Part 2: The Danone Ecosystem Fund:
“If we have a strong ecosystem, it means that we have strong roots to grow from.”
To Muriel Pénicaud, the goal of the Danone Ecosystem Fund, created in 2009, is “to strengthen our ecosystem, from an economic and social standpoint. Our ecosystem is constituted of all the little companies and people who work with and for Danone everyday.” From farmers to truck drivers and micro-distributors, there is many people who work outside of Danone, but close to the company. “If we have a strong ecosystem, it means that we have strong roots to grow from. We are interdependent with these actors.” Hence the mission of Ecosystem: funding projects that consolidate the economic environment of Danone. The fund is already a success, since it already helps 40 projects in 20 countries: “a very strong start”! But Muriel Pénicaud also cares about the qualitative aspect of things: how does Ecosystem impact Danone? She identifies five main effects.
1. First, “it changes the way we look at our business, both from a social and business perspective.” As for what Muriel calls the “social footprint”, 40 000 farmers, across the world, work only for Danone. It gives us a responsibility.
40 000 farmers, across the world, work only for Danone. It gives us a responsibility.
So we started to measure our impact, and measuring changes your way of thinking and seeing.” It was established that, depending on the country and the business, for each Danone employee, there are 2 to 5 people, full-time, living from what they do with Danone. “It is a huge asset in terms of competencies and engagement, if we manage to bound with them in a positive manner.” As for the business perspective, Muriel Pénicaud explains that Danone used to buy milk, for instance, based only on quality and cost. “Now, we have a 360° view that includes agriculture. We integrate in our business model view the upstream, which was not so much in our way of thinking, before.”
2. Secondly, Ecosystem has brought a change in competencies in many different areas. For purchasing, it means that “if we purchase based not only on cost and quality, but also on sustainability, we start to bound and to partner with the farmers” and see them differently. For human resources, what changed is that they do not focus only on “the people on the payroll” anymore. And taking care of “the whole competency and engagement system of the company” also means helping “our partners to be stronger when they recruit, when they train, etc.” As for marketing, it is of a great value for the consumers to know where the products come from.
When we relate, when we link farmers and consumers, it is an “ecosystem” way of thinking the value chain.
Which means “you are not claiming something, you are telling the real story of producers and consumers being connected, through the quality of our products.”
3. There was also a change in the innovation mindset: “it is clear that we can create only with others, notably NGOs. We do not have all the competencies. Through Ecosystem, the word “co-creation” is becoming a must in all the innovation projects of Danone. Working together with other organizations is not always easy, but it helps you learn the value of co-creation to innovate.”