Our History

For over 26 years we have been providing bespoke financial services and a vital means of support to some of the most disadvantaged communities across the globe.

Our journey started in 1986 when the Christian development agency, Traidcraft Exchange, sponsored research into the role of banking and investment within the fair trade movement.

The research found that the main challenge faced by those producing fair trade goods was access to working capital. It was out of this that Shared Interest was created, a unique financial organisation that aimed to do business for mutual service rather than for investor profit.

The Society was publicly launched in October 1990 with the financial backing of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Ecumenical Development Co-operative Society (EDCS). Within a year, we had attracted £750,000 of Share Capital and 600 members. Today, we have over 9,000 members in the UK, each investing between £100 and £100,000. This provides share capital of over £36m with which we share the risk of lending to communities in the developing world.

While we were based on Christian principles, we have a lot of support both from various faith groups within the UK as well as from those with no religious affiliation. We operate as a community benefit society with members who share our vision of a world where justice is at the heart of trade finance. We form the link between UK social investors and fair trade organisations across the globe needing finance to grow their business and improve livelihoods. The majority of the businesses to which we lend are either certified by Fairtrade International (FLO) or are a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). They range from small-scale handcraft producers tolarge coffee co-operatives and fair trade retailers.

We offer a variety of lending options that enable our customers to pre-finance orders, build up harvest stocks, purchase essential machinery and infrastructure, make advance payments to farmers and artisans and finance inventory for new shops selling fair trade goods. You can read case studies of how our support has assisted producers in Appendix 3 of our Social Accounts.

In 2004, Shared Interest established a subsidiary, Shared Interest Foundation. The charity delivers practical business support in the developing world, helping fair trade businesses to improve their financial management and other business skills.

Through Shared Interest Foundation we have helped to establish fair trade country networks in Rwanda and Swaziland, and work in partnership with others such as Fairtrade Africa to target support where it is needed most. Our Foundation has brought in funding to support this work from donors such as Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief, and is also supported by donations from around 200 individuals, organisations or trusts each year.

For the last eight years, Shared Interest Society has been following a strategy to increase direct lending to producers. In 2006 our first overseas offices opened in Central America East Africa. We now have representatives in Kenya, Ghana, Peru and Costa Rica. As a result, for the first time in 2013, direct lending to producers exceeded lending to buyers.

We are proud that the Queen's Award for Enterprise has been awarded to Shared Interest Society twice in the category of sustainable development. This happened first in 2008 and again in 2013. In 2015 we were also awarded the Third Sector Award for Enterprise. 

During 2014/15, our finance reached over 400 fair trade organisations globally and we made payments of £51.4m to producers and buyers across the world. In addition, we provided training and support for 263 fair trade businesses in seven countries.

In April 2014 we increased our £20,000 account limit to £100,000, and in August the
Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 came into force as part of a continuing programme of reform which Co-operatives UK has been promoting and lobbying for on behalf of its members and the co-operative sector for a number of years. This meant that the Society changes from an Industrial Provident Society to a Community Benefit Society. 

See our timeline here