With support from the Walmart Foundation, Fair Trade USA completes a comprehensive project to improve Needs Assessments. The project outlines multiple technological and system improvements to the Needs Assessment process — which is critical to maximizing the impact of Premium fund investments into worker communities. The improvement project is scheduled to be completed in January 2023.
Every Fair Trade Certified™ product you purchase delivers a financial premium back to the farmers, fishers, and workers who created or harvested that product. That premium pools into Community Development Funds, a core element of the fair trade model. Determining how and where community development investments should be made is a democratic process among the farmers, fishers, and workers who benefit from the investment. The goal is to identify the most pressing needs of the community which are surfaced by conducting a Needs Assessment.
As part of our commitment to ongoing improvement, Fair Trade USA began the Needs Assessment Redesign (NAR) project after becoming aware of areas where producers and workers would benefit more from stronger support in the Needs Assessment process. The intention of the NAR project is to optimize the investment of Fair Trade Premiums by ensuring that the process systematically incorporates the perspectives of producers and program participants in their specific context. Fair Trade USA works across 51 countries and every community has their own specific needs and challenges.
With funding support from the Walmart Foundation, the project began with an initial design phase in 2020 intended to find gaps and improvements to current Needs Assessment processes. Consisting of interviews and workshops with producers and Fair Trade USA staff, the design phase shaped pilot projects later implemented in Mexico, Colombia, and Indonesia in 2021, in which interviews, focus groups, and a survey were administered to program participants. In culmination, a research team from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) provided an independent assessment of the pilots and shared a number of key findings.
The design phase and pilot led to findings critical to the NAR project:
- Fair Trade Committees would benefit from additional support from Fair Trade USA consultants and producers in implementing the Needs Assessment.
- Meeting the Premium fund beneficiaries (Fair Trade Committees and certificate holders) where they currently are in terms of skillsets and motivation is critical in the design and success of the process and tools associated with the Needs Assessment.
- The projects and funds will be more effectively distributed if producers can conduct Needs Assessments more often, and if Fair Trade Committees and producers receive more regular training on implementing the Needs Assessment process.
- Further digitalization of the Needs Assessment process would increase efficiency, and the resulting data visualization capability would make it easier to identify needs and trends.
Project Outcomes and Next Steps
The NAR project has informed multiple developments to the Needs Assessment process.
1. The creation of a new learning platform for producers, the Fair Trade Academy, which will provide simple, digestible modules streamlining the Needs Assessment process.
2. A Partner Portal application for producers that includes dashboards, toolkits, and trainings. These tools will allow producers to approach the Needs Assessment flexibly, choosing the components that best support them rather than having a predetermined process.
3. A data visualization tool within the Partner Portal that will help producers understand and optimize the Needs Assessment process and communicate about it with their communities and buyers. As a result of these innovations, producers are driven to spend the Premium funds in ways that are informed by data, and best meet the specific needs of their communities.
4. The Partner Portal and its suite of tools standardizes and automates Needs Assessment processes.
Needs Assessment developments will revolutionize how Fair Trade USA and our partners track community development project outcomes, understand needs across different supply chains, and optimize program interventions. These tools create efficiencies for producer partners and their spend of Community Development Funds, expanding support more effectively and enhancing communication with our brand partners about their impact.
The project is set to be completed in December 2022, and the new Resource Hub is already live here, making a selection of these resources available to the public. The Fair Trade Academy and Partner Portal will both be launched in January 2023.