You may have read one of my recent blogs about my experience visiting apparel factories in Bangladesh as part of a consulting assignment examining work place nutrition. One of the biggest complaints we heard from factory owners providing food and snacks to employees was availability of healthy and nutritious options. Finding well-priced fruits, vegetables, legumes and other items seemed to be a challenge, though when visiting the local market we saw such a diversity of those such items. It was perplexing.
When probing a bit on this question, we realized that access isn’t always the issue, nor is cost.
Food safety and reliability, as well as maintaining the freshness of food, were the real culprits in the lack of fruits, vegetables and other healthy items in factory canteens.
Photo by J. Sonenshine outside of Dhaka market
During our discussions, we learned of a project in India providing milk to underserved communities, that has been useful in combatting issues of food safety, reliability, access AND cost.
The project, run by Amul Dairy, is the installation of a series of dairy ATMs (as in automatic teller machines, similar to snack machines, or money machines). The milk comes out of the machine in pouches, and is cheap enough so affordability is not a challenge. If you’ve visited Japan, seeing non-traditional snack items in a vending machine is no surprise. In Japan you can get almost anything from an ATM – drinks, pizza, movies, books, flowers electronics and the list goes on. What’s different about the Amul ATMs, however, is that the milk is inexpensive, chilled at the right temperature, available 24 hours a day and provides much needed nutrition and sustenance for its customers.
Photo: courtesy of rediff.com
The Amul milk ATM was launched in 2014, and appears to be flourishing across India. Similar vending systems have popped up in Kenya (along with salad ATMs!).
Providing access to food in this way, along with other items like personal care products, soap and even water, is becoming useful, affordable and dependable for rural communities.
On March 21st I’ll be attending the Chicago Council for Foreign Affairs Food Security Symposium, where speakers will address the following question: How will we grow an adequate quantity—and quality—of food to feed and nourish a rapidly growing, urbanizing world in the face of increasing water insecurity? Innovation is enabling greater food and product accessibility, and will most certainly continue as communities consider the best methods for feeding their residents, employees, families and future generations. I look forward to hearing how the panelists address this question, and how they see innovation and technology, like the use of vending systems, for example, helping to solve the challenges we face.
You would have to be hiding in a cave to miss that last Friday was International Women's Day. I always cringe when I think about causes having their own 'day' because it means indeed the issue is a 'cause' and not just how we look at life all the time. We need a day to focus on women?
Indeed we do.
In fact in chatting with some girl friends this weekend, I was reminded why International Women’s Day is so critical to advancing women’s issues worldwide. One friend of mine works to abolish children sex trafficking, and has shared some pretty disturbing stories with me over the years. Speaking with her about the challenges women and girls face all over the world, including in the United States, reminds me that:
PHOTO: Woman in market, J. Sonenshine
(1) I am incredibly lucky to have the resources I have to draw attention to the challenges of those who don’t have the resources or the voice themselves, and (2) we are very far from having the kind of equality we need to eradicate issues like child sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is not just a women’s issue, by the way, but solutions are often funded by women’s empowerment and other gender programming. With the way countries around the world are de-funding these empowerment programs, we absolutely need a day like International Women’s Day to (1) raise funds (2) raise awareness and (3) remind us that equality is far from won.
One of the organizations most closely engaged on women’s empowerment issues is Girls Inc, a U.S. nonprofit promoting the development of strong girls (and thus women) through service programs and advocacy work. Girls Inc. works with schools, mentorship programs, community development organizations and other nonprofits that promote life skills, gender equality, human development and access for all, to empower girls into strong, game-changing women. This is just the kind of organization I love to learn about, which I did through their commercial that was running this week.
Did you see it? It brought tears to my eyes and hope to my soul.
Thanks to the efforts of Girls, Inc. and its partners helping us all get to a place where International Women’s Day isn’t necessary anymore, I am pleased to highlight them as our Partnership of the Week.
I arrived just in time to hear the evening call to prayer. As an American, hearing the melodic chants bring a sense of the exotic, which when traveling to Bangladesh for the first time, is a feeling I’d expect regardless. The city of Dhaka at night looks more developed than I had anticipated. The truth will unveil herself in the morning.
