St Paul's Institute

Converting Conversation into Action

by Sally Reith

Posted: 16 Jan 2013

New Year is always a time for resolutions, making changes and new starts. Whatever yours may be, or even if you haven't made any, it is a time for reflection on the past and looking forward to the new year ahead. After a busy 2012 I'd like to reflect on some highlights of the year and look forward to building on these in 2013.

During last year's Fairtrade Fortnight we were all encouraged to 'Take a Step for Fairtrade'. This step could be anything from buying Fairtrade teabags to asking your whole office to convert to Fairtrade refreshments. No matter how big or small, each step represented an action we were taking for change, change to a fairer world trade system. The 'doing' was the important thing here. It's one thing to say you support something but what does that mean if you don't then act on it?

This need for action resonates in the finance world too. Last year we saw a surge in movements encouraging us to do things to change the financial system, from switching our bank accounts to asking questions about where our pension funds are invested. People have shown through these actions that they are no longer willing to accept what they are told; they ask questions, they challenge values and they take action if they're not content.

The values of finance, as with any values, are to be questioned and National Ethical Investment Week in particular provides an opportunity for such dialogue. At the 'Make Your Money Count' conference held in Bristol for NEIW in October the audience was challenged with the question 'What does ethical mean?' Needless to say there were as many replies as there were people in the room, what was highlighted was not only the personal nature of the responses but the conviction lying behind them. Many spoke of morals, fairness and justice. Issues close to the heart of Fairtrade supporters too, who put these values into action when purchasing a Fairtrade product or getting involved in Fairtrade campaigning. However, had our Bristol audience considered how they could act on these values when it came to their personal finances?

The very idea that we have choice in our actions is something we appear to have forgotten according to the Revd Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy who spoke at Shared Interest's Ethical Investment Debate in Oxford for NEIW. He believes we are a 'nation in a hurry' and that we are so used to speed and ease in our financial activity that we leave little time for reflection on our actions. He challenged many of the myths behind finance and helped clarify some of the terminology used within the financial world. Empowered with a greater understanding, and a context in which it was 'acceptable' to talk about money, people were able to break down the barriers which so often keep this topic at arm's length.

The debate that stemmed from this also tied in with the views of our second speaker, Steve Hucklesby, when speaking of the power inherent in investment and the responsibility it also brings. This link of values to actions was further drawn out by Diana Mills who emphasised that every economic decision has a moral consequence. We can no longer excuse ourselves through lack of knowledge or understanding; it is our obligation to know what our money is doing in our name.

Are we waking up to the fact that our financial decisions are actions but that we always have a choice to ensure these actions are the right ones for us, as individuals, as a society and as a world?

If so, where do we go from here? Also speaking at the debate was Shared Interest Board member Carol Wills, who highlighted one of the challenges facing the fair trade movement, saying: "Fair trade has been hugely successful...where does that leave the pioneering Fairtrade brands? It leaves them competing for shelf space in the supermarkets. That means they have to focus on quality, taste and origins to keep the consumers buying. It's a good challenge to have - because the volumes now traded on fair terms are growing all the time - running to over £1 billion a year in the UK alone - and this can only be good for producers. And ethical investment is needed to sustain this."

At the turn of the year it was revealed that over one million steps were taken for Fairtrade across the UK in 2012. However, we can build on this by going further for Fairtrade in 2013. Take another baby step or a giant leap and make a change to your life that can make a difference elsewhere too.

Our event in Oxford highlighted how people can, and want to, make a positive difference with their financial choices. Illustrating the positive impact investment can have on others - in our neighbourhood, in our country and around the world - shows the real change that can come from our actions. We need to help people see that their values can extend to their investment choices, they can 'make money and make a difference' or rather they can make a difference with their money. So why not take a look at how you manage your money and see what changes you can make to a more ethical choice in 2013.

About this author

Sally Reith is Engagement Officer for Shared Interest.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.