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Ryan Owen: Changing the Way Business Is Done

Ryan Owen: Changing the Way Business Is Done

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Ryan Owen, the head of Partnerships and Philanthropy at Fair Trade Certified. Let’s learn what’s happening at Fair Trade Certified and how Ryan is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Ryan, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Fair Trade Certified?

Ryan: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Fair Trade works to change the way businesses buy and sell products for the purpose of benefiting people and the planet. Better pay, safer workplaces, protecting water and forests, all while empowering farmers, factory workers, and those working on fishing boats. We support these individuals with the opportunities they need to provide safe homes, education, clean water, healthcare, and other needs as they identify them in their own communities. Fair Trade isn't a charity where we just give things away—rather, it is a method of using business to benefit workers in ways that are more fair.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Ryan: I have served international NGOs lifting people out of poverty for over 17 years. Other careers would be easier, but we've made so much progress over the last 20 years that it is easy to stay motivated. During that time, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has been cut in half. That means we've lifted one billion people out of poverty. During that same time, we've increased access to healthcare, clean drinking water, and food for everyone on the planet. This has happened through a combination of efforts by corporations, NGOs, and governments. Sometimes there are so many things wrong that it feels overwhelming. But, in truth, we are winning and making the world so much better than it was. That motivates me every day.  

Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?

Ryan: Over the course of my career, I have been able to help support, design, and carry out projects that have impacted millions of farmers, sent hundreds of thousands of kids to school, and saved several hundred lives through providing emergency medical care. The way I've helped organizations do that has varied over time, but, in essence one thing has remained the same. The organizations I work for help people help themselves by giving them opportunities to change their lives. It takes work—they have to want it and try hard—but it also takes access to resources like education, safe homes, jobs that pay, fair prices for crops, and more. My work helps ensure that those who are willing to work hard get the rewards they deserve. 

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience/community?

Ryan: Fair Trade Certified had the joyous privilege of celebrating the fact that, as of this year, we have returned one billion dollars in premiums back to workers and farmers! One billion dollars from products sold has gone 100% back to the people who made the products and grew the food. That money has given them new opportunities and is a significant milestone. Now, we are trying to grow at a rapid rate so that we can give back $1 billion every year by 2030. It's a big goal, but we are well on our way! 

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Ryan: When I started, people were dismissive of my ambitions to "change the world." They told me I was young and would learn. I have refused to accept that argument and now, almost 20 years later, the world is much better. I didn't do that alone, but I am part of the group of people who did. Now, no matter what comes, no one can take that away from me or the others who work every day for these causes. So, don't listen to the people who say you can't or won't. Choose your dream, and go for it. Learn as you go, change your mind and your tactics as you learn more, but don't stop. The world needs changemakers, and, when we try, we really can make things better.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Ryan—it’s been an honor!

Ryan Owen was born and raised in the Ozarks and has traveled the world through his nearly two decades of experience raising funds and creating partnerships for nonprofits. His work has taken him to the world's poorest slums and to global convenings of the rich and powerful. He is passionate about connecting people with opportunities to live up to their ideals and aspirations. He works to connect philanthropists, corporations, and foundations with opportunities to change the world. (Nominated by Ben Conard of Fair Trade USA. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 7, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.