Reflections from the 2015 Joy Ambassador Class
The Joy Ambassadors program sends Mondelēz International employees from around the world to serve and experience life in cocoa-farming communities in Ghana, the birthplace of the Cocoa Life program. This two-week volunteer program, in partnership with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), 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 diverse business skills from agronomy, marketing, manufacturing, finance law and more. We sat down with a few of this year’s Joy Ambassador class as they shared reflections from their journey.
Ola Loutfi, Manager Corporate and Government Affairs - Egypt: During our journey, we had a chance to spend time with Ghanaian Cocoa Life program leads to explain the chocolate making process. They were eager to understand what happens after the cocoa bean leaves Ghana to ultimately become a delicious chocolate bar.
After the overview of how chocolate is made, we passed around samples for their tasting pleasure. We were surprised to learn that for many of the cocoa farmers and community members - who have been farming and growing cocoa for years - this was the first time they had ever tasted chocolate! At first, everyone was very cautious and took a small piece as they nervously tasted it. After a while, they were digging in! It was great to see the joy on their faces as they enjoyed the treats.
One woman stood up asked “where can I get the milk powder and the other ingredients that are needed to produce this? I want to make chocolate!” This was one great example that reflected the community ambition of “Yes, I can” and “Everything is possible,” which impressed us all.
Philip Oxford, Associate Director Research Development & Quality – Canada: A memorable experience for the ‘science nerd’ in me was visiting the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana to hear more about cocoa agronomy. In a previous job, I had been responsible for agrochemical formulations, and to be ‘back on the farm’ was an energizing experience.
One of the challenges about cocoa production is managing yields of cocoa trees. Cocoa yields mature when a tree is around 20 years – which would be 50-65 pods a year, and then decline. Farms with old trees may only get 10 pods per year, and the current average is around 20-25 pods per year. Farmers have been reluctant to cut down old trees and to plant new ones as it has traditionally taken 5-7 years before there is any harvest, leading to an income gap. Some of the new hybrid trees developed are now producing pods in 2-3 years, which makes them much more attractive and can hopefully reverse the trends of decreasing yields. It’s such a fascinating process!
Don Sweat, Customer Business Lead, Sales National Accounts – United States: After our first week in Ghana, we traveled to the Cape Coast area, which was humbling. The infrastructure was very poor and the roads were brutal. Everyone used all sides of the road to avoid pot holes, missing chunks of road and debris. It was clear that many lived in conditions of extreme need.
Even so, the tropical countryside was so lush and beautiful; banana trees, pineapples and papaya growing wild. I was amazed by the women walking on the side of the road balancing all sorts of things on their heads without hesitation.
The ocean along Cape Coast was stunning, but there are still many economic challenges. Looming in the distance is Elmina Castle. The people of Ghana consider it the origin of slavery. Elmina Castle is where slaves were held before they were loaded onto ships for transport from Africa to Europe, North America and the Caribbean. This was a sobering experience for us all. Hard to comprehend how societies believed slavery was acceptable.
The people of Ghana are some of the friendliest I have ever met and their story regarding the slave trade is brutal but not bitter. While one can argue that we have made progress as human beings, there is, and always will be, opportunity to improve.
Andra Gough, Category Head Biscuits - Australia: In Ghana, female cocoa farmers earn 25-30 percent less than their male counterparts and often struggle with less access to financing and business knowledge. As a woman business leader, one of my goals coming into the Joy Ambassador experience was to better understand the important role women play in the long term sustainability of cocoa communities. Fortunately for me, I was gifted the opportunity to spend my time in Ghana with a inspiring woman named Julianna, who served as my local “buddy” or guide during my time in Ghana.
Julianna, is a highly successful farmer. After an intense training program through Cocoa Life, within just four years, Julianna is managing more than ten acres of successful agriculture land across cocoa, oranges, cassava and plantain and is an inspiration to the women in and around her community. This is prime example of how the work in the Women’s Empowerment pillar of the Cocoa Life program is extremely important to help women entrepreneurs thrive.
Julianna could partner with her husband, who also has his own farms, yet she chooses - with conviction and pride - to prove that she is just as capable to lead. She taught me that no matter the obstacle, with passion, pride, self-belief and a long-term vision, anything is possible.
Meghna Poojary, Senior Manager Internal Audit – Switzerland: As part of our experience, we had the chance to leverage our day-to-day expertise to facilitate micro-enterprise workshops focused on developing entrepreneurial skills to help local communities. We shared insights on how to identify and launch a business idea, how to scale a business through effective marketing practices and how to build the critical facilitation, collaboration and influencing skills necessary to help enable positive community outcomes.
I was part of the team focused on delivering the workshop on facilitation, collaboration and influencing. We teamed up with our Ghanaian buddies to better understand the needs of the communities and techniques we should be using to run the workshop in the most efficient manner. We worked together to develop the framework, storytelling and interactive sessions.
We were really pleased with how the meeting went and the facilitation and translation support that our buddies provided. It was encouraging to hear the many questions raised during the workshop and the high level of interaction, which is always a good indicator of success.
One significant difference between these workshops and a traditional corporate meeting was the amount of fun, clapping and thanking (referred to as ‘Shines’ in the Ghanaian culture) that helped break up the meeting to show appreciation to one another. The sense of enjoyment that attitude brought was refreshing and left me thinking how to bring it back to my day-to-day!
Rajesh Ramanathan, Human Resources Director - Singapore: I learned so much during my Joy Ambassador experience, especially about the culture of the Ghanaian people and how cocoa communities function.
My biggest observation is how the people in Ghana share responsibility, resources and challenges. No one is left alone to fend for themselves. This is rare for us to see inside and outside our professional lives and in the nuclear families many of us live in. Celebration, singing and sharing is weaved into everything that they do. And they do a lot for each other – helping manage their farmlands, harvesting and taking the produce to the market.
This has been a transformative journey for me from the moment we touched town in Accra. The Cocoa Life program truly is making a difference and I’m excited to share my experiences and learnings with colleagues, especially the spirit of teamwork that was evident in each community that we visited.
The experience has also encouraged me to think more deeply about what I can do differently to positively impact the communities I belong to. I will always remember the incredible bond and relationship formed between my fellow Joy Ambassadors and the openness and support we have shared and developed for each other.