We interviewed Bandi Mbubi founder of Congo Calling, the fair trade technology organization sparked by a TEDx talk with big ambitions and an unusual perspective on how to achieve them.
Although it’s not obvious when you are checking-out, online or at retail, the products we choose create an invisible relationship with the people who made them. Over the past years, fueled largely by our kids, my family has been thinking about where our coffee, food and clothes come from — not that we’ve found any magic answers yet.
Technology is trickier though. Not only is it harder to trace the source of many consumer electronics but we still don’t have the fair-trade mark to signify more ethical products. If I’m honest I put the problem to the back of my mind and press on with enjoying the latest gadget.
Then, earlier this year I spoke at a TEDx event. Speaking before me on the day was Bandi Mbubi, who gave a talk that not only moved everyone in the auditorium but also started a chain reaction online. His topic was Demand a fair trade cell phone and addressed what he described as “the sad story of the Congo” rich in minerals required for modern technology but not benefiting from this windfall. It’s been watched 360,000 times.
Mbubi explained that “Every mobile phone contains the mineral Coltan, which is mined in the Congo. This natural wealth could bring many benefits to the ordinary people of the Congo, but instead it is funding armed conflict and horrific abuses.”
But what was unusual about this talk was his insistence and hope that it would be the very technology that was causing the problem that would also be its solution. Far from the usual call to boycott products, Mbubi encouraged us to use our technology to spread word of these problems and work together for a solution.
This led Mbubi to found the Congo Calling organization with a vision for “a peaceful and just Congo, where people can live in stable and prosperous communities, where children are not enlisted, where women are not raped as an instrument of war, and where miners work for fair wages in human conditions. Mobile phones are currently part of the problem, but could be part of the solution.”
As you can see in the video interview here, I was fortunate enough to catch Mbubi after a recent speaking appointment to find out firsthand what inspired him to take up this cause. It was interesting to hear again about the situation and how we could help with our purchasing choices and feedback to manufacturers.
After talking to Mbubi I went home and took some of the actions suggested on the Congo Calling website. My kids were interested to see what I was going and we ended up having a surprisingly in depth conversation about where our toys and gadgets come from. It’s not something we’d really talked about before and they were obviously fascinated by how it all worked.
Best of all, there was a sense that we could do something about it even though we didn’t understand the complex politics of the situation.