In 2008, when Indra Mehrotra was asked to bring a nutrition perspective to the early-stage PFS at General Mills, she was immediately hooked on the project.
“What a novel idea,” she remembers thinking. “I was totally enamored.” A decade later, and now working for another Partners in Food Solutions corporate partner, Cargill, she’s still captivated.
“I remember when we started, the idea of technology transfer was so exciting. But the enigma was how we were going to actually do it.” She says the entrepreneurial spirit was part of PFS right from the start, but challenges were presented by different time zones, geographies and the technology, which at the time wasn’t very good at bridging the distance between volunteers and clients. “Phone connections to remote parts of Africa were a real challenge. Once internet connections improved and we were able to better use email, it became a lot easier in so many ways.”
She says today the distance between clients and volunteers — in language, technology and culture — has been diminished considerably because communication is now easier and faster. Plus, the process and tools have been refined. “We’ve evolved
to a much more streamlined process where volunteers can get right to work helping our clients solve problems,” she says.
What keeps Indra engaged is the one thing that hasn’t changed in the past ten years — the focus on safe, nutritious, affordable food and economic development in Africa. “I feel it’s my professional responsibility to do this work,” she says.
Indra has a background in nutrition and now serves as Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Cargill. “Knowing the impact that nutrition has on health, it’s just something
I personally feel I need to do.” And today she says, “I think the focus is evolving from ‘food security’ to ‘nutrition security’ and that’s important.”
“I always believed that we could make an impact, and now we can see the results. I can see the changes made by our clients as a result of the knowledge volunteers have imparted,” she said, “Most of our client companies have benefited because they really just needed a boost.”
And it is that boost that she says is exactly what is needed on a continent that has the potential to not only feed itself, but help feed the rest of the world. “We have to unlock the potential of Africa. It must be brought into the system in order to solve global food insecurity.”
Over the past year, the PFS Direct Model - a program where we directly employ food technologists in Africa - has grown considerably. We now have food techs in six countries and in October they were all able to visit our PFS office in Minnesota for two weeks of training and teamwork.
One of the most significant parts of the trip for the field team - Daouda Sangare (Cote d'Ivoire), Christian Dedzo (Ghana), Vivian Maduekeh (Nigeria), Johnson Kiragu (Kenya), Edwin Gafa (Uganda) and Daniel Mwape (Zambia) - was the opportunity to visit all six of our corporate partners during their time in the US. These visits exposed the team to the vast capabilities of our corporate partners, provided unparalleled learning, and gave them the opportunity to appreciate the breadth and depth of expertise available to them and the African food companies they serve. PFS co-founder John Mendesh told the team “There’s not a problem our clients face that one of our corporate partners hasn’t come up against already.” Thanks to all of our corporate partners for hosting our team!
Another important aspect of the trip was the opportunity for the whole field team to be together in person. They were able to share their own experiences and best practices in sourcing clients, relationship management with clients and volunteers, scoping projects and fine-tuning some of the tools they are using in the field.
Other highlights included meeting with many of the volunteers in person for the first time and attending a Minnesota Wild hockey game. By the end of the two weeks, each of our food techs left with new knowledge and a feeling that they are an integral part of a larger community working hard to improve food security and quality in Africa and beyond.
Partners in Food Solutions awarded grant to explore small and medium enterprise data challenges in making business decisions
In May 2018, Partners in Food Solutions was awarded a $30,000 Catalyst grant from the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) to move from impact measurement to impact management; from gathering data to using the information to make key performance decisions for ourselves – and more importantly - for our clients. To achieve this, the grant will begin by exploring how information is used by high-potential Kenya food processors in their day to day operations and demonstrate how to harness the power of their own data to make better informed business decisions.
PFS will work with each client to uncover an operational issue which would be clarified with data – for example, sales performance of a certain product line – and demonstrate appropriate ways in which their information could be analyzed, presented or improved. At the end of this twelve-month cycle, each client will have a report tailored to their specific issue and simple, actionable ideas to put in to practice. PFS will have a better understanding of what business outcomes these processors' desire to track, the challenges clients face in collecting and analyzing their data and how best to set them up to capture this information in the future.
The overall ANDE Catalyst Fund objective is to increase the productivity and effectiveness of ANDE members while creating tools and insights that can help the small-and-growing business sector as a whole. Awards went to organizations that agreed to test measurement tools, frameworks, and analytical approaches, and who are willing to share lessons with ANDE members in order to move impact measurement and management forward. Other winners included: B Lab East Africa & Genesis Analytics, Acumen, Genesis Analytics & Impact Amplifier, CapitalPlus Exchange and Engineers without Borders Canada. This funding round is generously funded by Department for International Development’s (DFID) Impact Programme.
