Located in Uganda, New Kakinga Millers is a maize-milling company that produces, packages and sells maize flour to the local community. The company focuses on the entire maize value chain by sourcing grain from over 8,000 smallholder farmers from across the region and selling maize bran (a by-product) for local animal feed. In an effort to improve their food safety and quality, the company reached out to Partners in Food Solutions for assistance with setting up a quality control lab that would allow them to test products on site and apply for the UNBS Q Mark Certification – a symbol of high quality products. New Kakinga Apprentice Devis Asiimwe said, “Having an established quality control lab at our factory will mean a lot to us. We will be able to store samples, conduct quality tests, house safety records and more.”
Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) assembled a team of food safety and quality professionals to help with the project. Joining the team was Bühler’s Thomas Ziolko, a product manager with experience in online sensor technology and food safety for grain milling applications. Over the past several months, Thomas and Allie Tobin, a quality specialist from Ardent Mills, have made great progress in establishing the quality control lab. The team has shared insights on how to use specific testing equipment, best practices for handling test samples, how to set adequate targets, and effective ways to communicate with remote teams. Devis said his experience working with Thomas and the other project volunteers has been a step forward for him and the company. “The volunteers have greatly uplifted the performance of this company in regards to good manufacturing practices, and quality and safety efficiencies,” he said.
The new quality improvements at New Kakinga Millers, including the lab set up and a recent GMP project supported by PFS volunteers Steve Berger and Sylvester Asiamah, have been recognized by the Ugandan government, and the company was granted a UNBS Q Mark Certification. “Being granted the UNBS Q Mark is a symbol of quality and demonstrates that our products meet the required safety standards,” said Devis. The new certification also increases customer confidence in the company and helps the company gain access to new markets making them more competitive.
In addition to being a rewarding experience for the client, the volunteer team also shared positive sentiments. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit two years ago, our company canceled most business travel out of Europe,” said Thomas. “I’ve missed having direct contact with our global customers and volunteering with PFS has been a great alternative for me.” After just a few team meetings, Thomas could already feel personal relationships developing. “Not only did I meet new people from around the world, but it also made me feel good to give back and provide my knowledge to a small company a thousand miles away who were able to benefit from it.”
“I never thought I would collaborate with Kenyans and Tanzanians, those countries seemed so distant,” said Henrique Oliveira, a marketing director at Bühler. “Now my perspective of the African continent has changed completely.” Motivated by his interests in supporting small businesses in developing countries, Henrique wanted to use his skills for good and volunteer his time with PFS. In partnership with international development nonprofit TechnoServe and USAID, the development agency of the US government, PFS links highly skilled volunteers with entrepreneurial food companies in Africa in need of technical and business expertise. “I am from Brazil, a country that has experienced development disparities and have seen first-hand the importance of having access to knowledge and expertise,” said Henrique. Over the past year, Henrique has been volunteering as a project manager (client lead) with Profate Investments Limited, a family-owned dairy farm located in Tanzania, overseeing project teams, managing project timelines, and acting as a point of contact for the volunteer teams and client. “It’s a journey, a challenge, and an eye-opening experience,” he said.
Through his role as Client Lead, Henrique has developed a relationship with Profate Founder and Managing Director Feddy Tesha. “Henrique has been very helpful and professional in linking and coordinating volunteer expertise to help us,” she said. “Our partnership with PFS volunteers has been extremely helpful and we want to thank Henrique for a great job so far!”
Henrique’s favorite part of serving as a Client Lead is working with the people. Henrique also said that the Client Lead role helped him improve his project management skills and that they have carried over to his work at Bühler. “I’ve been able to more effectively translate technical advice to non-expert audiences, narrow down project steps and scope, and learned how to celebrate the wins and overcome project challenges.”
