Sandrine went to Vanuatu about 20 years ago. An internship, which was part of her training as volcanologist, brought the French woman to Vanuatu in 1998. During this internship, she noticed there were many opportunities in the Pacific island nation and thus decided to stay in Vanuatu and take up a job with the Government of Vanuatu to continue her research on volcanoes. However, 10 years later, not many funds were left as donors did no longer invest in volcanic studies. That is when Sandrine shifted her focus and started working with local associations and communities on different islands in Vanuatu and founded the ACTIV Association, which stands for Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu.
Since the start in 2008, ACTIV Association aims to support local communities on various islands of Vanuatu by facilitating fair trade of products and helping groups of women and men to generate a sustainable income. Associations, cooperatives, small producers and other individuals from islands such as Ambae, Pentecost, Erromango, Tanna, Ambrym, Futuna, Epi, Malekula, Gaua, Efate and many more are united under the ACTIV Association. These groups represent over 4.000 people selling their traditional and organic products while benefiting from the fair trade system that has been set up by the board members of the ACTIV Association who work with a lot of passion and dedication to bring the traditional and beautiful products of Vanuatu to the world.
The association works across three different pillars in Vanuatu. ACTIV Community collaborates with communities to identify income-generating opportunities and assists them in product development. Trainings are organised to enhance skills and capacities of disadvantaged individuals and groups and long-term relationships are build. ACTIV Forum embodies the business development arm, which promotes and retails products sourced from around Vanuatu. The generated income enables communities in remote areas to become economically self-sufficient and improve their production. ACTIV Earth engages in environmental projects, such as the promotion of solar power, reforestation initiatives and projects to mitigate the negative impact of natural hazards. These activities improve the living conditions of rural communities and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable environment.
What started as a small initiative with a focus on the sales of baskets and the distribution of solar lights is now a well-established association that continues to grow. More and more individuals and groups take part in the workshops and manage to enhance their products and sales. Moreover, they are encouraged to develop new products and designs, which also motivates younger generations to experiment and join the ACTIV Association. In addition, their activities do not interrupt their daily practices or other activities in the communities as there are no quota or obligations. As long as the samples or established products meet the quality standards, ACTIV Association buys them and organises the transportation, marketing and sales of the products so more and more local products can access the markets and benefit communities.
The growth of activities as well as the span of the association also allowed for the construction of a handicraft centre in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, in 2013. This centre exhibits the many products of the groups and associations, ranging from arts and handicrafts to spices, oils and other agricultural products. It is also a place where workshops are being organised and people can learn from the traditions of Vanuatu and about the amazing talents of its people. Moreover, what started as a crazy idea of Sandrine has been turned into reality: Vanuatu’s first chocolate producer “Aelan Chocolate Makers” has opened its doors in the centre in 2015 and now processes the beans from different cocoa plantations into delicious chocolate.
So far so good. Though Sandrine and the other board members of the ACTIV Association continue to work on ideas and still have many dreams on how to grow the association to benefit even more communities and enhance the offer of local products in Vanuatu. This could however take some more time as both human and financial resources are limited and working with the informal sector in Vanuatu does not always go that easy or fast. However Sandrine notices that ever more individuals and groups want to collaborate with and learn from the ACTIV Association to improve their products and take advantage of the value chain that has been built over the past years. Moreover, the Government of Vanuatu became a strong supporter of the association and facilitates contacts with other organisations in- and outside of Vanuatu which increases the market share and future opportunities of ACTIV Association.
While talking with Sandrine, I could really feel her motivation and commitment to continue to improve the activities of the association. However, although she is still invested a lot in the development of the organisation and its economic sustainability, she is eager to focus again on her true passion: environmental projects. She has already developed and tested several environmentally friendly products and services and continues to look for more and better products in Vanuatu and elsewhere. Once more resources are available, she will leave the business development activities to the other, local and non-local, board members and start working out different ideas that could benefit the environment. I won’t give away too many details but I can assure you that she has some bright ideas! To be continued.