Nathalie Aldana
Nathalie Aldana is the founder of Nathalie’s Direct Trade, a “feel-good-do-good” food brand in the Nordics. She was born in Sweden, with a Finnish mother and a Colombian father. After her career in Telecommunications she became a Direct Trader, as she saw farmers in her father’s village being in the hands of unreliable wholesalers, not getting sustainable livelihoods. She soon realised the bulk driven food industry leaves a very small share of the value chain in the country of origin. Nathalie's products are PICO (Produced in the Country of Origin), leaving 20-25% of the value chain in Colombia, the cornerstone of next generation fair trade.

Nathalie's Trade - Perceiving the global need for clearer inclusive businesses models

Interview with Nathalie Aldana (Nathalie's Direct Trade) by Susann Tischendorf

Hello Nathalie, could you tell us about yourself and what Nathalie's Free Trade is about?  

My name is Nathalie Aldana. I was born in Sweden and I live in Stockholm. My dad is Colombian, and my mother is Finnish. My dad has been living in Colombia since I was six years old, so I had a reason to travel there a lot. Therefore, I am familiar with Colombia’s countryside. I worked in business at Swedish Telecom for several years, but decided to leave my career when I saw small-scale farmers struggle in my dad’s village in Colombia, being always in the hands of unreliable middlemen. There was a group of 40 farmers in my father’s village who were cultivating the golden gooseberry for export, but when it was time for the harvest, the wholesaler let them down. They needed to throw all the harvest away and lost a lot of money. Then, I came up with the idea of buying the fruit directly from them and processing it in Colombia. That was the first product I sold with my brand Nathalie’s Trade: a golden gooseberry jam.

Tell us about your involvement in the recent study of Business Call to Action (BCtA), which was based on the results of an online survey for enterprises in the first two weeks of April asking how the Covid-19 crisis had impacted their business?

The study helped us to focus on the positive during a crisis and supported young entrepreneurs to keep their strength up. In my case, for instance, I can say that we more than doubled our sales and reached our sales peak in March without any further marketing. It simply happened as result of the pandemic, as people started to buy more food and because our sales were already mainly online.

Quote by Nathalie from the study:

“It is obvious the weak are the hardest hit by the Covid-19 crisis…[as such] the timing for inclusive business models could not be more right,” wrote Nathalie’ company. “The time is now for a larger collective awareness for other ways of doing things, and we hope the new normal after Covid-19 will be a more humane, inclusive system based on a more genuine form of solidarity and empathy, where real value is created for everyone along value chains in the world.”

Kindly describe how the survey results benefit entrepreneurs. In your opinion, what is the most important finding of the survey with regards to business resilience?

The most important finding of this survey is that it shows you how other inclusive businesses have been affected and how they navigated their companies through the crisis. You can take these findings as good examples for your own actions. It is a good tool for an analysis to see your business in the mirror and do self-assessment.

Why is inclusive business particularly relevant when it comes to building resilience in the private sector, especially in this time of Covid-19?

Inclusive business is particularly relevant because it targets inequality of wealth, chances and living conditions, depending on where you were born. Inclusive business is the path to a more humane, empathetic and compassionate society. A key word to reach these goals is respect. How do you respect yourself, your family and community and those who produce our food, and also, how do we respect nature and humankind itself? During Covid-19, the need for inclusive business models became even clearer to me as the most vulnerable people, like small scale farmers and countries in the Global South, were the ones who have been affected the most by the crisis.

From your experience, what does resilience mean in this context?

Resilience is comparable to the immune system of a human being. If you have a strong immune system, then you won’t get hit hard by a virus. But if you have a weak immune system, you are more vulnerable to being infected. It is the same with running a business, as you want your business to have a strong immune system as well. This means for me, that your business must have financial margins and reserves. On the other hand, I am sure that if you have a profound business idea that solves a real problem and you are on the right track with your business, you can and will survive external circumstances such as a crisis.

What should entrepreneurs keep in mind for the post-Covid-19 period when thinking about staying resilient?

I would take advantage of Covid-19 to take a new and fresh look at your business plan. If you do not already have a business plan, now is the time to write it down. If you already have a business plan, then think about the following: Are there any adjustments you need to make to your business model now? Think about your business strategy, your expansion plans, and your core values. Maybe you need to reshape or redesign your business model, as the pandemic has also changed our overall reality. Furthermore, reconsider if the goods or services you provide are solving real problems or just solving invented problems. Think about establishing or strengthening long-time financial partnerships, as you need capital injections most urgently during the crisis. And finally, I would boost e-commerce, as the shift to online shopping became clearer during Covid-19.

Do you think that businesses can benefit from the current crisis, especially those from the Global South?

In general terms, I see that many countries are used to receiving a lot of development aid from international organizations, but also from countries. I think the pandemic reminds us that the so-called “Global South” needs to get rid of these aid programmes, as many donor countries must reorganize their spending right now and will use them to fix their own national problems. With that, I am not saying that aid programmes will disappear, but they will decrease, I am sure. By saying so, the Global South needs to find its own product niche.

Woman harvesting physalis in Colombia
The Global South needs to find its own solutions and product niches. © Nathalie's Direct Trade

First, you need to understand that there is an enormous technological focus in the Global North. The Global South needs to find its own core strength and maybe “go back to basics,” as you cannot solve all problems in this world with technology. In the Global South, on the other hand, there is a lot of knowledge about agriculture, for example, and this knowledge could be used to solve problems such as a decrease in biodiversity. The Global North, then, could support strengthening biodiversity through technology. This would create effective and important synergies between North and South.

In general terms, I think many countries both in the North and South need tobe more self-sufficient to begin with. We were all hit very hard by lack of materials, medicines, etc.