PHOTO: Garment worker community children in Gazipur
I am in town to learn about work-place nutrition programs (or lack thereof in many cases) in apparel factories for a project on which I am consulting. Given the fact that the garment sector makes up more than 80% of Bangladesh’s exports, it’s not hard to see the impact of the industry everywhere we go.
As we drive into town for our first meetings I notice all of the people walking to work are men. Yet in the garment sector, 60-65% of all employees are women. This largely breaks out into the categories of workers (women) and management (men) though I found a good representation of both genders when touring the factories. Having visited countless farms to understand how sustainable sourcing can be improved farm to fork, I am excited to see a different origin source in the case of apparel and how conditions affect the way our clothes are made.
The factories are often hidden behind locked doors, though. In some cases the conditions are still quite poor. Luckily we were able to experience how positive change has brought better opportunity for the workers inside the factories we toured. This is especially the case after details emerged from the horrific Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, when a factory collapsed killing more than 1,100 workers. The resulting uproar by labor unions, workers, Bangladesh citizens and brands like led to the Bangladesh Accord, a legal agreement between factories and brands around issues like fire safety and structural improvements. The Accord is under review more than five years later, however, and some brands are walking back on their commitments, according to the Guardian. Other brands are boycotting investments in Bangladesh, moving to source in other countries like Vietnam or Ethiopia, because not enough has been done to advance workers’ rights and safety of infrastructure. The situation is tenable at best.
Our journey to the Gazipur District where a high percentage of factories reside, took about two hours (for a distance of only 35 km) due largely to heavy rains that came in the night before. The roads were flooded and traffic was unbearable. Couple that with very spotty infrastructure to begin with, and it made for a difficult drive. Our factory visits were informative and useful for our research but even more, insightful for me personally as I think about what brands can be doing to improve supply chain impact. I always say a company can improve productivity first and foremost by improving roads and other infrastructure and there is no question that holds in this instance as well. Yet we also learned about clear needs for the workers themselves, including better access to nutritious and safe foods, access to hygiene products like soap, toothpaste and shampoo, and better availability of medicines and feminine products. Vitamins and other basic health care needs are in high demand as well.
Coupled with a community visit, where we learned about the household eating habits of garment workers, a market visit and experiences eating at local restaurants, we gained a good sense of how food is purchased, consumed and valued. The work is hard, living is hard and the beauty is all around in the colors. This country struggles, but is growing. Challenges like unfair wages, gender inequities and climate change don’t make it any easier for the country to advance, but you can tell there are fighters among us here.
There are still big bumps in the road literally and figuratively, however, both for the garment sector and the country as a whole. Our security risk was heightened during our trip due to a botched hijack on a plane from Bangladesh to Dubai the day we arrived. It turns out the hijacker’s gun was a toy gun (how did he bring that through security in the first place?) and yet we were given strict orders about obeying our 8pm curfew and not venturing out of the hotel alone. We had an armed escort back to the airport, both because of the heightened security, and also the local elections scheduled that day. I never once felt scared, however. The people I met and spoke to were so incredibly generous. We were invited into homes and fed meals and snacks. We were treated with kindness at all times.
Being in Bangladesh was an unforgettable experience. I am still processing all I saw and absorbed. I will be reaching out in coming days to colleagues in the garment sector to get their perspectives on what’s attainable in terms of improving the livelihoods and opportunities for the workers in their supply chains. It’s clear there are unmet needs despite the progress made, and I have faith that brands will step up and do their part.
"Purpose” is THE buzz word for businesses in 2019. Every strategist and social impact leader is talking about it. A google search alone for “purpose” yields articles about writing for purpose, defining purpose, strategies for purpose, how purpose will save the world, and even eating with purpose. Eating with purpose? Is that the same thing as mindful eating? Yikes… it’s a lot to follow.
When I wrote Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact last year, I wanted to shine a light on the purpose story that isn’t behind the headlines, though. I wanted to showcase why purpose is so critical for businesses wanting to make an impact, and why the most critical elements of purpose are imbedded deep within, behind the labels, behind the CEOs and behind the social impact reports. While some businesses may see finding purpose as a box to check off to stay relevant in 2019, others recognize that purpose equates to existence. Businesses that have purpose are businesses that have dedicated leaders sacrificing, innovating, taking risks, serving others and solving very challenging problems for the planet. Real purpose means real people. Real people doing really important work.
