Interview with Matilda Broni, Program Manager, Cocoa Life Community Development – Mondelēz International and Fidelis Yapel, Cocoa Life Program Manager – Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO)
It takes a village to plan and execute the many elements that make up the Joy Ambassador program, a two-week skills-exchange mission in the cocoa farming communities of Ghana. Matilda Broni, Program Manager, Cocoa Life Community Development – Mondelēz International and Fidelis Yapel, Cocoa Life Program Manager – Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) share their perspectives in leading the planning and on-the ground efforts for this year’s journey.
Matilda: Cocoa Life is a holistic, verified program working to transform the lives and livelihoods of cocoa farmers, create thriving communities and inspire the next generation. The program looks at community transformation in five areas – farming, livelihood, youth, environment and community. The community pillar is rooted in the belief that a shared vision unites communities. In addition, the program supports an increase in women’s participation in the cocoa decision making process and capacity in the community to plan and advocate for their own social development.
The Joy Ambassador Program is one of the ways these elements are brought to life though a unique two-week volunteer program in partnership with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) to help build a cultural bridge to Ghana. This life altering, skills-exchange program gives our Joy Ambassadors a first-hand look at the challenges and opportunities in securing a sustainable cocoa supply. In turn, the Ambassadors share their own diverse business skills with the community members through the delivery of business development workshops. Women are often the cornerstones of their communities and this year’s class of Joy Ambassadors had a specific focus on innovations that can empower women in cocoa growing communities to launch and operate small enterprises. Gender equality benefits everyone and is essential if cocoa communities are to thrive.
Matilda: Joy Ambassadors worked in three communities in Ghana – Aysikrom, Adiembra and Ehianmenkyene. These communities represented 3 of the 209 Ghanaian communities in Cocoa Life program. The selection of these communities was based on many factors including accessibility and proximity to the regional capital, being peaceful and free of conflict and a needs assessment regarding the enterprise training that was to be delivered by the Mondelēz International volunteers. Given the program’s focus on women’s empowerment, we also looked at communities with two or more registered women’s groups that actively engaged in multiple livelihoods to support their cocoa farming income.
We made a conscious decision to focus the training workshops on enterprise development. An assessment was carried out at the community level to identify needs and prioritize topics. Workshops determined to be most helpful to the community were in the areas of identifying and launching a business idea, scaling a business through effective marketing practices and how to build the critical facilitation, collaboration and influencing skills necessary to help enable positive community outcomes. The Joy Ambassadors did an outstanding job facilitating these workshops that were met with positive feedback from community members. Some of the key takeaways shared from the participant feedback included having a better understanding of their product, customer and price, the importance of adapting to changes in the marketplace, and the importance of creating value.
The excitement around the Joy Ambassador program has even inspired other communities to express interest in becoming part of the program in the future.
Fidelis: VSO is the world’s leading international development organization that designs and implements a range of development programs across Africa and Asia where volunteers play a significant role in sectors such as health, education and livelihoods. VSO works with partners while carrying out these programs and also enables a two-way exchange that benefits the volunteer and the community they serve far beyond the life of the placement.
One of the biggest challenges we face in planning and executing these types of learning experiences is to ensure the communities are mobilized and understand the intentions of the program. Our team spends a lot of time preparing the community members – through a series of visits and meetings – so they are clear on expectations. In the case of the Joy Ambassador program, with only a two-week window, expectation setting becomes even more critical. We didn’t want the community to feel the ambassadors were there to help solve all their problems but rather provide insight into specific focus areas where they could add tangible value. We informed the village chief and other community leaders about the program, who in turn informed the farmers union and community. We also discussed security issues and held sensitization sessions in the communities. Women’s groups were also briefed given the program focus on women’s empowerment. While the Joy Ambassador program is a much more condensed timeframe than our typical volunteer mission, it still has proven to be a powerful and unique learning and growth experience for all parties involved.
Matilda: I would add that the expectation setting goes both ways! Our team partnered with VSO to ensure that our volunteers were also prepared for the experience with clear learning objectives and what they were going to deliver to help the cocoa farmers increase their knowledge to help their businesses thrive. But, it’s important to keep in mind that there is only so much planning that can be done. The experience is designed in a way that helps volunteers develop learning agility and deal with ambiguity. So, it’s important that our volunteers demonstrate flexibility and openness to “go with the flow” and as necessary to ensure a positive experience. Our 2015 class did a great job with this!
Fidelis: “Buddy’s” were comprised of VSO volunteers, many who directly support the Cocoa Life Program. We hoped to achieve two things with the buddy pairings including giving the Joy Ambassadors an on-site contact and providing development opportunities for the buddies to be coached by the Mondelēz volunteers. Buddies provided insight on cultural nuances and translation support during the journey.
It was great to see how the buddies also learned and developed from their Joy Ambassador partner and to see how strong relationships were formed in such a short period of time. The buddies were eager to learn more about the ambassadors and their home countries and to learn development career skills. We put a lot of thought into selecting the matches looking at things like language proficiency, gender, and profession/experiences to name a few. Virtually all of the Joy Ambassadors connected with their buddies and are encouraged to continue to keep in touch long after the trip.
As mentioned, two-weeks is a condensed volunteer program, so we infused opportunities to help break the ice like singing and dancing together. It was fun for everyone involved! I especially liked seeing how easily some of the Ambassadors picked up the cultural dances. The ambassadors also were taught basic “Twi” language which is widely spoken in Ghana and learned a popular slogan in the Ghana Cocoa Life communities - “Ghana! Cocoa! Ghana! Cocoa!” Each Ambassador can now join this mantra with experience, conviction and pride.
Fidelis: The mutual learning that occurs between the Joy Ambassadors and the community members is really great to see.
For example, Joy Ambassadors were tasked with delivering a series of workshops to community members on a variety of topics to aid in the development of entrepreneurial skills to help their community thrive. We received positive feedback from participants of the workshop – in fact many are still talking about the experience! One participant was very grateful about the tangible skills he acquired in the workshop, like how to estimate profit margin. With this new knowledge, he is in a better position to forecast and operate his business. Another participant expressed how the workshop helped open her eyes to how to think about all of her businesses as a portfolio to experience maximum growth.
It was also exciting for the community members to learn more about the chocolate making process from the Mondelēz team. Believe it or not, many Ghanaian people have never tasted chocolate before, even though they harvest a key ingredient! It’s inspiring for the people to understand the holistic process and the critical role they play. It brings them a lot of community pride.
Matilda: The cross-cultural learning is beautiful to observe and experience. For example, one of the ambassadors expressed how the trip helped her draw a link between her role in marketing chocolate, the cocoa value chain and the life behind the cocoa and was excited to bring those learnings back to her team. Another ambassador raved about the welcoming and loving culture in Ghana and how everyone seemed to genuinely care for and support one another. This cultural learning inspired him to think differently about how he could integrate some of these values at home and work.
It was exciting to see the growth of this year’s program, going from 9 Mondelēz participants the first year to 14 this year. I couldn’t be more pleased with this year’s results and look forward to evolving the program for maximum community impact.