What would it mean to ‘disrupt’ a sector to the point where we no longer recognize it? In the space of social impact and environmental sustainability, have we fully disrupted any sectors such that the new is now old?
Some may interpret disruption as simply using more advanced technology. Others, and I am in this particular camp, believe full disruption is based on advancement in all things social, economic and environmental. It takes a lot to get there.
To some extent the pulp and paper sector has seen full disruption, moving away from issues like illegal logging and poor labor practices to more sustainable land investments and a more circular economy centered around recycling for pulp. One could even argue that we are in the midst of chemical disruption, whereby individuals shy away from harmful chemicals, dyes, flavors or materials in their food, beverages, consumer products and even clothing. Would we notice a change in taste or flavor or utility if some of our favorite foods, clothing brands, technology were "disrupted"?
Take chocolate for example. Anyone working in or around the cocoa sector knows how challenging issues like deforestation, child labor, women’s rights and proper livelihoods are for cocoa farmers. What can we ‘really’ do about it? Are customers even aware of what's happening? How could full disruption both improve the status quo for cocoa farmers AND ensure the future for the sector (which is what consumers most care about)?
The reality is, behind the chocolate we eat and crave, farmers are largely suffering. Acumen, an organization dedicated to advancing social entrepreneurship to help eliminate global poverty, has been asking questions about disruption for years. According to Acumen’s latest report “COCOA INTERRUPTED: THE ROLE OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN COCOA SUSTAINABILITY”, which I was honored to participate in, we learn that “70% of the world’s cocoa production lies in West Africa where farmers live on less than $1 per day.” This is not an unknown fact to anyone working in the cocoa sector. What may be unknown is the latest move by one of the largest chocolate companies, the Hershey Company, to explore the opportunities for social enterprises to join forces with the company in cocoa-growing communities to test new models and approaches to building out long term sustainability in cocoa.
The Hershey Company has been a leader in testing new methods for advancing social and economic impact for decades (you can read all about this in Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Companies Making a Positive Global Impact, out May 22). Now, in partnership with Acumen, they are exploring how the emerging scope of social enterprise in agriculture can fully and truly disrupt cocoa in the way many of us define it – by changing the paradigm and success potential for cocoa farmers for generations to come.
My hope in working on this project with Acumen is that the cocoa sector, in full disruption, can both change the lives of its farmers for the better, and also help advance full disruption in other sectors where change is desperately needed. Watch this space. It's time for full disruption!