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Business & Economy

Awards show unwavering commitment to customers

Newcastle social lender, Shared Interest Society, has been recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category for the third time, as it marks 30 years of financing a fairer world. Just weeks later, the organisation was named Nat West Impact Champion of 2020 and listed as one of the top 100 social enterprises in the UK

The Society has more than 11,500 UK investors with pooled funds of over £44m, which help thousands of people in 55 countries around the world to trade and earn a living.

Although awarded to businesses with headquarters in the UK, the Queen’s Award is world renowned, and in Shared Interest’s case, given because of its work and presence in other countries.The NatWest SE100 celebrates the growth, impact and resilience of social ventures in the UK –by naming the most impressive 100 social enterprises of the year in a top 100 Index, and giving eight SE100 Social Business Awards for the most outstanding achievers.

With headquarters in Newcastle city centre, Shared Interest also has representatives working in Costa Rica, Kenya, Ghana, and Peru, to help reach fair trade farmers and handcraft organisations in disadvantaged and rural communities.

Shared Interest’s regional manager for Latin America, Paul Sablich, has been helping customers in his region for over a decade, and so has seen the organisation recognised in the Sustainable Development category three times.

Paul said: “For me, this award represents how we are achieving our mission to reach those most in need. The fact that we have received it three times also means that we are doing it consistently despite the various challenges we have faced over time.

“We are currently unable to visit our customers due to impact of coronavirus across the world, but it does not prevent us being close to them through alternative means, and finding ways to continue supporting them. This award is also an indication of the commitment of everyone involved in Shared Interest Society.”

Shared Interest’s presence in Latin America dates back to 2006, beginning in Costa Rica. Its Peru office followed in 2008, after discovering through extensive research that it was home to more fair trade producers there than any other region in the world. In fact, Peru continues to be the country with the largest total value of payments made –Shared Interest sent over £27m to businesses there last year alone.

Marco Garcia, lending manager for Central America, Mexico and Caribbean said: “Amidst these complicated times, this award confirms the need to continue our solidarity efforts towards those in need around the world.”

Research shows that there is an estimated annual lending gap of 100 billion US Dollars to the agricultural sector in Africa. Shared Interest lends to smallholder farmers and artisans in this region, providing them with the opportunity to grow their businesses and improve their income.

John Dossou, lending manager for West Africa said: “Covid-19 is a major threat to livelihood of small producers in Africa. Winning the Queen’s Award at this time shows how vital our work is, and we must celebrate our services being recognised in this way. Now, more than ever, we need to offer producers ‘finance with a human face.”

Megan Peat, CEO of NatWest Social & Community Capital, said: “Congratulations to all the social enterprises who have made it onto this year’s SE100 list. In such incredibly tough times, when we know many will be facing some significant challenges, it’s important to recognise the incredible dedication and effort that the UK’s social enterprises have shown in building business solutions to deliver a positive future for some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”

Patricia Alexander, managing director at Shared Interest, said: “These awards are a symbol of the hard work and dedication of every single person involved in the organisation.

“Being approved for a Queen’s Award in our 30th year, and so close to our anniversary on the 25th April, makes this a very special honour.

For Shared Interest to be named as impact champion just weeks later means a great deal to everyone involved –especially at this time, when our social impact is even more significant.“Our investors are incredibly loyal, and stay with Shared Interest for an average of 14 years. Their commitment made it possible for our financial services to impact almost 400,000 people last year alone.

“Shared Interest focuses on trade rather than aid with the aim of empowering disadvantaged communities. For every farmer or handcraft maker we are able to help, there are dozens in great need of finance. Our lending is in high demand, as producers do not have the security or assets to secure funds elsewhere.“

As the world enters an extremely challenging time, we will continue to carry out our mission of reaching those smaller vulnerable groups who are otherwise unable to access finance. Now more than ever, we need to help people provide for themselves and their families.