Choice of a unique approach: co-creation
“No living organism can grow and develop in a deprived environment or a desert. It is in a company’s own interests to take care of its social and economic environment, which by analogy is its ecosystem.” Based on this observation, Franck Riboud asked Danone’s shareholders to approve a €100M endowment in 2009, drawn exclusively from the group’s profits, to create the Danone Ecosystem Fund: a public-interest fund dedicated to creating jobs and to developing and reinforcing the economic activities of the partners who form the ecosystem of Danone’s local subsidiaries.
All 60 projects supported by the Fund follow the same logic: they were initiated by local group subsidiaries that have identified a local issue for their businesses, then co-created with local non-profit partners […]
Five years later, at the Ecosystem’s anniversary event, it is clear that the Fund’s uniqueness lies in its co-creative approach. In fact, all 60 projects supported by the Fund follow the same logic: they were initiated by local group subsidiaries that have identified a local issue for their businesses, then co-created with local non-profit partners (non-profit organizations, NGOs, local administrations, etc.) that possess field expertise and with representatives of the beneficiaries, i.e. players from the local economy (farmers, midwives, foragers, etc.), while enjoying the Fund’s financial support and expertise. This approach made it possible to remove the old silos before for-profit and not-for-profit, exchange expertise, pool human and financial resources, and foster the establishment of a more inclusive economy through shared, sustainable growth.
The originality of this approach stems namely from the fact that it is driven by the Business Units, as Franck Riboud, who “wanted all of the Fund’s projects to be directly linked to Danone’s development, not only from a business perspective, but above all, because it was the only guarantee of building sustainable projects,” had originally hoped.
What is the overall assessment of this co-creation between the Fund, the Business Units and the NFP partners?
The value added by co-creation is real
As a result, all of the Fund’s partners consider co-creation to be the key to the success of the Ecosystem approach. Every day, together, they share their expertise, networks and know-how in order to build programs that respond to local socioeconomic issues. Although these projects take some time to gain a solid foothold, the return on investment is strong, in terms of both the competitive advantage for Danone and its local subsidiaries, and the socioeconomic impact on the local communities.
The return on investment is strong, in terms of both the competitive advantage for Danone and its local subsidiaries, and the socioeconomic impact on the local communities.
Representatives from the local subsidiaries and partner NGOs also expressed this conviction at the Ecosystem Fund’s anniversary celebration on October 8 and 9, especially at the “Market Place” session, when Danone and NFP project managers jointly presented their 60 projects, shared their lessons learned, and engaged with stakeholders from other projects.
“Working with members of the NGO GIZ in Algeria made it possible to exchange expertise, which proved to be a great complement to our project,” explained an enthusiastic Abderrazak Halfaoui, Danone’s project manager for H’Lib Dzair, a program launched in 2014 to help structure and strengthen the dairy industry in Algeria, a country that is currently an importer. “The partner provides solutions that are not restricted to dairy, yielding added social and corporate value that bolsters the project’s likelihood of success,” he added.
Hélène Picart, a project team member on the GIZ side, took it a step further, explaining that, “in cooperation and development aid, we often tend to focus a lot on reporting, but from the outset with Danone, we tried to estimate the direct return on investment, for each activity and each indicator, in terms of both business and social impacts.”
Standing out for our long-term approach
In addition to capitalizing on the complementary expertise of each of the projects’ stakeholders, the Danone Ecosystem Fund’s co-creative strategy enables the set-up of economic models that reconcile the long-term development of Danone with that of smaller economic players in its local ecosystems.
The NGOs partnered with the Fund frequently cite this desire to build sustainable socioeconomic projects as one of the reasons why they choose to collaborate with Danone’s teams. As expressed by Dr. Marina Otelea, project manager for Stand by Mums in Romania, on the part of the association SAMAS, which trains childbirth educators on working with mothers, namely in terms of nutrition and childcare, during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, “Danone gave us a real framework because, at associations, we may be very enthusiastic, but we are often forced to improvise, for want of the necessary know-how and resources. Resourcefulness can work for a certain time, but is not a viable solution in the long run.”
Producing long-term advantages in terms of competitiveness and social impacts, co-creation is also a vehicle for personal fulfillment.
For Danone’s project managers, the fact of working with NGOs on co-creations lends them added credibility that they would never have been able to develop without those partnerships. “I believe that co-creation is what defines the legitimacy of a project that, in practice, may appear to be less ‘sincere’ when driven only by a company,” posits Cristina Bîcîilà, Danone’s project manager for Stand by Mums.
Producing long-term advantages in terms of competitiveness and social impacts, co-creation is also a vehicle for personal fulfillment. As Cristina Bîcîilà put it at the Fund’s five-year anniversary event, “I feel enriched, because I’ve had the chance to contribute to a cause that really counts for society and that makes my job as a project manager an innovative one.”
Companies are a part of the solutions of tomorrow
Finally, in the eyes of Pascal Lamy, former WTO Director-General and Vice-Chairman of the Fund’s Guidance Committee, co-creation is also the state of mind that gave rise to “pragmatic, creative alliances” and opened up “an innovative path for connecting traditional performance indicators with ecological, environmental and human goals.” This idea was corroborated by Sarah Marniesse, the French Secretary of State for Development and the French-Speaking World, when, at the Fund’s fifth anniversary celebration, she added, “The co-creation of new types of alliances is crucial to resolving the challenges of tomorrow and defining new economic models that reconcile profit with social responsibility.”
And indeed, the lasting advent of a more inclusive economy will require increasing numbers of these new types of coalitions of people who, regardless of their professional background (non-profit, consumer goods, academia, etc.), all want to innovate and devise solutions, by breaking down silos and creating friction in order to co-create the solutions of tomorrow.
On October 8, the participants at the Ecosystem Fund’s fifth anniversary voted to recognize three projects born of this innovative co-creative approach. Warung Anak Sehat, an Indonesian initiative working to create a network of female entrepreneurs who manage healthy food kiosks outside schools, was awarded the prize for the “Best Project to Replicate.” In the category of “Women’s Empowerment,” the Social School for Women Empowerment, jointly founded by the Ana Bella Foundation and the teams at Danone Spain took the vote. Lastly, Margarita, a project sponsored by Danone Mexico and Techoserve to promote a sustainable milk production model by helping small-scale farmers to ramp up their skill sets and expertise, won the award for “Crowd Favorite.”