Connecting Expertise With Opportunity: General Mills & Partners In Food Solutions
If the Secretary General of the United Nations challenged you to help feed the world’s hungry people, could you do it? Ken Powell, former CEO of General Mills, the world-wide leader food leader, took the challenge and helped to create Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), a non-profit that works to increase the growth and competitiveness of food companies in Africa. PFS improves access to safe, nutritious, affordable food and promotes sustainable economic development.
PFS links the technical and business expertise of employee volunteers from global food companies with small and growing food businesses in sub-Saharan Africa. General Mills uses the phrase “intellectual philanthropy” to describe the concept of volunteers working remotely with African food companies to address issues of food quality, sourcing, operating efficiencies and even new food product development.
Instead of volunteer projects where employees paint walls or sort clothing, this project allows professionals to use their expertise in an employee engagement program that plays to their strengths. It allows employees to share knowledge while honing their own skills, empower African entrepreneurs, improve nutrition in African countries, and create a supporting network of food industry professionals across Africa.
Started by General Mills in 2008 as an employee program, PFS has grown to include volunteers and retirees from six companies: General Mills, Cargill, DSM, Buhler, Hershey and Ardent Mills, all of whom fund and provide experts. More than 500 General Mills employees have volunteered for PFS, contributing $5.8 million worth of consulting.
“The pro bono work I’ve been doing for PFS has been incredibly rewarding not ony for my African clients and in seeing their progress, but also for my own skill development and confidence in project management,” says Madison Barre, a General Mills research and development engineer.
Since 2008, more than 94,000 hours were contributed by nearly 1,500 volunteers from the six companies. In addition, PFS African clients have attracted $22.5 million from outside investors. The African companies supported by PFS employ tens of thousands of people and help to feed millions more, while keep more than 1.1 million smallholder farmers in their supply chains in nine countries.
There is more to be done. “Africa still imports something close to $40 billion of food every year,” says Jeff Dykstra, a co-founder of Partners in Food Solutions. “An ultimately, we need Africa to be a net exporter of food, not a net importer. We see the role of Partners in Food Solutions as helping build out that value chain to meet the demands we’ll face.”