Co-operative Awards winner: Shared Interest

For the past 20 years Shared Interest Society has been providing loan finance to farmers and handicraft producers in the developing world — from coffee growers in Peru...

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, it currently lends more than £33 million a year, helping to tackle poverty in 36 different countries. 

Members invest a minimum of £100 in the society, though joint accounts between groups of people are also accepted, thereby reducing the individual contribution. As well as individuals, couples and families, businesses, faith groups, schools and community groups are all listed among the society’s membership. 

The average share account balance is just under £3,000 and the society has more than 8,000 members.

One organisation supported by Shared Interest is Cards from Africa in Rwanda, which employs more than 50 orphans aged between 18 and 24, including many with children of their own.

The organisation trains its workers in a variety of disciplines preparing them for alternative work or self employment when they reach 24. A full time counsellor also provides workers with pastoral care.

In 1994, ten-year-old Florence lost her parents, two sisters and a grandmother to genocide and had to start looking after herself. A year later she found a job as a home help and discovered she had a half-sister living nearby. They supported each other, but in 2002 Florence’s sister died and she assumed responsibility for her sister’s young daughter.

In 2006, Florence joined Cards from Africa and the steady income she receives means she is able to save and look forward to the future.

She says: “I am grateful for Cards from Africa. Not only do we have enough for today, but we have enough for tomorrow. Now, I don’t just want to have enough to survive, but I want to have a brighter tomorrow. A few years ago I thought that was impossible. Now, it seems possible.”

An associated Foundation provides business training and in 2009 the Foundation supported almost 400 individuals in four countries throughout Africa. It is now looking to extend its work to Latin America. 

The Foundation also focuses on raising money that can be used to help fair trade business affected by natural disasters. This work was recently boosted by the donation of $10,000 by ice cream manufacturer Ben and Jerry’s to the Foundation’s Landslide Appeal. This will enable farmers from Pakistan’s Mountain Fruits Association to rebuild their livelihoods which were threatened by landslides recently.





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