x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sabeena Ahmed's fair trade mission

Sabeena Ahmed is showing entrepreneurs how to do business while helping others in the process.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES ? Nov 22: Sabeena Ahmed who works with Fairtrade Foundation showing snack holder at her home in Al Barsha in Dubai. This snack holder is made by Sissoo wood. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Motoring. Story by Maey
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES ? Nov 22: Sabeena Ahmed who works with Fairtrade Foundation showing snack holder at her home in Al Barsha in Dubai. This snack holder is made by Sissoo wood. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Motoring. Story by Maey

Dubai // In the midst of the bustling market on The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, on a warm Friday afternoon, Sabeena Ahmed is telling passers-by the fascinating stories behind each of her handmade products.

The founder of The Little Fair Trade Shop - Dubai dreams of one day starting the first Fair Trade organisation in the emirate.

Mrs Ahmed, a native of Pakistan who grew up in Manchester, England, is now based in Dubai with her husband, whom she describes as her biggest supporter.

Her apartment is filled with a collection of items from Egypt, Thailand, Chile, Mexico, Afghanistan, India and many more as she continues her travels to knock on Fair Trade doors.

When she travels to countries to source products, she meets local fair trade organisations, tribes and artisans, before purchasing local handicrafts to sell to the UAE market. Mrs Ahmed's next trip will be to India.

"So many places know about Fair Trade, so I am hoping we can make Dubai a Fair Trade city," she says.

Mrs Ahmed first found inspiration for her venture in 2008, while living in Al Khobar in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

"I was studying long distance with the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance, London, while living in Saudi Arabia. During my last assignment, I came across a paragraph about how Islam promotes the equal distribution of wealth, and realised I had to do something."

What followed next were months of research into the World Fair Trade Organisation, to which she applied for associate membership.

Last year, she founded The Little Fair Trade Shop after moving to Dubai.

"Fair trade is about helping the low-income person get a better start. Why can't I, as a human being, help people regardless of who they are, or where they come from, so they can support their family with a decent wage?"

Carola Reintjes, the chief executive of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) says Mrs Ahmed's company is the first from the GCC region to have applied for membership.

The WFTO has a global network of 449 members that aim to promote what Mrs Reintjes describes as social and economic justice.

"Fair trade might be practised in the UAE, but it is not yet part of the global network. I hope the efforts made by The Little Fair Trade Shop will motivate and create a foundation for other initiatives," she says.

Mary Jean, a Lebanese-American living in Dubai who frequents Mrs Ahmed's stall, says she is a supporter of the cause because there is "far too much injustice around the items we usually purchase".

"I used to work in retail and visited a few factories," she says. "What I saw saddened me and made me more conscious." Mrs Jean says she now includes as many Fair Trade products in her daily life as she can.

Some Fair Trade organisations support hundreds of artisans - so the bigger the order, the more people they can support.

One such organisation is Zardozi - Artists for Afghans, a non-profit organisation supporting Afghan refugees based in Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, and Peshawar in Pakistan. Since 1984, the organisation's sewing centre has worked with more than 3,000 families in refugee camps along the Pakistani border.

It is one of the Fair Trade organisations Mrs Ahmed supports. Rafia Sultana, the organisation's marketing and distribution manager, says working with The Little Fair Trade Shop is a means of introducing them to the Middle East.

"Mrs Ahmed is working for a big cause of Fair Trade and wages, which is the cause of Zardozi too. It's not the size of the company which matters, it's the idea which the company is working on," Mrs Sultana says.

Apart from issues in finance, the only other challenge that lies in Mrs Ahmed's way is the language barrier.

"I wish I spoke a little more Arabic to reach out to the local community. But I also wish I had more support from them, because Fair Trade in Islam is really important," she says.

 

melshoush@thenational.ae