Speaking before a gathering at Christ Church in downtown Berkeley on Monday night, Trade As One founder Nathan George described the “process of re-conversion” that led him to found his organization, which partners with producers in the developing world to bring their products to market in the U.S. After working for more than a decade in the telecom industry, Mr. George took a second look at his life and where he was putting his time and energy. He realized that most of it was going into his job and his own welfare. Slowly, God began to open his eyes to doing something about the extreme poverty that he witnessed in parts of the world.
Mr. George related how his travels had shown him the desperate need that is ubiquitous in many countries, and he recited a litany of statistics about the crippling poverty that affects the undeveloped world. He put some of those statistics into more vivid pictures. Americans spend more on cosmetics every year than the amount it would take to provide schooling and sanitation to the approximately two billion people in the world who lack both. Europeans spend the same amount on ice cream.
In response to this poverty, Mr. George felt called to foster and develop relationships between the undeveloped world and the developed world to find sustainable ways to bring jobs and a basic standard of living to the poorest of the poor. His answer was to find small producers in these countries who were employing locals and to bring their products to larger markets in the U.S.
The presentation included several videos about producers with whom Mr. George’s organization has partnered. For instance, Nightlight Jewelry is an organization in Thailand that employs women who used to work in the sex trade as jewelry artists. The company was founded by Annie Dieselberg, a Westerner who could not simply turn her back on the pain around her in Thailand. Nightlight Jewelry now employs more than 40 women. Trade As One has many similar partners who produce products such as hand-made notecards, journals, bags, rugs, and clothing. The people they employ are typically the most oppressed, the “least of these.” Many are women, and these women are often victims of HIV/AIDS or have been rescued from prostitution. Mr. George wants to expand the market for their products, allowing these companies to provide even more employment opportunities.
Mr. George exhorted his audience to think carefully when they purchase products: “We vote for how companies behave every single day when we open our wallets.” He contended that buying goods from fair trade companies is a way of voting in solidarity with the oppressed. Mr. George would like to see the church leading a movement towards more thoughtful consumerism. Although it is not now, he does see hope. For instance, Trade As One recently partnered with a large church in Chicago that has been working to spread his message in that city.
In closing, Mr. George observed that half of the world seems to be in a crisis of poverty while the other half is in a crisis of meaninglessness. It is his hope and prayer that the church in this country will work to address both crises.