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
Your voice has been heard! Thank you to the record 134 of you who responded to our annual volunteer survey. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with 97% of respondents finding the experience to be meaningful and overall volunteer satisfaction at over 80%. At PFS, we strongly believe in the business potential of Africa, and our volunteers agree! 50% of respondents see business potential for their company in Africa. There was also positive appreciation for PFS corporate partner support, with volunteers answering an average of 4 out of 5 in response to “It is important to me to work for a company that provides volunteer experiences like PFS.” The survey also yielded opportunities for improvement. Constructive feedback pointed out the need to continually strengthen communications, share more about project outcomes, and improve role clarity. We will not rest in our efforts to exceed your expectations and strengthen the PFS volunteer experience in the coming year!