Mohandas Ghandi once said: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” This was the inspiration behind this year’s Engineers Without Borders’ (EWB) Bridging the Gap Conference held at UBC on March 27th.
Compelling keynote presentations delivered by Shauna Sylvester and Dr. Hans Rosling and several breakout sessions cut across four main themes: EWB’s Values and Capacity Building, Advocacy, Serving Global Society, and Connecting to the Developing World. According to Rogayeh Tabrizi, event organizer extraordinaire, “we came together to create a space for dialogue, for understanding, for sharing the passion, for helping each other see the world around us better.”
The Fair Trade breakout session encouraged critical discussion by walking participants through what it means to “trade fairly.” Workshop facilitators Stacey Toews, of Level Ground Trading, and Randy Hooper, of Discovery Organics, talked candidly about how true fair trade has to go beyond just putting a Fair Trade Certified logo on a package. From their perspective, building direct relationships with producers that are based in transparency, dialogue and respect is really what fair trade is about.
This contention resonates across the field of ethical and sustainable purchasing. Countless examples of successful ethical and sustainable purchasing (ESP) programs demonstrate that focusing on supplier or producer relationships is imperative. In interviewing leaders and pioneers in this field, Reeve has heard procurement professionals say time and time again that without building strong relationships with suppliers their ESP initiatives would have been less successful.
When you buy products or services do you just look for a third-party ecolabel to ease your conscious or do you go beyond to learn more about the supplier or producer who is behind the product? You may not have time to build longterm relationships with all your suppliers, but even just asking a few simple questions about their business practices or their relationships with their contractors will facilitate understanding and greater success in achieving your sustainability goals. To paraphrase Toews and Hooper, go beyond product labelling and dig deeper…get to know the people behind your products and enter into dialogue with them.