Lessons learned from my trip to Africa
Never did I imagine that a brief trip to Africa could have such a profound impact.
In the course of just a few days, I learned how the work of Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) is improving the food value chain across Africa and how that work is also improving livelihoods in the most surprising ways.
While my time in Africa opened my eyes to levels of material need I’d not seen before, it also filled my heart with awe at the power of human resilience.
First, let me tell you a little about PFS.
Founded by General Mills in 2008, PFS is a nonprofit organization cultivating a sustainable African food industry. I have the honor of serving PFS as a board member and I recently had the opportunity to take part in a Board of Directors trip to Nairobi, Kenya, in February.
Personally and professionally, I’m a huge fan of the PFS model. The organization aggregates the know-how, experience and skills of employee volunteers from leading global food companies and shares that knowledge with small and growing food businesses in Africa. It’s one of the smartest forms of “intellectual philanthropy” that I’ve seen.
The idea here is simple: if PFS can help build and strengthen African food businesses by transferring knowledge and technology then they can create increased demand for African ingredients from farmers and local suppliers which in turn could increase food supplies locally and help Africa to feed itself.
Assisting Africa in developing a stable food supply chain is critically important work given that one in four sub-Saharan Africans lacks adequate food to live a healthy, active life.
A major part of our trip entailed visiting food producers (clients) that are benefitting from PFS services and support. Our first client visit was to Soy Afric, a Kenyan-owned and operated agro-processing company specializing in soy-based supplementary food such as corn-soy blend (CSB).
The company was founded by Cornelius Muthuri to meet the needs of non-governmental organizations like World Food Program, UNICEF and USAID – all of which have significant demand for local suppliers in its food aid programs.
Soy Afric is one of PFS’ oldest clients. Over the years, PFS has helped the company on a range of projects, from process optimization to marketing strategy development.
Having been schooled in the workplace organization method “5S” (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain) by General Mills’ Continuous Improvement specialists over the years.
Next, we made our way across bumpy and dusty roads to visit Mama Millers, a family-owned company specializing in milling maize (corn) grain. Its founder and CEO, Bernard Wainaina, offered an impressive overview of his company, its history, products, employees, challenges and business opportunities. But the best was yet to come.
As his eyes began to sparkle and a smile broadened across his face, Wainaina began to tell us about his company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.
My first thought was … “What did he say? Corporate Social Responsibility? There are not even paved roads here …”
As he finished, it was clear he had grabbed the attention and amazement of all.
A few of the CSR projects that Wainaina started at his small company of 20 employees include:
- Building a safe bridge across the snake-filled Sibwani River. The previous bridge was unsafe and put individuals at great risk, requiring those who dared to cross it to do so slowly, on their hands and knees, to avoid the risk of falling into the river below.
- Starting an employee savings and investment program that includes education and mentoring in an effort to improve the standard of living for employees who live in a slum area of Thika.
- Fortifying its products to improve the health and nutrition of its consumers. Despite significant supply chain challenges including an unreliable source of fortification premix, Wainaina stayed focused on his intent to fortify. After making significant changes to his ingredient suppliers, he now proudly states that Mama Millers is consistently fortifying, fulfilling the company’s important brand promise.
I learned some very important lessons during my time in Africa:
- African food producers and entrepreneurs embody a level of determination and resilience unmatched by many.
- Notwithstanding scarce resources (from water to finances to access to decent roads), African entrepreneurs believe in and are demonstrating innovative and impactful corporate social responsibility practices.
- Material possessions do not drive happiness. In the face of less (stuff), there seemed to be room for more (meaningful things in life) … more friendship, more happiness, more laughter and more compassion for one another.
Informed and grateful, I left with a strong desire to do more for those who have less and to live the lessons learned.
If you’re inspired to learn more and get involved at Partners in Food Solutions, visit PartnersInFoodSolutions.com.
This post by Mary Jane Melendez, executive director of the General Mills Foundation, was originally published on LinkedIn.
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