One thing we love to do here at Fair Trade USA is help tell the stories of other mission-driven groups using Fair Trade to make a difference in the world. One such organization is the Hoop Fund , a new crowd-funding platform that gives consumers a way to directly invest in loans granted to producers. The Hoop is using Fair Trade to help connect the two ends of our global supply chains together – producers to consumers – to create new cycles of impact for everyone involved. Their hands-on approach allows you to contribute to the quality of the products you love as well as make a direct difference in the lives of farmers and farm workers around the world.
Please take a moment to enjoy this Q&A with Patrick Donohue, CEO of the Hoop Fund, to learn more about the project.
1. What is the Hoop fund? Why was it created?
The Hoop is a unique crowd-funding platform that enables you to invest in farmers and artisans who make products that do good for the world: products that you can enjoy, too.
If you've ever tasted wine at a vineyard or visited a farm where your produce is grown, you know firsthand how a personal connection can transform your enjoyment of a product. Personal stories have tremendous power, and so we launched the Hoop to enable everyday people to build personal connections to products that do good. By “do good” we mean products that help build communities, champion social justice, and restore the environment.
For example, last year 90 chocolate lovers came together on the Hoop to fund a microloan to the Acopagro Chocolate Cooperative  in Peru, a group that supplies Fair Trade Certified chocolate to brands like Alter Eco and Tcho . With these funds the Acopagro farmers built a plant nursery to diversify their income and increase reforestation efforts in the Peruvian Amazon. Those 90 chocolate investors now have a personal connection to some phenomenal chocolate with great impacts.
Most recently, we've drawn inspiration from web-based pioneers like Kiva , Kickstarter , and Groupon , and are combining deals on Fair Trade and sustainable products with microloans to the farmers and artisans who make them. The project is truly a win for everyone involved. Customers build a portfolio of impact all over the world, while discovering great products to share and enjoy. Producers get new financing to improve and diversify their businesses, and Fair Trade brands get a customer acquisition and retention tool that's built specifically for them.
2. Why is Fair Trade such an important part of your business model?
The Hoop is about connecting the two ends of our global supply chains together – producers to consumers – to create new cycles of impact and enjoyment. Fair Trade exemplifies two critical pieces that make the Hoop possible: knowing who the people are behind the products we consume, and inspiring stories of impact that are worth connecting to.
We believe that Fair Trade companies have tremendous assets to share with customers, ones that no company with an opaque supply chain can match. However, many Fair Trade organizations still need help using those assets effectively in an increasingly networked world. Businesses that make a positive impact need a platform that will 1) attract customers who want to contribute to the company's mission and 2) inspire those customers to stick around and share in the impact.
3. Why is it important to support Fair Trade farmers through microcredit (rather than simply buying their products)?
We don’t think it’s an “either – or” situation, we believe there is a huge opportunity for a well-designed two-pronged approach.
Fair Trade producers receive a premium when you buy their products, which they can apply towards community development projects that are selected through a democratic decision making process. We've found that most Fair Trade cooperatives have long lists of projects they'd like to pursue in addition to the projects being funded with this premium. Finding funding for these projects can be difficult, since producers often have a very limited selection of financing options available to them.
This is where we come in to help accelerate the funding process; we make these projects possible by connecting you, the end consumer, to producers on the ground through funding small loans right off of their wish lists.
4. What are some of the products that are currently being funded?
The Hoop has projects directly funding a variety of products, from wild harvested guayusa tea from the Ecuadorian Amazon to organic and sustainably grown rice from Cambodia and beautiful hand woven organic clothing from Peru. We will be introducing a much larger catalog of partners and products in the weeks ahead.
For a current list of projects supporting these products click here .
5. How can we join the Hoop?
Just head over to hoopfund.com  and sign up to get started. There you can learn about our latest campaigns, products, and producers to support. You can fund a project for as little as $25, and you can become a fan on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter  @hoopfund.
We also welcome partnerships with brands that practice Fair Trade principles and maintain long‐term relationships with the producers who make their high‐quality products. Hoop partners can be farmer‐owned brands, Fair Trade brands, online stores, and select mission-driven Fair Trade organizations working with producer businesses: ones that can easily demonstrate traceability of product from producer to end product.