resistant, or something else? Important: does the FSP have contracts with other campuses where Fair Trade is included? If so, you are in a much better situation, but just because they do it at one campus doesn’t mean they can or will at another one. Regional differences and differences in the size of the college/university can be significant.

Dining Services Contract: When does the current dining services contract expire? When will they start to develop their "request for proposals" (RFP) for the next contract? Who is involved in the creating the RFP? Can you get involved in that process, or find an ally who is in that process? The only time you can have a big impact is when they send out an RFP for the next contract. Working within an existing contract is possible, but the contract puts a lot of constraints on what a food service provider can do. Plan ahead. You need to get most all of your work done before the university starts to formulate its RFP. Once they’ve done that, they will likely be resistant to any changes.

Costs: How will changing to Fair Trade impact the cost to the Food Service Provider and to the students? In some cases this is the most important -- and most difficult -- to find out. And this: don’t necessarily believe what you are told. You may get exaggerated figures from one source. Keep probing. Find out what you can from other campuses.

Approval process: What would be the process for approving the declaration? What would be the process for approving a Fair Trade purchasing policy? Who makes these decisions? Are there people who have some kind of influence on the decision makers? This is particularly crucial, and often difficult to find out.

Values: In selling Fair Trade, it is best to couch it in terms of the stated values, mission, and vision of both the university and the food service provider. Convince them that Fair Trade is simply one way for them to put their own values into practice. Can you find websites that detail these for the university and the FSP?

This kind of information is sometimes referred to as a "power map" of your institution: who has what power and what the processes are. The more you know that map and the persons – and the personalities --involved, the more likely you will be successful.

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