In September, something unique happened in Lausanne, Switzerland. Forty people, from nine countries, on three continents, representing eight organizations, came together for the first time at the first ever PFS European Volunteer Summit.
Over two days this remarkable group of volunteers representing each of our partners, and PFS staff from Africa and the U.S., worked together to develop ideas on engaging new volunteers in Europe. They learned from our three African-based food techs about what they are hearing from client companies in East and West Africa, and introduced the food techs to the vast amount of world-class expertise available among our partners in Europe.
I left the summit inspired by stories, improved through honest dialogue, challenged by creative ideas, and confident that PFS has a cadre of empowered ambassadors ready to lead our nearly 150 talented European volunteers.
An entrepreneurial venue and enlightening perspectives
We were graciously hosted by Bühler at their innovation space in École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Like the others at the summit, I experienced firsthand the creative and entrepreneurial thinking that this open and collaborative space is designed to foster. For many of us, it was the first time that we had met in person, including some people that had come from the same company.
The venue offered the perfect setting for our three African field staff in attendance to intimately discuss stories from the field with European colleagues. I watched as volunteers’ eyes lit up when Christian Dedzo, our program manager in Ghana, shared a story of how he identified his first client by walking through a supermarket and looking for products that he thought could use improved nutritional content or branding.
Volunteers shared with field staff how important pictures and videos are when they are working with clients that are thousands of miles away. While the PFS’ remote model enables us to scale our approach and reach hundreds of clients, we all truly enjoyed the rare opportunity to be together in person.
As the summit concluded, I heard a number of ways that we can bring the PFS experience to life and adapt our approach for European cultures including better integration into a companies’ HR initiatives, and better communicating partner company leadership’s support for PFS volunteers.
Along with all of the fun and productive activities of the summit, I also had the chance to visit Bühler, DSM, and Cereal Partners Worldwide facilities throughout Switzerland and the Netherlands. While our time together was brief, I know that what we have learned and shared will pay dividends in growth and engagement throughout Europe. In the coming year, I will be working with our team to implement the new ideas and action plans.
Much like the other participants, I left the events energized, with a renewed focus on recruiting more European experts to empower African entrepreneurs, and enlivening their experience along the way.
If you are interested in joining our growing community in Europe that is focused on strengthening food security, nutrition, and economic development in Africa, please reach out to me at email@example.com or Rebecca Chou firstname.lastname@example.org.
PFS Volunteers from General Mills - Steve Berger, Mike Marshak and Kara Hobart -completed the Micronutrient Equipment Procurement Project in Ethiopia in early August 2017. The installations, commissioning and training at all five Bühler processors were finalized on July 28, well ahead of schedule. The five processors are Echa Food Complex, Admas Tesfa PLC, Dire Dawa Food Complex, Tigray Flour and Abat & Mehari.
According to TechnoServe's Abel Ahmed, the processors are very pleased with the micro dosing units. They all recognize the Bühler name and are happy to have this equipment in their facilities. In addition, the processors are also excited to have lab balances and moisture testers. They were not aware this was included in the scope and are grateful to have this new capability.
Still no update on the release of guidelines from the Ethiopian Government, but when that occurs, these companies will be ready.
The royal blue walls of Doinyo Lessos Creameries, with the words “MILK” splashed in giant, white glistening letters rises up to meet visitors. In stark contrast to the muddy brown streaked walls of the neighborhood, the newly painted compound feels fresh, clean and orderly.
Doinyo Lessos Creameries is in Eldoret, Kenya, the heart of dairy country in the western Rift Valley. Billing itself as the ‘Kenya’s oldest creamery’, the company collects milk from local farmers to produce cheese, ice cream, yogurt and fresh/tinned milk and ghee. Inside, we find the co-owners, Rosemary and Brian Cuthbert, finishing up their morning meetings.
When Brian and Rosemary took over management in 2011, they knew they would need to standardize their practices in order to grow. In 2013, a local government contact introduced them to Partners in Food Solutions (PFS). Together, they focused on projects around strategic planning, improving their financial management systems and enhancing their quality assurance policies and processes.
At first, it was challenging to right-size the solutions. “Everyone we’ve worked with knows their stuff,” explained Bryan, “But there was a gap between what they wanted and what we could do.” In the end, they focused on breaking down issues into discreet steps that could be implemented as resources became available. Doinyo was already on their way to hiring a quality assurance manager, but the volunteer recommendations spurred them into action.
After making sure each one of us donned a white lab coat, covered our hair and removed our jewelry, Esther Kerigo, the quality assurance manager, proudly showed us around processing facility. Standard operating procedures for health and hygiene were clearly posted; boot baths are installed outside each processing area and toilet facilities had just been upgraded. The storage warehouse, she admits, still needed a bit of help, but all staff had been trained in good manufacturing practices, so it was only a matter of time before it was tackled.
These investments have paid off. In 2015, an independent auditor found significant improvements in the hygiene status of the factory, moving from 48% (unsatisfactory) to 75% (pass). More importantly, the rejection rate of their products by grocery outlets dropped from 15% to less than 1%, tightening up their revenue stream. “What we did [with PFS] was a catalyst,” explains Bryan, “It affected our quality in a big way.”
Watch a video profile of Doinyo Lessos HERE.
Over the years of connecting volunteers with client companies in Africa, we’ve learned that sometimes useful and important information can be shared simply, rather than executing multi-month chartered projects. Last year we formalized organizing and managing those smaller questions into something we call Ask An Expert, or AAE for short. PFS looks for volunteers who can work on these smaller scale opportunities, as well as the larger projects.
What's the difference? A project volunteer on average takes 4-6 hours per month for 3-6 months, usually in the form of 1-2 conference calls per month plus some e-mailing in between. Scoped properly, an Ask-An-Expert should only take 2-3 calls or e-mails in total over the course of just a few weeks. It’s more like a mini-project.
Sometimes an AAE question becomes a prelude to a bigger, chartered project. The answers given--or the questions asked--lead us to set up a full volunteer team to follow up. In that case, the AAE volunteer isn’t obligated to take on the full project if they choose not to.
For example, we once did a full multi-month project to help a small flour mill improve their quality management systems, covering many aspects of their operations. One recommendation of that project was to create a lab to perform a couple specific analytical tests. The client then wanted to know what kind of equipment and materials they needed to have in order to perform the recommended analyses. That is an Ask-An-Expert request--not a full chartered project.
AAE requests can be technical or business management in nature. If you’re interested in volunteering for Ask-An-Expert please contact Jimmy at jimmy@partnersinfoodsolutions.
Read a wonderful story about one of our clients, Hirut Yohannes Darare, and her work to help her community by improving the dairy value chain. Written by our partners at TechnoServe. READ