Hi, I’m Katja Marianne Noordam, the proud founder of FairChange. I help you do business with a higher purpose and grow your positive social impact. If you’re looking for easy-to-implement tools, training and coaching to build and expand your do-good business, you’re in the right place!
So, how did I get here? Read on to explore what led me to launch FairChange years ago – and still gets me up in the morning with the same heartfelt passion today.
What motivates me
Crossing frontiers in my personal and working life has always fascinated me. I’m Dutch-Belgian by origin and a global citizen by choice. The best part of my life I’ve spent working and living in different countries on different continents. For over a decade, I called beautiful but complex Colombia my home.
After many years on the move, I recently headed back to the place where I was born, the Netherlands, with my daughter Nina. Here we live with our furry family members, adopted street cats Molly and Dicky (who made it from the gutters of Bogota to an elegant The Hague apartment – you see: change is always possible).
My Nina is a mix of Dutch-Belgian, Afro-Colombian, and even a tinge of Native Indian blood. This magnificent little person teaches me as much about life as I can teach her as a parent.
Collaborate and build bridges
My experience with living in different countries and adapting to different cultures, working and sharing with people from all kinds of backgrounds and all walks of life, has opened my mind to diversity.
It has made me aware that there is never a single approach to a challenge, and that multiple perspectives inform the best solutions.
All this often comes in handy when working with businesses and entrepreneurs committed to tackling complex social issues.
I believe in building bridges, not walls. Only if we collaborate as individuals, communities, organizations and nations, will we have the power to create a healthy planet with happy people.
Sounds good? I’d love to hear what motivates you, too! Drop me an email or book a call (that’s free, with no strings attached) and let’s find out how we can work together.
Where it all started
Since I started my career, I’ve had two great passions. One is supporting leaders and organizations to find solutions to social challenges, and the other, storytelling & communications. In many cases, I combined the two.
That’s how I dedicated many years to training community leaders so they could grow their impact, supporting the strategy development of youth organizations that tackle poverty and violence, and accompanying human rights activists while they transformed conflict into peace.
Flexing my communications and content creation muscles, I designed diversity marketing campaigns for cultural institutions, produced research reports on equality and inclusion, and interviewed countless changemakers to share their social impact stories with audiences across the globe.
And those are just a few of the many inspiring experiences I could build on when I founded FairChange.
My lightbulb moment
My interest in new contexts and cultures brought me to many places. Among others, I worked and lived with local communities in areas hard-hit by poverty and violence in Latin America.
Private investment often made things worse. Instead of wellbeing and prosperity, large corporations brought human rights violations and misery.
It was there that I had my lightbulb moment.
Greedy Corporate Social Irresponsibility
I still remember that instant, working in a poor village in an isolated corner of the Colombian jungle, forgotten by the world. A huge palm oil corporation had quickly erased rich biodiversity and traditional ways of living.
It secretly paid illegal paramilitary groups that brutally killed labor rights activists from the village. Farmers were forced to sell their lands at bargain prices, so the palm oil firm could plant commercial monoculture crops on plantations the size of my mother country’s capital, Brussels.
The company created deep divisions in the community by giving jobs to some and violently oppressing the critical voices of others. While the business owners got filthy rich, local villagers walked barefoot on muddy roads. Living under rooftops made from garbage bags, they didn’t even have enough money to buy diapers for their babies.
Meanwhile, the young guys who worked on the plantation showed off on shiny motorbikes wearing fake Versace sunglasses. The barefoot farmers who stubbornly held on to their tiny pieces of land, courageously resisting the pressure to go, looked down on them. They accused them of selling their souls for a handful of dirty dollar bills.
The posh hip-hopper lookalikes made rude jokes about their fellow villagers, too, claiming they were backwards and stupid. But they forgot that in reality, the company didn’t care. As daily contractors, they could be laid off anytime and sink back into misery – or leave.
This was what greedy Corporate Social Irresponsibility created.
Didn’t EU customers care?
What made the whole situation even worse was the growing appetite for palm oil in Western countries. At that time, the EU where I came from was eagerly innovating in biofuels. Countries were scaling up their palm oil imports as the driver of Europe’s shift towards a green economy.
Didn’t importers know? Didn’t end consumers care? With so much human misery and natural damage right in front of my eyes, their enthusiasm was unbelievable. And frankly, it was outrageous.
Irresponsible business practices fuelled by bad consumer choices. I had seen it before, but this time, enough was enough.
Shifting the focus to business for good
If companies can do so much damage, I realized, they also have the resources to do lots of good. If we succeeded in getting rid of old school, profits-only ways of doing business, a place like this would turn into a source of natural wealth and economic prosperity for everyone.
Of course we must never, ever, stop supporting social leaders and communities in Colombia and so many other countries, who risk their lives fighting the consequences of corporate greed.
But if we really want to change deeply rooted social and economic injustice, I thought, we must change business. And from that moment on, this became my purpose.
A fascinating journey from purpose to impact
Once I had made the decision to dive into the world of doing business for good and creating positive social impact, a fascinating journey followed.
It included a Master’s Study in CSR & Sustainability and extensive education in Business Strategy, Change Management, Business Coaching and Training. But most of all, lots of lessons learned on the ground.
Social impact comes in many flavors
Businesses with social impact come in many sizes and maturity levels. So, I’ve advised international corporations that decided to shift from profit-only to profit-with-purpose and had no clue where to start.
And I’ve supported small companies deeply rooted in local communities that had been improving workers’ and suppliers’ lives forever, but struggled to measure and grow their impact.
On the flip side, I’ve come across CEOs of big businesses who had taken giant steps innovating for social change, only to be replaced by dollar-driven successors who set the clock decades back in a split second.
Change is always an option
And I’ve met cynical business consultants who called me naive. They had been dealing with greenwashing and impact washing for so long that they’d stopped believing doing business with good intentions is even possible.
I don’t agree.
Sure, there are many obstacles to doing business for good. But hey, we stumble and get back on our feet better. We face mighty adversaries and build alliances that are more powerful.
The most important lesson I’ve learned is that change is always possible. Small steps, in the end, lead to big transformations.
Interested in working with FairChange? I’ll be delighted to put my 20+ years of on-the-ground experience supporting companies and communities in complex environments to work for you! FairChange offers business coaching, strategy programs, online learning and practical tools to grow your social impact success.
The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, economist, president of Liberia, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner