About the Merill Rural Network
Our Vision & Mission
Merill is a de facto social enterprise that brings together a number of farmers, breeders and artisans operating in the Maltese Islands. We aim at empowering our members to diversify their income and offers thanks to rural tourism, until envisioning a circular economy where tourism supports agriculture and crafts and vice versa.
Over the last decade, we have worked closely with the main actors – namely small-scale farmers and artisans. We grew a solid network based on mutual trust which carries out different actions to:
increase awareness about local agriculture
add value to the farmers and artisans’ venues and products
bridge the gap between producers and consumers
revive traditions and keeping them alive
Certainly, the goals and actions we undertake are inherently intertwined, all contributing to the overarching mission of bolstering Malta's rural community.
Agriculture, a consistently undervalued sector in Malta, still struggles to receive the policy support it deserves, despite its immense potential. We firmly believe that the vitality of Malta's environment is sustained primarily by the dedicated local farmers who tirelessly nurture our verdant countryside.
Furthermore, Malta has long grappled with the challenges of overtourism, as popular attractions and beaches become overwhelmed by visitors. When Merill was launched, the local community was left largely excluded from the benefits of this phenomenon, often termed "suffering from tourism," due to insufficient responsible management.
Our conviction lies in the transformative potential of rural tourism and effective advocacy to revitalize the sector and empower farming families to recognize their influential role.
Our Business Model
Merill is not a cooperative.
Usually, a co-op would be owned by the different stakeholders operating under a single brand, each member would provide a particular service or product, but the focus is on the common output, and not the individual members.
We're not just about profits, yet Merill isn't an NGO.
That doesn't mean that it doesn't aspire to be economically sustainable, but financial gain, is definitely not the main scope of the enterprise. We reinvest the majority of our profits to reach our social objectives.
Merill is a 'de facto' social enterprise
Since its launch in 2010, our network has been described by many as one of the first ‘social enterprises’ in the Maltese Islands. Locally, this sector is still unregulated... but progress is being made!
Merill adopts a 'HUB & SPOKE' model.
It may be difficult to understand at first, but the model is exactly what it says, because the whole network can be compared to a wheel. We are the central fulcrum – the hub – and our role is to hold together the different spokes – namely, all stakeholders we collaborate with such as members and external partners. When everything runs as it should, the wheel would spin smoothly thus achieving the social enterprise’s goals.
The hub and spoke model creates an environment where tried-and-tested protocols may be applied. From there, the procedures spread outwards through the spokes so that a maximum level of efficiency can be maintained.
One of the greatest advantages for the members is that, through this model, they create, nurture and maintain their own personal brand and identity. Everyone is unique, but considered to be equal within the network. There are different parts of the wheel with different roles, but in the end, everyone is on the same wheel that is spinning.
Although this 'hub and spoke' principle presents considerable challenges, and there has been our share of unwanted outcomes, after years of development we're convinced more than ever that this approach is one of the best models which works well for the Maltese community and its environmental needs, and one which ultimately allows the enterprise to reach its goals.
The model is possible thanks to relationships of mutual trust.
As from the onset, our philosophy has been based on a 'personal relationship' model, because after all, that's what it really is. Amongst other things, healthy relationships need; mutual trust, empathy and good communication and we apply these principles in our daily job. Even though we don't like seeing members leave, when everything else fails there are no hard-feelings, and we would be happy with the fact that Merill has actually contributed something to that member's success.
2020 - 2022
Merill co-established a new commercial arm Malta Rural Tours. It fostered further the connection with the academic world and other like-minded companies in Malta to promote local products. Launched RuralCSR initiatives. Reinforced its internship programme. Recognised as a Leader in Quality Tourism.
2015 - 2020
Set the blueprint for rural tourism in Malta. Kept on growing and becoming stronger thanks to the relationships of mutual trust established with the rural community.
Mentioned by various academic papers as a best practice in networking and community-based tourism.
2012 - 2014
Merill started to be described as a social enterprise. It gained access to the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, under the LEADER program, promoted by the ENRD. Thanks to tangible and intangible investments, Merill could become more competitive on the market.
Jeanette and Christian founded Merill, which was first meant as an 'ecotour venture', organising sightseeing tours in the lesser-known areas of the Maltese Islands.
They realised that they had to engage the protagonists of rural areas (farmers, breeders and artisans) if they wanted to access the nicest hidden-gems and to contribute towards the long-term upkeep of these vulnerable areas and traditions.