In May 2017, Hershey Senior Marketing Manager, Kwok-Yu Ng, Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW) Marketing Manager Eszter Dara, and CPW Regional Insights Controller Priya Sivaraman joined a kick-off call with TechnoServe staff to begin a project with two District Women’s Development Associations (DWDA) in Zambia. Both Katete DWDA and Chipata DWDA produce sunflower oil with the goal of providing nutritious products to their communities and providing empowering economic opportunities for women. In typical PFS fashion, we recently conducted a virtual interview with Eszter and Kwok-Yu to learn more about the experience.
Q: What was your role on the projects?
Kwok-Yu: I served as a marketing volunteer. My role was to help the clients define the brand positioning, its differentiation, and competitive advantages in order to write a design brief to initiate the brand design for packaging use. I then helped evaluate the design options and guide the client decision towards choosing the final designs.
Eszter: As a project volunteer on the Chipata & Katete branding projects, I’ve partnered with two other volunteers and a design agency to develop the first ever branding visuals and label designs for the sunflower oil produced by Chipata & Katete District Women’s Development Associations.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
Eszter: The biggest challenge was to receive all necessary input from the client in a timely manner and to understand their rationales behind the feedback on the proposed design routes.
Kwok-Yu: The biggest challenge was that because the volunteer group had no experience in the local market in Zambia, we had many branding and consumer questions that the clients were perhaps not accustomed to, so there tended to be some delays in addressing the questions. I believe our questions helped the clients clarify their thinking on what their brands are about, and that clarity helped us create a tight design brief that led to great designs as a result.
Q: What surprised you about this experience?
Eszter: It was a positive surprise how closely, constructively and smoothly the entire project team collaborated, especially given that we all are coming from different professional backgrounds and three continents; we have never met in person and this was the very first time we worked together. We were working towards one aligned mission and this enabled the great, results-oriented and purpose-driven collaboration.
Kwok-Yu: That the world can work so seamlessly together! Our clients were in Zambia, our volunteers were in the UK and 3 different states/time zones in the US, and we all worked together to deliver beautiful, inspiring designs for farm-to-bottle sunflower oil to support the local women's development associations. We were remote in geography, but all genuinely connected to the cause.
Q: What was the most meaningful takeaway?
Kwok-Yu: I believe we really made a difference for the local entrepreneurs who are on their way to building and expanding their businesses. I hope the brand designs live on for many years to come as the businesses develop to their full potential.
Eszter: Our volunteer work indeed positively impacts the future of these small African companies, and even small contributions can drive significant progress.
Q: Briefly describe the key elements to developing the branding for these businesses.
Kwok-Yu: Again, our branding questions upfront were critical - the volunteers are all experienced marketers who have done branding projects before and knew exactly what clarity we needed to have before writing the design brief. Great designs start with the right design briefs.
I think we managed our communications well. We volunteers would organize amoung ourselves by email (e.g. collect and organize our questions, share design brief drafts, exchange feedback on designs etc.) before communicating with the clients - this helped present a unified approach to the clients to help drive towards decisions.
We only had conference calls when necessary - most of our communications were handled by emails, and phone calls were held for decision making. We didn't have too many people on each call, which made the discussions more focused and more efficient.
The design agency did an amazing job. Hornall Anderson delivered beautiful designs from the start, so we were on the right track from the beginning.
To learn more, you can view Katete DWDA’s website: https://sites.google.com/site/katetedwda/home
One project Christian contributed to was especially meaningful. He and Patrick Bowe, a business development manager at Cargill, developed a strategic plan for a Kenyan miller, which the client adopted and used to guide the construction of their new facility. This new facility is three times the size of their original space and will drastically increase their production capacity (maize flour line will increase to 26 metric tons/day, and a brand new wheat flour line will produce 24 metric tons/day). Christian's contributions do not stop there. He is currently on another project team helping a dairy company improve their supply chain operations and management.
When asked what inspires his volunteerism Christian says, "Being in touch with local people in Kenya and seeing their reactions to recommendations and enhancing a plan, it's really priceless. You are doing something great there and you know you can really help people... you can really play a role to nourish the world."
And there is appreciation on both sides. Our field staff have applauded his commitment and the insights his offers his project teams and clients.