Take for example Shannon Keith, Founder of Sudara, an ethical clothing company that helps support women in India recently freed from the sex trade. Shannon started the company after feeling nearly powerless while visiting a red light district in India. She knew she had to do something. Shannon found her purpose in Sudara. Now she spends her days building a solid financial footing for women who were previously undermined and delegitimized. Shannon has brought identity back to so many who would have otherwise been forgotten. Sudara's purpose is Shannon's purpose. Behind her are the hundreds of women who now feel their own sense of purpose, as well.
The story of Pierrette Djemain, an entrepreneur who was born in Benin, was raised with eleven brothers and sisters, lost nearly everyone and everything, and found success growing moringa, is also what defines purpose. Starting a business with only 1,000 francs (about $2.00), Pierrette literally started from nothing but an idea. Now, her company Plantes Aromatiques des Collines (PAC) sells moringa to 25 different retail locations around Central Benin and employs women who face financial and personal challenges. Pierrette believes that she was put on this Earth to help those who have been disadvantaged by life. She sees opportunities to create sustainable and thriving futures for the vulnerable, (widows, orphans, forgotten women) by planting moringa trees, revitalizing the environment, and developing a value chain that provides entire families with a resilient source of income. These families have purpose. Pierrette found her purpose. The moringa tree has its purpose, too.
You can read more of these definitions of purpose in Purposeful Profits. Within the book are tales of individuals like Shannon and Pierrette, but there are also stories of individuals working for large companies, working to correct misgivings, to amplify positive solutions, and to try new things that can benefit all of humanity. Each of these individuals, and their companies, are what defines purpose. Behind each of us, no matter where we work, what we do or who we are, lies purpose.
As purpose takes on its own evolution in 2019, and as companies amplify their purpose, market their purpose, brand their purpose or indeed sell “purpose,” let’s not forget that it is the human effort, heart, brain and dedication that defines purpose in the end.
Mission, brand awareness, and staying innovative are critical for companies' abilities to thrive. Finding purpose, highlighting the triumphs from within and leading by inspiration are just as important.
Joanne Sonenshine is author of Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact (available May 22) and Founder of Connective Impact, a partnership advisory firm helping mission-driven companies scale their impact through collaboration.
I saw a headline last week from Inc Magazine (which of course now I can’t find!) that asked if social enterprises were the new nonprofits. I paused to take a quick look at the article, because that is a question I’ve asked myself, and clients have been asking themselves, quite frequently. How is that question valid? Well, social enterprises exist to make money, but also to give back to society in some way, whether it be through environmental investment, one-for-one programs, social impact, infrastructure support or other ‘for the greater good’ reasons. Until recently, a lot of those ‘for the greater good’ services were provided by nonprofits, in many cases in partnership with companies or governments. Increasingly, though, as corporate social responsibility becomes more imbedded within how businesses function, companies are asking their nonprofit partners to tilt a little, and adjust their missions to be more business-centric. By partnering with social enterprises, however, companies are almost guaranteed that at least the most critical business basics are a given and understood, and long term impact can be built into a more formidable market system.
This evolution of partnering between companies (particularly big brands) and social enterprises is fascinating to me, and I wrote about this trend in Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact, out this May. (We will also visit this idea in our February webinar about partnering for impact for social enterprises.) In fact when writing this article I learned a out a new partnership that positions a big brand and social enterprise, once competitors, now as collaborators. Procter and Gamble has acquired women’s sanitary product company This is L. Companies like P&G (and General Mills, Kelloggs, Nestle and others) want to stay nimble and adaptive to changing consumer tastes and preferences. Companies like This is L, which is a B Corp, offers P&G a different angle to sell feminine products, one that is built on the messages of women’s empowerment, natural ingredients and purpose.
For companies trying to navigate this new world of niche collaboration (i.e. finding partners to explore new and evolving niche segments of consumers or other stakeholders,) we see the trends broken into the following categories:
We look forward to following these and other partnership trends as we determine how social enterprises and nonprofits function similarly, or different, in the space of social impact.