The Perfect Match: Carlota Gonzalo on her volunteer experience with PFS
“For me, PFS is like the perfect match—you can share your knowledge and technical skills, and you can learn more about the many different people and cultures we work with. It’s a great opportunity to help other people.”
—Carlota Gonzalo, General Mills
Carlota Gonzalo learned about PFS from one of her colleagues at General Mills–Spain. He explained to her that there was this volunteer program to help the food industry in a developing country. “Take a look at the website and think about it,” he said, “And if you’re interested, we can talk about next steps.” Carlota didn’t need to think about it. Her response was immediate: “What’s the next step?”
Carlota had participated in volunteer projects in the past, but never before in the food industry, and she says in Europe it’s not always easy to find ways of helping. “For me, PFS is like the perfect match—you can share your knowledge and technical skills, and you can also learn more about the many different people and cultures we work with. It’s a great opportunity to help other people.”
One of the things Carlota especially likes about PFS is that the work is mutual, a give and take, not a top-down approach. As she puts it, “Partners in Food Solutions is focused on educating people versus saying ‘you have to do this.’ It’s providing people with solutions that they can do themselves.”
And she is clear that both sides receive benefits from the collaboration. The projects Carlota has worked on, in Tanzania, Kenya, and Malawi, have helped her to practice creative and adaptive thinking. For example, working on food safety, there is a global standard that goes beyond borders, but the risks and circumstances are different in Africa as compared to Europe or the United States. When it comes to pest control, for example, there are different types of pests to deal with in Africa. “The problem is global,” says Carlota, “but you need to adapt your mind and strategy to expect what is different.”
Volunteering with PFS has allowed Carlota to stretch and grow her skills in new ways. Her last project was quite different than she was used to. It was a large collaboration, with five clients, all looking for the same goal, quality improvements. The project involved a volunteer team for each client, and each team had experts in two areas, quality and finance. Carlota was asked to lead the quality volunteers, and after agreeing, she had a moment of wondering what she had gotten herself into. “I thought oh my gosh, I’m crazy. I’m super busy, and I have no idea how to do that. But then I thought, well, it’s a challenge for me. I think of this as learning for me as well, and I try to do my best.”
At the beginning, it was a bit difficult to organize people in different time zones, the agendas were packed, and the different languages spoken by the group were another challenge. But in the end, the program was a success—two of the five projects obtained certification from the Malawi Bureau of Standards, and all five implemented the quality programs. Carlota says she learned a lot, too, and was very happy with the result of the project.
“I feel it’s a multi-dimensional opportunity,” says Carlota. “We bring some expertise, but they bring us other things. I gain expertise in my day to day at General Mills, and I give knowledge about how to make healthier products for both adults and children, and how to provide solutions.”
The world feels smaller for Carlota, too, since volunteering with PFS. She feels a strong connection to Africa since volunteering with PFS. She gotten involved with other organizations and speaks with people in Tanzania and Ghana often.
Carlota also feels a strong connection to her fellow volunteers around the world, with whom she has worked on PFS projects. “You feel like they are a part of your life,” she says, “because you all have the same thing in common. You use your free time and knowledge to support people in Africa.”