Ep 99: What Visionaries Do Best (with Paul Rice)

by Joan Garry

What kind of person does it take to build a movement? What are the strategies that take something seemingly small and turn it into a global game changer?


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In 1990, Paul Rice, decided to save the world. For a year he worked in Nicaragua helping farmers build agricultural capacity. And he found something startling and profoundly upsetting.

Millions of dollars of charitable contributions – well intended of course – were being squandered because the farmers were not developing their own capacity to solve their problems.

So Paul did what visionaries do best. They connect dots. They get innovative.

Paul heard about “fair traders” in London who would pay a lot more to farmers who organized and sold direct.

The local guy would pay you 10 cents per pound for your coffee. So Paul organized 20 small farmers and shipped 2,000 pounds of coffee to fair traders who paid $1.20/pound.

Instead of $200, the take was $2,400. Can you imagine? They’d never seen so much money. Life changing.

For Paul, bringing these two farmers together started more than a nonprofit. It started a movement that he brought to the United States in 1998.

Since its founding, Fair Trade USA and its partners have generated almost $610 million in additional income for farmers and workers in more than 70 countries worldwide. And as world-changing as that has been… for as many farmers Paul has helped bring out of poverty, he wanted more. He wanted this movement to be a force for broader social and environmental change. And so the story continues.

What kind of person does it take to build a movement? What are the strategies that take something seemingly small and turn it into a global game changer? How do you build relationships and partnerships knowing that leading a movement is like conducting an orchestra?

In this episode, I got to find out from Paul himself. And it’s truly fascinating.

About Paul Rice

Paul Rice is Founder and CEO of Fair Trade USA, the internationally-acclaimed social enterprise and leading certifier of Fair Trade products in North America. He launched the award-winning nonprofit organization in 1998 after spending 11 years organizing farmers in the highlands of Nicaragua. There, he founded and led the country’s first Fair Trade coffee export cooperative, which introduced him to the transformative power of market-based approaches to sustainable development. Paul then returned to the United States to obtain his MBA from Berkeley Haas with the dream of bringing Fair Trade to consumers, businesses, and farmers and workers worldwide.

Paul’s rich, first-hand experience over the last 30 years in the areas of sustainable agriculture, grassroots economic development, global supply chain transparency and consumer activation is unique in the certification world. He is now a leading advocate of “impact sourcing” as a core strategy for both poverty alleviation and sustainable business.

Paul has been honored for his pioneering work by Ashoka, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist of the Year award (four-time winner), Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics, Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2012 Finalist), the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Leader of the Year (2019). The Texas-native holds an Economics and Political Science degree from Yale University and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, where he is now an Executive Fellow. Paul has spoken at the World Economic Forum, Clinton Global Initiative, Skoll World Forum, TEDx and numerous universities and conferences around the world.

In this podcast

  • How can capitalism evolve?
  • How to harness markets, companies and consumers to the task of social and environmental good
  • How to remove fear from the equation
  • Is corporate greed always a problem?
  • What are the biggest challenges in alleviating poverty?
  • Forming partnerships with corporate America, good or bad?
  • What are the skills and attributes needed to execute an enormous vision?
  • Partnering in a common quest requires dreamers and doers