Get to know FairChange!

I’m passionate about helping you do business with a higher purpose and create positive value for society

Nice to meet you…

… my name is Katja Marianne Noordam, founder of FairChange. Dutch-Belgian by origin, world citizen by choice.

I’m passionate about combining the lessons I learned from working with vulnerable communities and my experience in strategy development and corporate communications. Building on 20+ years of experience in a variety of contexts and countries, I launched FairChange to help you do business with a higher purpose and create positive value for society.

Why I think Small is Great…

At FairChange, I’ve chosen to work with a small team. This keeps the interaction with you as a client direct and personal. It also makes it easier to adjust FairChange’s services and tools to your business’s specific needs – because there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all recipe for achieving social change!

How did I get here?

For the first part of my career, I dedicated myself to building the capacities of socially committed organizations and developing the leadership skills of purpose-driven individuals. These were people and organizations who stood out for their determination to tackle social and economic problems with innovative and creative solutions.

I also helped public and private sector organizations with a social purpose to effectively communicate with their audiences. I designed impact communication strategies and created messages to engage often hard-to-reach target groups. Early on, I learned to understand the need to invest time and effort in building trust by really listening to customers and beneficiaries.

Shifting my focus from community work to social impact management by businesses

My personal and professional interest in new contexts and cultures led me to many places. That’s how I got to work with local communities in areas hard-hit by poverty and violence in Latin America. Instead of wellbeing and prosperity, private investment had often brought human rights violations and misery.

It was here that I suddenly realized I wanted to shift my main focus to promoting responsible social impact management by businesses. Businesses have the skills, resources, and power to create significant positive change. By helping them do this and by promoting constructive collaboration between companies and communities, I felt I could contribute to bringing prosperity closer for everyone.

>> More on Katja Marianne’s professional qualifications on LinkedIn

Who we are_Katja Marianne Noordam suit

So many untapped opportunities for sustainable development that can benefit the community and business. There must be a better way, I thought.

Inspired to change socially irresponsible business practices

Working in a tropical region isolated from the rest of the world, my colleagues and I were struck by the way in which commercial crops introduced by a huge palm oil firm had put an end to rich biodiversity and traditional livelihoods. The company secretly paid illegal armed groups to put pressure on local farmers to sell their lands at bargain prices. Corrupt local authorities eagerly cooperated to legalize its new land acquisitions.

Deep divisions in the community… caused by bad business behavior

The firm had brought deep divisions within the local communities. While fancy-dressed young men showed off on new motorbikes they had bought working for the company, a handful of farmers from the same village struggled to survive on tiny pieces of land they had refused to sell. Although they hardly produced enough to feed their children, they proudly resisted the pressure to leave.

We heard the palm oil workers making rude jokes about the poor locals, who they said were stupid and lazy. And the farmers talked with contempt about them, too. They accused them of selling their souls for a handful of dirty company money. And for what? Since these guys were just daily contractors they could be laid off at any moment.

Company money spent on endless legal proceedings

Meanwhile, the agribusiness firm treated their neighbors as an annoying externality they’d best get rid of as soon as they could. It spent huge amounts of time and money on solving blockades by the villagers and on legal proceedings started by international human rights organizations.

Since the local communities were too poor to buy the company’s products, distribution costs to other parts of the country abounded, too.

The whole situation struck me as shocking and senseless. A corporation that opposed local communities instead of engaging in dialogue. No end to misery, human rights violations and environmental damage. No solutions. And so many untapped opportunities for sustainable development, that could have benefited the local community as well as the company.

There must be another way, I thought.

The mindshift to doing business for good

Faced with extreme poverty and violence in the operating area of a powerful corporation in one of the most biodiverse regions on earth, suddenly it occurred to me that there actually was another way. Empowering communities and communicating positive social messages, as I had done for so long, was just one strategy to promote just and inclusive growth. Very necessary, but not enough.

Changing the mindsets of economic actors and providing the tools for positive company-community engagement might well be a powerful approach, too.

Right before my eyes I had seen the negative consequences of unsustainable business practices in complex contexts. This also made me realize how much potential for positive change companies actually have.

And that’s how the second half of my career started, focusing on helping business leaders and social impact entrepreneurs create and grow their positive contributions to society.

However difficult the context or however opposed the positions of different stakeholders, change is possible. Often, this change is driven by single smart individuals and single smart decisions

Overcoming obstacles towards maximum impact

Fortunately, in most circumstances relations between a company and its neighbors don’t turn out as bad as in that remote rural area against the backdrop of armed violence. But even in more favorable scenarios, businesses commited to creating social value may face challenges. Obstacles within the environment or even their own organizations can withhold them from maximizing their impact.

Still, the most valuable lesson I learned in the years that followed is that change is possible. However difficult the context or however opposed the positions of stakeholders in a dispute, small steps can ultimately lead to significant transformations.

Maybe it’s a community leader who decides to sit down around the negotiating table with company executives after years of violent resistance. It can also be a newly arrived CEO who starts transforming a company’s profit-only culture towards creating shared value for local suppliers and their families.

Often, change is driven by single smart individuals and single smart decisions.

Sometimes companies look for an outside helping hand to work with them to overcome these hurdles. That’s where FairChange and I gladly step in.

For me, campaigning and good business is not just opposing destructive practices or human rights abuses. It’s also about putting forward solutions.

Anita Roddick, British businesswoman, social activist, founder of the Body Shop