Ethical Trade Pioneer, Charlotte di Vita
Charlotte di Vita spent years in impoverished rural communities to create fair trade employment and training opportunities in Africa, Asia and South America. She found Trade Plus Aid in 1997 to further her cause of promoting ethical trading initiatives as an effective, long-term solution to changing people’s lives for the better.
In 1992, di Vita became seriously ill with dysentery in a remote Ghana village. Locals nursed her back to health and to thank them she offered to buy her carers seeds to replace their failed harvest that year. As proud people who shunned charity, they refused her gesture. As an alternative, di Vita offered them the last of her £800 travel money in return for 800 necklaces, which they accepted. On her return to the UK, di Vita was able to sell these necklaces at trade fairs for a good profit which she returned to Ghana. So began her initiative, Trade Plus Aid.
Trade Plus Aid has generated millions in trade income for impoverished communities and has invested in healthcare, education and micro-finance initiatives.
In 1997, di Vita started her own business selling miniature enamel teapots made by talented craftspeople in a remote China village, using 17th-century techniques. The teapots are sold at Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Saks Fifth Avenue and over 2,500 retailers around the world. Di Vita reinvested 60% of her gross income into Trade Plus Aid.
Di Vita is still active in poverty alleviation initiatives and she has met some of the most influential politicians, businesspeople and celebrities in the world as part of her role as a Goodwill Ambassador to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. She used her connections to good effect and invited 600 celebrities to create art and messages of hope which she featured on a range of her teapots.
Di Vita was awarded an MBE in 1998.
Charlotte di Vita’s advice for starting something that matters
- Get clear about what you love to do. Find something that fires you up. When someone says to me, “You never have any time for yourself” my reaction is that I am always doing what I love and, while I am doing these things for others, I am also doing all this for myself as well.
- Take one step at a time, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. You don’t climb a mountain by looking at hte summit from basecamp and getting overwhelmed. You climb it by taking one step at a time and changing course as necessary along the way.
- Tap into your courage and conviction. Be willing to take some risks and to fail. (Di Vita recalls a conversation with Richard Branson who said he always looked for entrepreneurs who had failed at least two times – failure, correctly harnessed, builds resilience and skill.) If you run into problems on the mountain, you have to adjust your course, you have not failed; you have just learned a better route to the summit.
- Develop a clear and powerful vision. Make sure it’s a vision you are excited about and which you can clearly explain to others to inspire them, enrol others and to guide yourself.
- “It’s an honour to be involved, a privilege to be able to make a difference and to be doing what I love daily. Many people do not have such opportunities, and I am grateful for them.”
- “The more a social entrepreneur is willing to take a risk, the more successful we will be in tackling the world’s social and environmental challenges together.”
- “My father was very skilled at turning around troubled companies and empowering workers to envision and work together for a brighter future. From him, I learned empathy for the poor and how to empower them to become self-reliant, rather than the recipients of charity.”
- “If we want to experience a better tomorrow, we must make better choices today.”