In collaboration with volunteers from Hershey and DSM, Henrique is supporting several projects with Profate including a brand review project and business plan project. “Through our group project work, I learned that Profate is educating Tanzanians about how to consume mozzarella cheese. I grew up eating mozzarella cheese and never thought someone in the world wouldn’t know how to eat it. Being a part of the PFS projects has forced me to expand my thinking and perspectives in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
In addition to serving as the volunteer Client Lead with Profate, Henrique has also served as the Client Lead for Simply Foods in Kenya. “Volunteering with PFS is an enriching experience that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Despite the challenges, developing relationships with other volunteers from around the world and helping the client improve their businesses makes it worth it!”
There are an estimated one billion volunteers in the world. They play a crucial role in building resilient communities and helping those in need. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact in bringing that number down. For workplace volunteering programs, it’s no surprise that in-person volunteerism dropped as social distancing requirements and remote work began almost overnight.
Virtual volunteerism is a great way to continue and even grow a culture of giving back, despite in-person limitations. Our organization, Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), is a consortium of seven world-class companies – General Mills, Cargill, DSM, Bühler, The Hershey Company, Ardent Mills, and J.M. Smucker -who have been supporting remote volunteering for 13 years,. Employees of our consortium partners share their expertise remotely with entrepreneurial food companies in Africa to help strengthen their businesses and improve local food security. Over the years, we’ve learned to overcome challenges around technology, how to engage a remote workforce, and more. In 2021, we supported 616 volunteers, accounting for over 17,000 volunteer hours. Each one of these volunteers represents a positive impact on a client, a community, a country and a continent. The passion for food security, commitment to help, and know-how that is shared is truly treasured by the clients we serve.
The Personal Case for Virtual Volunteering
Take for example Natalia Faiden and Tomomi Fujimaru, food safety and quality professionals from General Mills. They stepped up and volunteered to share their knowledge with Forest Fruits, one of the leading producers of organic honey and beeswax in Lusaka, Zambia. Forest Fruits sources honey from over 7000 traditional beekeepers that utilize sustainable farming practices.
Forest Fruits wanted to become HACCP certified (an international standard defining the requirements for effective control of food safety) but had challenges passing their previous certification audit due to lack of in-house expertise. Natalia and Tomomi volunteered their expertise and time with Forest Fruits to achieve certification. “Volunteering enables me to take advantage of the resources and knowledge at General Mills to support and develop the food industry where it is most needed, while getting to know other cultures and learning from them, “ said Natalia. “Without a doubt, my favorite part of this project was seeing Forest Fruit’s transformation and helping them receive the certification.” That certification will help the company grow, maintain high quality and safety standards, and expand their market reach.
The Business Case for Virtual Volunteering
Both employers and employees benefit from supporting a culture that facilitates volunteerism and meaningful connection. In addition to the high personal satisfaction that comes with volunteering, 68 percent of PFS volunteers surveyed said that they have gained new or improved skills through volunteering with us. Additional research also reinforces the importance of employee practices like volunteerism that “goes beyond company walls.” According to research these organizations are 2.2 times more likely to exceed financial targets, 2.8 times more likely to adapt well to change and more than three times more likely to retain employees and reduce absenteeism and health insurance claims.
The Secrets to a Successful Program
Keys to a successful knowledge-transfer volunteering program like ours includes a place where the specific expertise of your employees is needed and designing a program that has specifically designed projects that volunteers and clients can engage in virtually. At PFS we only work on projects that a client asks for and prioritizes. In effect, they “pull” the expertise from us, we don’t “push” them into prescribed generic solutions. Additionally, engagements should be clearly structured from the beginning using well-scoped project charters that include transparent and realistic timelines, objectives, and deliverables. We spend time setting expectations with our volunteers so they are prepared to address these unique challenges in resource constrained environments.
We’re happy to share additional insights on volunteering, including our findings on implementing successful remote volunteering programs. Please see our resource: Building a Skills Based Remote Volunteering Program.
