This October we are honoured to have been featured in an interview by Dubai writer and digital marketing strategist Anna Sadeghpour. Read our interview below:
October 16 marks the first day of Anti-Poverty Week, a week dedicated to strengthening public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world. I met with the spirited Sabeena Ahmed, creator and owner of online store The Little Fair Trade Shop. To say the least, Sabeena is a beautiful lady on a big mission! At the forefront of the fairtrade movement in the UAE, she’s all about promoting the principles of fairtrade as a means to fight poverty.
My fairtrade producers, friends and family call me Sabeen or Sabeena (not to be confused with Sabrina the teenage witch or Ribena!)
British but a bit of a nomad and free spirit at heart. I honestly believe we shouldn’t be stereotyped by our appearances, nationality or religion but celebrate our differences.
How long have you been living in Dubai?
A little over eight years.
Fairtrade campaigner, educator and social entrepreneur. Self-confessed fairtrade chocoholic and jalaibi connoisseur.
Tell us about The Little Fair Trade Shop…
The Little Fair Trade Shop supports highly skilled artisans, suppliers and manufacturers of fairtrade and naturally recycled products and resources. Our mission is to promote self-reliance, empower artisans and their local communities and give them the dignity they so rightly deserve.
The Little Fair Trade Shop is my humble aim to educate, promote and showcase the work of talented fairtrade and ethical artisans and producers around the world. It’s my personal mission to also dispel the myth that fairtrade is ''charity'', and promote the principles of a living wage, self-reliance, empowerment, transparency, environmental sustainability, dignity and self-respect for all.
Some of the artisans and producers supported by The Little Fair Trade Shop.
Image: The Little Fair Trade Shop
What inspired you to start The Little Fair Trade Shop?
My fairtrade journey began September 2008 whilst studying an online distance Islamic Banking and Insurance course. Much to my surprise I had an epiphany! A paragraph illustrating how Islam promotes the equal distribution of wealth evoked strong emotions. Stories of social injustice and disparity of earnings amongst the poorest people around the world fueled a desire to take action. In the weeks that followed I searched the internet and discovered the World Fair Trade Organization.
The need to talk immediate action was cemented when I read a life changing paper “An Islamic Perspective of Fair Trade” by Dr Laura Thaut Vinson and Dr Ajaz Ahmed Khan. I have written to them both recently and hope fingers crossed they reply.
What does ‘fairtrade’ mean?
Fairtrade very simply means social and trade justice for all! Fairtrade is a simple way each one of us can make a difference through our everyday choices. It’s about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. Fairtrade aims to enable the poorest farmers and workers to improve their position and have more control over their lives.
On top of the agreed Fairtrade minimum price producers also receive the Fairtrade premium. How it’s spent is voted on democratically by farmers and workers. This is development as decided by the people who will benefit from it. After all, they’re the ones best placed to make it work the hardest. Roads have been laid, nurseries equipped and helpful new tools have been put to work all thanks to the Fairtrade premium.
Tell us about the fairtrade network you are establishing in the UAE…
It’s a work in progress. I’m patiently working to establish a fairtrade educational and interfaith network.
There are hundreds of fairtrade nurseries, schools, colleges, universities and faith groups in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and the rest of the world. With the support of educators and parents, it would be instrumental to give young learners in the United Arab Emirates the opportunity to learn about fairtrade producers and the impact it has had on their lives and communities.
Through interactive puppet shows, videos, interviews, live Q&A’s, webinars, workshops, dramas, books, visits, fashion shows and songs I hope to engage with learners and consumers around the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
If you are part of a faith group or educational institute and would like to support fairtrade producers and the fairtrade movement of the United Arab Emirates, please reach out to me.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Oh most definitely meeting kindred spirits and like-minded individuals like yourself. I am also humbled and honoured to visit fairtrade artisans and producer groups. I enjoy talking with valued supporters, consumers, children and other social entrepreneurs who are passionate about making a difference in the world.
What advice would you offer someone looking to start a social or environmental enterprise in the UAE?
There will be many times in your life where people will criticise, laugh and belittle you. IGNORE THEM! Think positively and surround yourself with positive people. Always believe in yourself, you can never please everyone so spend your time wisely and do what makes you happy.
Conduct your primary market research and finance carefully. The survival of any business is its dependence on a regular cash flow. Bills need to be paid and having an extremely supportive partner, family and network of good friends are a blessing. Cherish them!
What advice would you offer someone in the UAE looking to buy ethically?
“Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” We all live busy lives but take a minute to ask yourself those uncomfortable questions the next time you are out and about conducting some much-needed retail therapy.
‘’Who made my clothes?’’, ‘’who made my shoes?’’, ‘’who grew the cocao pods to make this chocolate bar?’’ If you don’t know the answers, find out.
What would be the next step for you and/or the shop?
After a four-year struggle with metastatic breast cancer, my beloved mother passed away in April of this year. Mum gave her blessings for me to continue with my fairtrade/ethical campaigning in the UAE and the UK. It would be a dream come true to design a fairtrade label, accessories and jewellery collections in her memory.
I also want to raise awareness within the Pakistani and Asian communities in the UK and UAE to talk openly about breast cancer and the effects and emotional scars it leaves on those left behind. I am currently studying an online course Talking About Cancer with Cancer Research UK and hope this will assist me with my grief.
Any other comments?
I hope this interview will encourage young people and readers to get involved in local initiatives and support fairtrade and ethical producers around the world.
I am eternally grateful to the all of the individuals who have supported and encouraged me on this journey over the past seven years. But most of all, I would like to thank all the selfless fairtrade pioneers, artisans and producers who have devoted their entire lives to benefit the lives of others. You are my inspiration, heroines, heroes and role models.
For more information about fairtrade please don’t hesitate to contact me at The Little Fair Trade Shop and let’s meet for a fairtrade cup of tea/coffee and delicious ethical fairtrade chocolate!
A range of accessories available at The Little Fair Trade Shop.
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I was honoured to attend a workshop on entrepreneurship with renowned writer and computer tech expert/genius Bel Pesce.
Many thanks to NAMA and the BSEP team for organising this event.
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