Danone Ecosystem Fund: Helping small local operators to become sustainable socio-economic partners for Danone

08Oct.
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Around 35,000 men and women throughout the world have directly benefited from projects managed by the Danone Ecosystem Fund, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. We review their experiences via personal accounts gathered in various countries.

The beneficiaries include herders, farmers, rag collectors, street vendors, micro-entrepreneurs, and midwives. 34,900 people throughout the world benefit directly from Danone Ecosystem Fund projects, which are created jointly with local NGOs. These initiatives have enabled them, in no particular order, to gain access to formal employment, receive training in order to increase their skills and independence, increase their income and improve their working conditions, as well as make sense of their professional activities, or else to organize themselves as a group, in order to be more competitive. In one word: moving from the status of a project beneficiary to that of a local business partner for Danone over time.

Beyond the figures and concepts, men and women’s lives have been affected by the Ecosystem Fund’s 60 projects.

Here are a few personal accounts that underline the increasingly clear need to bring all the entrepreneurs, NGOs, local authorities and local business players to the table in order to combat social exclusion and poverty, and contribute to creating solutions for a more inclusive economy.

“We are worth more as people than we thought: we are citizens with rights and duties”

Let’s go to Brazil, where 125,000 tonnes of domestic waste accumulate every day and where over half of the country’s cities deal with this burden by dumping the waste into vast open-air landfills. 15% of the waste recycled in the south of the State of Minas Gerais is recycled thanks to rag collectors, who work under difficult conditions with no social security cover, and earn less than US$500 per month. Although they play a key role for the country – over 800,000 people work on sorting waste, including 37,000 in the State of Minas Gerais alone – Brazilian society is making no effort to improve their working conditions, and more generally living conditions (these are primarily poor population groups who live on the margin of society).

The recycling sector is finding it hard to develop against this backdrop, due to a lack of professionalization, the absence of any organization in the production of recycled plastic, and few district initiatives in this area.

Faced with this situation, and in order to recover the quantities of recyclable materials that Danone LTDA (Dairy) and Bonafont introduce onto the market, Danone Brazil launched the “Novo Ciclo” project in 2011, with the support of the Danone Ecosystem Fund and in partnership with INSEA[1], an institute that specializes in recycling issues and in integrating the rag collectors into society.  The aim is to develop a social model that encourages entrepreneurship among the rag collectors, as well as the organization and professionalization of recycling cooperatives.

The project has now enabled over 600 recyclers to move from informal jobs in open-air landfills to a formal job at sorting centers, where they operate, and which they have been trained to manage. “Danone and INSEA (The Nenuca Institute for Sustainable Development) worked on formalizing our profession”, Luare Damaris, a recycler involved in the project, tells us. “They have taught us how to manage our cooperatives”. Antonio, who is in his fifties, and has been a rag collector since childhood, tells us about how the project has enabled him to change his opinion of himself: “I used to think that we were always one step behind other citizens, and that I was destined to live like this forever”, Antonio Aparecido Almaida, another recycler sums up. Thanks to the Novo Ciclo Project, we began to realize that we were much more than we thought. We are not just rag collectors, we are citizens with rights and duties”.

The project has been beneficial for me as I had been unemployed for six years

Creating and structuring a sector in order to improve the productivity and income of small resellers or producers, is also what has been achieved via the Ecosystem Fund’s so-called “sourcing” program.

In Tunisia, the Milky Way Project aims to develop small farmer’s holdings. The background is as follows: these milk producers are struggling to earn a decent income that enables them to meet their needs and those of their families, as they have no means of gaining access to credit in order to develop their farms, and have not received the required training, which is supposed to provide them with the technical and management skills they need to expand their holdings. Accordingly, Milky Way, which involves 4,850 people directly, aims to help them to gain access to micro-loans in order to buy cows and increase their skills, thanks to support provided by young professionals who have received training. “Milky Way does not just benefit small farmers, opines Myriam, one of the coordinators hired for the project. It benefits me, as I was unemployed for six years, and it benefits technicians as well as agricultural engineers”.

I feel content, rewarded, and valued

Work, income, and pride in being able to meet their family’s needs. This is specifically what enabled the “Kiteiras” project to be created for 400 people. Many women in the poorest communities in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil had no other option than to accept informal and under-paid jobs in order to survive. The Kiteiras project has enabled them to set up a micro-retailing network with trained door-to-door saleswomen. The network is managed by “Madrihnas”, who are responsible for inventory management and the equipment. This program “provided me with a good level of financial independence”, Ana Claudia Rodrigues de Silva comments happily. “My life has always been very difficult, and things became worse when my mother died. I could not even buy clothes for my sister… When I received my first paycheck from Danone, I ran straight to a building materials store. I was so thrilled, and delighted, because I could buy the materials to build my house! The program has given me a lot; I was able to cry freedom. I hope that not only my friends, but also women who have the same problems as me will also be able to become independent, as they dream of doing”. “I feel full fulfilled, rewarded and valued” thanks to this work, says Gisele F. De Figueiredo, the Madrinha of the “Kiteiras” Project with a smile.

Increasing local operators’ skills in order to guarantee a sustainable social impact

For the Ecosystem Fund, increasing the skills and independence of local population groups via training, creating jobs, and building networks and organizations that enable them to defend their interests, is key for ensuring the sustainability of the programs created.

In line with this approach, training is the focal point of the “Eating Healthy, Growing Healthy” Program conducted in Poland, which involves 180 people. The aim of this project is to train coaches who specialize in the infant nutrition field, which is a means of combating obesity and iron deficiencies linked to poor infant nutrition in Poland. “This program provided me with a huge opportunity; it enabled me to train and meet a large number of people who are interested in the same issues as me, and to learn from them, explains Olga, 25, who is pursuing several careers at the same time, including as a nutrition coach. The program is very important for children, because what we do as coaches is like a gift that they will be able to use throughout their entire life: everything that we teach them about nutrition when they are little will be useful to them in the future”.

On 8 and 9 October this year, Olga is traveling from Poland, and Antonio  from Brazil in order to attend the 5th anniversary celebrations for the Danone Ecosystem Fund, which brings together 300 people from all over the world who have been working on the Fund’s projects for the past five years, in order to contribute to a more inclusive economy. They provided personal accounts of the impact of the initiatives implemented by the Fund and its partners on their lives.

 

Photo © : Danone Ecosystem Fund