Partners in Food Solutions, a consortium of leading global food companies – General Mills, Cargill, Royal DSM, Bühler, The Hershey Company, Ardent Mills and The J.M. Smucker Company – is working to strengthen food security, improve nutrition and increase economic development across Africa by expanding and increasing the competitiveness of the food processing sector. We link corporate volunteers from our world-class corporate partners, who share their expertise with promising entrepreneurs in eleven African countries.
Located in Lusaka, Zambia, Forest Fruits is one of the leading producers of organic honey and beeswax in Zambia. Committed to improving the livelihoods of farmers, Forest Fruits sources honey from over 7000 traditional beekeepers near the Zambezi River that utilize sustainable farming practices. Forest Fruits’ main product is not pasteurized and therefore maintains the healthy bioflavonoids, enzymes and other nutritional elements. To further improve the quality of their products, Forest Fruits looked to become HACCP certified. “Being HACCP certified would add great value to our product,” said Christian Nawej Kabongo, general manager of Forest Fruits. “The certification provides the safety that every consumer would like to be assured of.”
Forest Fruits had challenges passing their previous HACCP audit due to lack of in-house expertise and poor adoption of HACCP requirements into their operations. In order to achieve their goal of becoming HACCP certified, Forest Fruits worked with General Mills volunteers Tomomi Fujimaru and Natalia Faiden. “Volunteering at PFS provides the perfect combination of taking advantage of the resources and knowledge that we have at General Mills to support and develop the food industry where it is needed, and getting to know other cultures and learn from them,” said Natalia. “It’s also a great vehicle for growing the food industry by partnering with great leaders amongst the industry.”
When Tomomi and Natalia started the project, Forest Fruit’s HACCP program was far from being audit and certification ready. Tomomi said, “Natalia and I reviewed their program in detail, asked many questions and provided candid feedback that would help them achieve their goal of obtaining a certification.” Not being able to see the process and the products in person did pose additional challenges, but through the team’s commitment Forest Fruits was able to address their challenges and improve their system.
“Without a doubt, my favorite part of this project was seeing Forest Fruit’s transformation and them receiving the certification seals at the end of the project,” said Natalia. “Forest Fruits’ willingness to learn and their positive attitude was a huge part of this success.”
Today, Forest Fruits has a team of food safety processors who are now fully qualified to handle food processing. “This was not an easy journey for us, but it was worth it,” said Christian. “The external auditor was very impressed with the work done and the readiness of our team. We’re thankful for the volunteers who helped us prepare for the audit and we share this achievement with you!”
Oyeyemi Fadairo, a quality control lead at Wilson’s Juice in Nigeria, was looking to gain insights into pertinent issues in the food industry and receive guidance for advancement in her professional career. Oyeyemi decided to join the PFS mentorship program in hopes of being paired with a mentor who could help her navigate her career. Earlier this year, Oyeyemi was matched with Lucy Buteyo, a Senior Quality Engineer at General Mills.
Lucy was raised in Kenya and has spent the past 15+ years working in the food industry, joining General Mills earlier this year. “I joined the mentorship program because I wanted to reciprocate the mentoring opportunities I have been fortunate to receive during my career,” said Lucy. “I wanted to share my knowledge and skills for good and help someone with their personal and professional development.” For the past six months, Oyeyemi and Lucy have been meeting each month to discuss skills and training that make a successful food quality professional. They’ve also been working on a HACCP/food safety plan for Wilson’s Juice together.
“The mentorship has been both impactful and rewarding,” said Oyeyemi. “Through our mentorship, we’ve been able to identify necessary areas of improvement at my company in regards to food safety. I have also noticed defining moments that have helped shape my thinking, which I believe will be fundamental in addressing improvements in the food industry.”
Lucy and Oyeyemi’s mentorship is almost complete, but both plan on continuing to meet after their formal mentorship ends. “My mentee’s level of engagement and willingness to learn made it a very good experience,” Lucy said. “I can’t wait for our relationship to continue.”