By Erin Crowell
Jody Treter got involved in the global fair trade movement through a coffee connection.
Fair trade is a social movement that promotes sustainability in lesser-developed countries by providing fair pay to producers of exports such as clothing, tea, cocoa and coffee. As one of the original minds behind Higher Grounds, the fair trade coffee company based in Traverse City, Treter has taken on a new project called GoBe, a microlending program that connects locals with entrepreneurs in other countries -- often, the same who benefit from the fair trade movement.
We spoke with Treter by phone just before she and GoBe business partner Juliette Shultz were about to board a flight to Ecuador.
Northern Express: Tell us more about where you got the concept of GoBe.
Jody Treter: Chris (my ex-husband) and I started Higher Grounds as a result of living in Chiapas, Mexico in 2001-2002, and we learned that to pay people dignified wages was a way to help them earn enough money to make healthy choices for themselves and their families. This is opposed to the typical charity aid model, which is: you give people hand-outs and usually that money has some kind of agenda to it. If you earn money, then you can decide where to spend that money, whether its education or health care. In Chiapas, we found that we could help the coffee farmers earn a fair wage through Higher Grounds.
We started leading groups down there; and that connectionthat relationshipI think, changed peoples lives on this end because people found what it took to produce coffee.
NE: And that led you to GoBe?
Treter: One year ago, my friend (Juliette Schultz) and I started talking about creating a business that takes people to visit entrepreneurs in different countries and help to fund the entrepreneurial projects via micro loans. This is called person-to-person lending, meaning you could make a small loan; and in countries like Ecuadorwhich is where were headed to right now$25, $50 really goes a long way. Our idea is to eventually have a website where people can participate in micro loans and have the option to go meet the entrepreneur. There are other businesses out there that have the micro loans, but dont have the trip option.
ME: When people are taking these trips, what do you think they take from them?
Treter: Our goal is to support agrotourism and community-owned tourism. When they go to someplace like Ecuador, for example, they can meet someone that grows the raw form of chocolate. And theyll learn about the processing and the indigenous culture.
Theres going to be different themes. Some of the tours will involve medicinal plants or are conservation-oriented. Some of them will focus on music and culture. I have connections in Liberia and theres a bunch of artists there with a music cooperative, so well go there and learn about traditional music and how that culture uses music as a tool for social change.
NE: Is there an end vision you see for yourself and the program?
Treter: The idea is to infuse money into local economies by supporting locally owned lodges, restaurants, tour companies anybody that we can support in a country.
The other priority is the support of indigenous people. The end goal is to connect people in the U.S. with other places in the world and support more sustainable, local economic models by infusing money. So instead of taking tourist dollars to places like Cancunthe bigger resort destinationsyou can have a more meaningful experience by getting to know a culture and putting your money into the local economy.
NE: About how much time do you put into this project?
Treter: Right now, its part-time. Were in our pilot project phase; but it will be a full-time job. Both Juliette and I are working part-time consulting jobs.
NE: If you had to pick a job title for yourself, would you say consultant? Humanitarian?
Treter: I would say social entrepreneur and Consultant.
NE: Do you have a favorite place youve visited?
Treter: Well, first of all, I love Traverse City and I love our community here; and I think we cant lose sight of that how wonderful the place that we live is. I have a fondness for the Mayan communities of Guatemala and Chiapas. (Chiapas) really changed the course of my life. To me, I dont know if its the place that struck me, but rather, the people. Every time I travel somewhere and I meet new people, its that connection with them that seems so valuable and thats why its such a hard question for me.
NE: Juliette, did you have anything you wanted to add about GoBe or your partnership with Jody?
Juliette Schultz: Jody and I have known each other for years and have circled around each other for years. She was working with a client of mine at Food for Thought (of Honor); and thats how we met. Now were just attached to each other and we just trail each other along. Its a great partnership.
I always remember back to last January where her and I were sitting in Poppycocks and she floated the idea past me; and I must have beenwell, I know I wasin a place where I felt like I was ready to help people outside the boundaries of Northern Michigan. Ive done a lot of business consulting and always felt connected to entrepreneurs. At some point, its almost like a flip-switch for me in my heart; and I just thought, You know what? Everyone is connected to one another, and I have that same desire to help people all around the world.
Its really been great and I think thats because this project comes from the heart.
Interested in getting involved with GoBe? Go to GoNowBeFree.wordpress.com and join the email list serve. There, you will find information on the first business partnership between Miriam Vasquez of Ecuador and Mimi Wheeler of Grocers Daughter Chocolates in Empire.