This week, we had the opportunity to meet Carlos Cruz, founder of a Mexican NGO that has helped the Danone Ecosystem Fund set up the micro-distribution Semilla programme in Mexico City. Here are his views on the experience.
Carlos Cruz, founder of Cauce Ciudadano, a Mexican NGO whose mission is to “prevent, diminish and eliminate the violence caused by young people”, was at the Danone headquarters this week. Cauce Ciudadano has been working for several years alongside Danone on Semilla, a micro-distribution project led by Danone Ecosystem in Mexico City. The aim is to focus on women impacted by poverty, domestic violence, little opportunity for education, job insecurity, etc., and to provide them with a reliable income and training that will enable them to access formal employment. Semilla plans to create 4,000 jobs in micro-distribution by 2015, and is now on the verge of becoming a sustainable company, with Cauce Ciudadano still as a main partner. Carlos Cruz shared his views on this collaboration and its future with a few of us.
Cauce Ciudadano was created 12 years ago to help young people caught up in circles of violence, mobs or organised crime. The NGO now works in 18 Mexican states with 105,000 young people, and in some of the most dangerous cities and neighbourhoods of the country, such as Ciudad Juarez. On the strength of this expertise, Carlos and Cauce Ciudadano were asked to help Semilla establish its business in Mexico City. Some of the young women who were involved in Cauce’s programmes now actually work for Semilla, and this continuity inspires a poetic image in Carlos:
I have been doing a lot of walking in the past weeks. I walk at night, and I look at the stars. One star gives a little light, but if we look at them all together, they form a constellation. With Semilla, we are starting a social development constellation.
Semilla gives work to women who have a hard time finding any, and also contributes to reducing the level of violence in the community, thanks to the techniques (local dialogue, mainly) that Cauce Ciudadano has been trying out for over a decade. To Carlos, this approach is much more powerful than constantly calling the police in, which usually causes fresh outbursts of violence. By bringing the spirit of work and employment to underprivileged areas at the bottom of the pyramid, Semilla actually operates a cultural transformation. The women now have development opportunities, and their children, even when they are involved in violence and crime, know that they can look to Cauce Ciudadano for help. Semilla is thus starting to work as a reference for all those who want to engage in informal education. “What we do has a direct impact on people’s lives. It is a great opportunity to show the government that things can be done differently.” As a matter of fact, the newly appointed Minister of Social Development has recently contacted Cauce Ciudadano’s teams to discuss their views on both the reduction of violence and job creation. Carlos believes that these actions must all contribute to one thing, the most important of all: having a positive impact on women, their families, their communities and hence their quality of life. It is even more important than plain economic success, which says little about what the company builds in the community. And to demonstrate these achievements, he believes in impact measurement.“Anything can be measured. Even happiness. You just have to chose the proper indicators.”
Turning the experience into a system
Carlos Cruz is in Europe because he was forced to leave his country after receiving threats from a former Public Security Minister, who did not enjoy the thought of Cauce Ciudadano having so much information on organised crime and corruption in the police. In Europe, he is now undertaking a tour to talk about the situation in Mexico – but he hopes to return soon, and keeps working on Semilla, on securing its legal framework and on scaling up the experience. This is actually one of the main challenges for the future of the company: to be able to replicate, not just « photocopy », and take the model to the next level.
Carlos also firmly believes that anything that is learned within the Semilla experience can benefit other Danone activities elsewhere in the world. The experience needs to turn into a system, otherwise we will just be an NGO that happens to distribute yoghurts.
Once more, we find the eternal loop between “social” and “business” that every social business needs to learn how to close. Carlos Cruz seems happy with what Semilla has achieved so far, and the fact that what was once a project is now turning into a sustainable company seems to prove him right.
(Photo from http://www.lexpress.fr/)