Julie Nixon was educated in the United Kingdom before immigrating to South Africa in the late 1980’s. After undergoing extensive Retail Management courses with a leading retail chain, Julie utilised her broad experience in sales, merchandising and human resource courses to streamline the Gone Rural operations.
Julie arrived at Gone Rural in 2005 to take on the position of Workshop Manager and was promoted to General Manager in 2007 with new responsibilities including Sales, Human Resource courses, and Logistics. As head of sales, Julie oversaw a one hundred parent sales increase in three years which in turn quadrupled the women’s income during the same period. Julie due to her successes was given the position of Chair Person for the “Swazi Secrets” (a women’s empowerment company started by Her Majesty the Queen Mother) where she served a two-year term.
While chairing this organisation, Julie realised that though artisans in Swaziland are hardworking and talented, they do not make much income. This led her to start a fair-trade organisation called Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) which ensures that supply chains are fair while creating opportunities for fair wages at grass roots level. Julie is passionate, dedicated and committed to improving the lives of the people of Swaziland and has managed to secure a grant for a three-year capacity building project for handcrafters in Swaziland.
If you are planning on starting any organisation, here are 7 effective strategies you can learn from Julie Nixon.
1. Identify the need for the community and possible solutions
To start any type of organization, you will first have to discover the need and then provide solutions. The core purpose of any organization is to fill a need –be it goods or services, the organisation must provide some satisfaction.
This was the case of Julie who discovered that though artisans in Swaziland are highly skilled and talented with an abundance of natural raw materials, they had no way of getting their beautiful pieces to the market.
The artisans had capacity needs such as proper costing as many of them did not cost their labour into the product which meant it was actually costing the artisan to produce and sell a product. This led her to provide a solution by starting a system where all will benefit and as she has always been a big supporter of Fair Trade, she decided that would be the best way to make a difference.
Thus social enterprises like those in the Fair-Trade model ensure that their supply chains are fair, they create opportunities for fair wages at grass roots level and they are transparent and inclusive. This is a model she supported, which is why Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) came into being.
2. Prepare a plan or strategy to execute these solutions
After discovering the need and possible solutions, you then have to prepare a plan or strategy to execute these solutions as an idea will remain an idea until it is actually put into action.
Julie’s plan for SWIFT is to grow the local economy and create more socially responsible companies that operate under the principles of Fair-Trade. Thus, a network of businesses that work together as a united front to protect the weakest members of their society.
With this as the fundamentals, Julie set out to put her idea into action by;
Targeting a group
Every organization needs a focus group for it to function, as if you do not have people believing or patronizing what you intend to provide, then there really is nothing to give. The target group for SWIFT was local handcraft or food producers who have a marketable product and a will to create jobs through the application of Fair Trade standards.
Making a list of services to be provided or goods to sell
What do you intend to give this target group? Julie carefully crafted a capacity building, mentoring and coaching, training and development program to capacitate the highly skilled artisans of Swaziland. The training was supported by trade linkage opportunities and sales platforms such as the Bushfire Marketplace, to ensure members “earned while they learned”.
Making a list of how to communicate your plans to the target group. This can be through word of mouth, social media etc. depending on who your target group is.
3. Get a mentor, attend workshops and do some research
As you are working on getting your organization out there, you also have to work on yourself and that is by getting a mentor who has been in that trade or industry for a while, attending workshops/school and doing some research.
Julie attended workshops by Paul Meyers the Chairman of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) who called for the setup of country networks that offered an alternative to the classic capitalist model and became active in spreading the word about Fair-Trade.As you're getting your organisation out there, you also have to work on yourself by getting a mentor Click To Tweet
4. Invest in the organization
If you have chosen the path of starting an organization, then you must already know that this organization will run on money and time. This means you should be prepared to invest with both your money and time.
SWIFT was started with zero finances but with decades of collective business knowledge. Their vision was pure, capacitate handcrafters at grass roots level, to promote Fair Trade as an ethical business practice and a will to grow their domestic economy.
In the very early years, SWIFT used membership contributions to hire a part-time country manager and the company Julie worked for Gone Rural, allowed her time to work setting up SWIFT.
5. Start small
Rome wasn’t built in a day so be prepared to start small unless you already have your funding and professionals who are willing to sacrifice their all for your dream. If not, you would have to start alone, with a partner or with a few employees and with time, you can increase your workers or even train interested beneficiaries to work with you.
SWIFT started with a Country Manager and an Office Manager, then trained 8 women on an intensive Train the Trainer program, the top 2 became the Business Development Managers. They also hired an Operations Manager and a Marketing Manager where they linked members to each other to learn from the best.
Best practices held four times a year where members with the best practices such as packaging, costing, production or reporting open their doors to other members for a specialized training day.Be prepared to start small unless you already have your funding Click To Tweet
6. Brand your organization to attract investors, clients
Everything you do must brand your company well to attract the needed people. SWIFT’s logo speaks of inclusivity, it is a circle representing the infinity of life, the birds represent Swazi products flying across the globe, yellow is for their natural recourses, red represents their past and blue is for peace and prosperity for all.
Their mission, their vision, and their ethics have helped to create a strong brand that stands for ethical business practices, inclusivity and the upholding of the principles of Fair Trade, partners want to be part of this movement working towards a more just business environment. Their membership is vocal in their support of SWIFT as a network and encourages organizations to join.
7. Build networks wherever you go
There are people out there who are looking to support, recommend and assist your work. It is your duty to find them and you wouldn’t find them by staying in your home and not making contacts with anybody. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to connect with others who can help promote your organization. Also, learn to stay in touch with everyone you meet.Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with others & learn to stay in touch Click To Tweet
Julie understood the essence of networking when she granted an invitation to join an exhibition in Botswana for President George Bush at the event where he launched his HIV/AIDS funding initiative. Through this, Julie met high-level personages including Andrew Card who was the Chief of Staff for President Bush. Julie says she still has Mr. Card’s business card in her wallet.