Sharing Goodness Around the World
Utkarsh Shah, a senior research scientist at Hershey, has a lot of expertise and experience to share. Responsible for developing the technologies and facilities for new product development at Hershey, Utkarsh often participates in long-term research projects. He’s a food scientist that specializes in fats and oils, was instrumental in recently launched snack products, and worked on Hershey's Spreads, among many other products.
Utkarsh’s first project with PFS put these skills to good use, working with a company in Ghana to convert a plant to edible oil production. Utkarsh served as a quality expert for the conversion process, in particular building up quality programs for understanding and measuring the oil quality produced at the plant. After four months of work, Utkarsh’s volunteer team recently finished compiling all of their recommendations to be shared with the company. Utkarsh’s recommendations included installing a small quality lab where the company could analyze the oils processed by their facility. He provided specifications for the lab, along with several methods for analyzing the oil, and quality criteria in order for the oil to be safe and edible. Once implemented the company will have a new product that promises to increase business and revenue.
While Utkarsh clearly gave much of his own knowledge and expertise, he says he learned a lot from the project, too. For one, It gave him a broader outlook. “Working with a very small company in Ghana helped me to realize that things are not as simple as they seem. And that there are a lot of things to consider when you start a plant, down to the smallest details. Resources are limited and finding funding sources is difficult for these small companies. This slows down the implementation process” Utkarsh also learned gained from communicating with a different culture, across a long distance.
In terms of challenges of the project, Utkarsh laughingly admits that he is not a morning person, so he had to cope with early morning calls with people across the ocean to accommodate the time difference. Another challenge, one of the biggest, was communication. Utkarsh was always mindful of background information that was missing due to working on a project from so far away. He says he asked a million questions, to make sure he was understanding as completely as possible. “That was just part of the challenge, to figure out what was going on, and how to make the most of the limited communication we had.”
Another challenge was limited time. “Being a volunteer, you can’t spend 20 hours a week. It’s just two or three hours a week, so the question becomes, how can you make the most impact? That was the biggest challenge—you really want to help, but you can only give so much time, because you have responsibilities with your regular job. But I think we managed well, and did a good job.”
Despite the challenges, Utkarsh always found the project interesting and motivating. “There is a sense of satisfaction in working for a cause that really needs the help,” says Utkarsh. “There is a big problem with food security in the world. The challenge is to provide the growing population with safe, affordable, nutritious food, sustainably. Being a food scientist, the more I can work on this issue and make a tangible contribution to society, the more satisfaction it gives, and motivates me to keep working on these projects.”
Utkarsh has a lot to say to others considering volunteering with PFS. “What we have learned so far in our career of being a food scientist or professional is great, but in order to really build that satisfaction—one way of doing philanthropy work is to give money, but here we are, experts in our field, and by volunteering for a good cause and sharing our knowledge, it really gives a deep satisfaction. That satisfaction translates to the people we’re helping and also into our career. I would encourage people to look at volunteering with PFS. It’s not difficult. If you have the expertise and are part of a good team, you’ll have satisfaction. And it’s just a good thing to do, to help another part of the world. Moreover, it is an honor to build on Mr. Milton Hershey’s legacy to spread goodness around the world by sharing my expertise for such a special social cause and making a difference.”
Utkarsh has now expanded his PFS role, serving as Client Lead for his next project, which is also in Ghana. The new client, Home Foods, processes and packages various types of ready-to-eat foods, ethnic foods, and seasoning products for export. Founded by a graduate of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology and the Harvard Business School, the company is 100% Ghanaian-owned and sources its agricultural materials from more than 6,000 cooperative women growers and suppliers. Utkarsh’s project will focus on a factory recently acquired by the growing company and building a HR & Business strategy as they create new operations for ready-to-eat foods.
He says the work itself kept him engaged, but what will keep him coming back is the satisfaction of using his expertise for the betterment of the world.