Fair Trade USA

Integrating innovation into an organization’s process to increase impact

Design Strategy

For a multifaceted organization like Fair Trade USA (FTUSA), communication and collaboration becomes crucial in achieving maximum impact and fulfilling the overall mission. FTUSA is a leading non-profit organization advocating and promoting sustainable and ethical farming and manufacturing processes around the world. Working with diverse teams cross-continentally and culturally, FTUSA’s structure naturally results in complexities.

verynice saw this internal need for interdepartmental engagement and cohesion as a space to springboard collaboration and innovation using design thinking. Leveraging the five-stage design thinking process – Discover, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test – allows individuals within an organization to explore both divergent and convergent thinking. By facilitating an Innovation Academy, led by our team of verynice experts, FTUSA worked through participatory training workshops and virtual seminars to build capacity and translate this theory into action.

Needs Finding

To kick off this process, verynice conducted eight interviews with staff from interdepartmental roles across FTUSA to gather insight into current processes and perspectives. In our findings, we discovered a steady entrepreneurial mentality within the organization. With continued growth, a desire for a streamlined process was transparent across FTUSA in order to take advantage of economies of scale. verynice saw an opportunity amidst a siloed structure to establish a scalable culture of innovation that would stimulate accelerated innovation and develop a shared terminology internally.

Hands-On Learning

The first half-day workshop of our Innovation Academy helped drive FTUSA’s staff straight into design thinking processes by taking a solutions-focused approach to problem solving. During the workshop, participants worked through a fictional problem to focus on the methods at hand as opposed to the solutions in need. In this case, FTUSA participants were tasked to design a better dinner party, a low-stakes topic that also related to their areas of interest (i.e. food and community). Following Thanksgiving weekend, prototypes drew on plenty of previous experience to define new ways to take the burden off of hosts, including a riveting speech designed to simultaneously thank guests for coming while giving them the hint to leave!

Following the initial workshop, our team facilitated three interactive virtual seminars to look more closely at each stage of the design thinking process paired with practical homework between each seminar. These assignments were meant to reinforce the methodology learned and expand upon how design thinking relates to their own work. In the final workshop, FTUSA staff tackled a current organizational challenge to apply all of their new skills and mindsets gained in previous sessions. The goal in our closing workshop was not focused on solving the issue immediately, but rather on practicing design thinking with a relevant organizational challenge and gaining the confidence to build upon it.

Customized Toolkit

Given the flexible design of the Innovation Academy and its curriculum, our team customized a toolkit consisting of resources, methodologies, and action items to specifically target the needs of FTUSA. With this toolkit, FTUSA can move forward with the experience and guidance to not only train new staff members, but also practice and expand upon the process learned.

This structured process for innovation energized and focused staff toward a clearer goal and provided a path to get there. It became evident that this partnership was cultivating a cohesive and evolving internal system for the organization. Our vision for working through all five stages of the design thinking process is not to signal the end, but rather to inspire another cycle of innovation to refine ideas, discover new needs, and design new opportunities. We are excited to see FTUSA continue to build upon the learnings gained through this Innovation Academy in taking on some of our world’s biggest challenges in ethical trade practices today.


Creative Direction:
Matthew Manos

Design Strategy:
Shane Chase

Project Management:
Florencia Di Sarli

Workshop Facilitation:
Shane Chase, Matthew Manos, Marlon Fuentes, Florencia Di Sarli


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