Co-creation is “a specific combination of players essential to success”

Summary

Emmanuel Marchant, former general manager of danone.communities, and Jean-Christophe Laugée, director of the Danone Ecosystem Fund, explain why co-creation is at the heart of the two funds’ approach.

01Déc.
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Why does co-creation matter to social business?

Emmanuel Marchant: A social business is a project whose raison d’être is a social ambition. But it must also be a lasting, entrepreneurial project. In our definition of social business, we include co-creation because only the right combination of players will produce the right social and financial balance, the right social and business skills, and so on.

How does this principle take practical shape in the work of your two funds?

E.M.:Co-creation is at the origin of each danone.communities project. Grameen Danone arose from the encounter between Franck Riboud and Muhammad Yunus. Behind all our projects, there is the story of an encounter, of different cultures and skills that seek to achieve a lasting solution together. We meet social entrepreneurs, foundations, NGOs, indigenous communities, funds, etc. With each project, the specific combination of players is essential to success.

J.C. L.:Co-creation is Ecosystem’s trademark. We have been building on a key principle: making players from civil society and Danone’s subsidiaries interact to seek solutions that create social and economic value. We work with over 40 non-profit organisations (NGOs, institutes and local public authorities). Co-creation has re-established the principle whereby every element is dependent on the others: all players have the right to contribute to that balance. Whether you are a NGO or a company, you have the right to propose solutions that are highly socially- or business-oriented.

Is this approach also reflected in the projects’ funding?

E.M.: Yes. We wanted the danone.communities unit trust to be funded by Danone, Crédit Agricole, the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, Crédit Coopératif, BNP, Danone employees and individuals investing in their own name. And this is really for the same reason as co-creation: to associate skills and redefine governance with different players in order to gradually invent lasting social undertakings. It takes the right people to make the right decisions. For instance, in 2008, in Bangladesh, the food crisis threatened to take our project down, because the price of raw materials had doubled. And it was Muhammad Yunus, not Danone, who then said that we needed to raise the price of our products, according to the principle that “social business is business.” What’s more, we have set ourselves a goal: to transform views on financing by showing that it is possible to invent a model halfway between charity and classic investment.

What are the advantages of co-creation for the company?

J.-C. L.: It is an opportunity to foster the emergence of new profiles and new talents. Co-creation is a learning experience in itself; it gives access to new knowledge and highly productive experience. It also influences organisations: it is a good way to try out more open governance with our subsidiaries, transform relationships with our farmers, etc. It is also a wonderful stimulus for innovation, not only through relations with the outside world, but also internally, when departments that are not used to working together cooperate. And lastly, co-creation will be at the heart of Danone 2020.

Photo © Danone Ecosystem Fund