Galaxy Meeting: where collective intelligence advances social business

Summary

The fourth Galaxy Meeting – the annual event for members of the Danone Communities social entrepreneurship community – was held in early October at Laiterie du Berger in Senegal. This immersive, collaborative experience helps develop concrete business solutions.

27Nov.
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« Unity makes strength. » This saying sums up the Galaxy Meeting’s philosophy quite well. For the past three years, the event has gathered together Danone Communities members from around the world. The social entrepreneurship SICAV was born in December 2007, driven by Franck Riboud who was Danone CEO at that time. Its aim? To help social business projects around the world succeed. Having previously met in France, India and Bangladesh, this year the community gathered in Senegal on the lands of Laiterie du Berger in Richard-Toll and Dakar.

Inside a dairy in Senegal

Laiterie du Berger has helped develop the local dairy sector by buying milk from local farmers and making it easier for them to access a range of services

In 2005, Bagoré Bathily noticed that nearly 90% of milk consumed in Senegal was imported in powder form, despite some 4 million people – mostly Peuls – living off traditional farming and able to produce milk. This gave him the idea of creating a company to sell products using locally-collected milk and help improve living conditions for farmers. Since 2007, Laiterie du Berger has helped develop the local dairy sector by buying milk from local farmers and making it easier for them to access a range of services (animal feed supplies, loans, etc.). Danone.communities has been working with this SME since 2008 and provided support for the 2009 launch of the Dolima yoghurt brand. Like any company, Laiterie du Berger continues to be faced with challenges posed by growth and its evolving business model.

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Tangible solutions to real-world challenges

These challenges were the topic of discussion at the Galaxy Meeting, which works on the principle of taking real-world situations and drawing on the community members’ pool of experience and expertise to solve concrete issues. This approach, with its high added value, is described by Valérie Desplanches, R&D and Quality Vice President of Danone Africa, as « a human adventure that enables us to go out in the field every year and collectively understand different local-level organization methods so that we end up learning much more than if we had stayed in our offices and watched a presentation. »

Having experienced these situations and heard from the Laiterie team as well as farmers and sellers, participants were invited to work together to optimize Laiterie du Berger’s methods and processes. This took place during four days of on-site prototype workshops. « We worked in small groups on preselected topics and came up with solutions that were sufficiently complete to respond to the challenges identified by Laiterie du Berger, » reflects Bagoré Bathily. « That included using technology to improve our milk collection and introducing tools to optimize our finances. »

In fact, in order to best capitalize on the ‘galaxy’s creativity’, participants were invited in their work groups to create new funding, distribution and collection models, technological solutions, etc. Each group then pitched their project to a benevolent panel, who assessed it based on its level of disruption, feasibility and relevance while keeping in mind the identified strategic challenge. « We enjoyed advice from experts who had found solutions in their own businesses or who could help us advance. It’s reassuring and confirms that we are correct in our quest for growth, development and sharing, » states Arona Diaw, Livestock and Milk Collection Manager at Laiterie du Berger.

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Benefiting all

The Galaxy Meeting is a way to inspire each other, be revitalized and share different experiences and models.
Bagoré Bathily

This year’s Galaxy Meeting focused on dealing with the Laiterie’s specific case, but also helped all community members find ways to improve their own businesses. « The Galaxy’s first upshot is effectively to engage people and show them that we all share the same values. But what we found in the workshop technology part and what is going to be important is actually finding concrete working methods to ensure genuine, daily progress in the projects we work on, » explains Benjamin Cavalli, a supervisor at Malin, a program developed in France to boost the nutrition of children under 3 years old from socially and/or financially fragile families. « The Galaxy Meeting is a way to inspire each other, be revitalized and share different experiences and models, » emphasizes Bagoré Bathily. This opinion is strongly shared by Valérie Desplanches, who believes that participating in the Galaxy Meeting helped her think about new business opportunities for Danone in Africa. « There are a number of possible applications for the insights and new directions that came out of our discussions, » she says, highlighting the importance of the event’s learning processes for the group.

The community members all left with a road map in hand of further actions to take. This is a good way to put collaborative intelligence to the reality test.