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Episode 18: Patrick Struebi of Fairtrasa

Released Thursday, 18th June 2015
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Patrick Struebi, Founder of Fairtrasa

Born and raised in Zurich, Patrick studied business administration and accounting in Switzerland where he subsequently earned a B.Acc. and CPA degree. He started his business career with the global consultancy firm Deloitte and was hired in 1999 by one of his clients, Glencore, the largest commodities trading firm in the world, where he quickly established himself as a Department Head. Traveling broadly, mostly in emerging markets, Patrick brokered deals in numerous industries and sat on the boards of diverse Group companies. The experience deepened Patrick’s knowledge of international markets, but also showed him the detrimental effects that market dynamics and business practices can have on vulnerable communities and ecologies. This realization inspired Patrick to leave his corporate career in 2004 and explore other avenues for utilizing his passion for international trade while creating a positive social impact.

In 2005, after traveling through Latin America, Patrick founded the social enterprise Fairtrasa to give small-holder farmers profitable and impactful exposure to international markets while supporting sustainable farming practices and providing high-quality produce and wine to European markets. Building the company from scratch in a country, culture, language, and industry that were all essentially foreign to him, Patrick quickly succeeded in pioneering fairtrade avocados in Mexico and (under his award-winning Soluna brand) Argentina’s first fair trade wine. He grew the company with funds from friends and its own profits, replicating its sustainable business model in other developing countries, including Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic. At the heart of Fairtrasa’s success was its unique 3-tier farmer development model, which improved on the fair trade norm by providing training, resources, and market exposure to farmers according their specific skill levels. The results were transformational for thousands of farmers and their communities.

To make the Group economically self sufficient, Patrick established his own import companies in Europe—and partnered with another in the U.S.—in order to consolidate a global and vertically integrated supply chain. High-level food industry executives joined the Fairtrasa team, attracted by Patrick’s vision and devotion to fair trade principles and organic, sustainable production. In 2014, the Clinton Global Initiative forged a partnership with Patrick to bring Fairtrasa to farmers in Colombia. Today, Fairtrasa represents over 6,500 small-scale farmers and is one of the largest fair trade and organic fruit exporter from Latin America.

In 2008, Patrick was elected an Ashoka Fellow for his work as a social entrepreneur. At Ashoka, he was one of the first Fellows with a strong background in the for-profit corporate sector, and one of the first to have scaled a for-profit social enterprise globally. More recognition soon followed: He was named an Endeavor Entrepreneur in 2011 and Social Entrepreneur of the Year by UBS (2009), the abc* Foundation (2012), Univision (2012), and the Schwab Foundation (2014). In 2014, Patrick was honored by the World Economic Forum as a New Champion, and was invited by the Huffington Post to write a regular column on social entrepreneurship. He is currently a Yale World Fellow and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.