We must co-create the future we want to see

By Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone 

Emmanuel Faber participated in the
2017 International Economic Forum on Latin America and the Caribbean

Photo credit: Lionel Charrier/Livelihoods Funds

In 1972, Danone founder Antoine Riboud made a speech to French industry leaders in which he declared that “corporate responsibility doesn’t end at the factory gate or the company door” and called on them to place “industry at the service of people.” Today his words seem self-evident; at the time they were revolutionary.

Now more than ever, we know that we can only thrive as a business when people and planet thrive. It’s simple: If we don’t protect the environment, we won’t be able to secure resources to make our products. If we don’t empower people and support decent living conditions, our supplier and consumer bases will shrink. We cannot escape this interdependence. So, at Danone, we embrace it. This means that, wherever we operate, we work to foster inclusive and sustainable development through co-creation — that is, working with coalitions of actors on the ground to develop hybrid solutions to concrete problems.

Co-creation isn’t easy, but it works. Danone has been modeling the co-creation principle through three social innovation platforms: the danone.communities social business platform, the Danone Ecosystem Fund and the Livelihoods Funds. These platforms have been learning experiences that taught us where and how we could improve. They have allowed us to develop replicable models that create business value for Danone while promoting social inclusion and the sustainable use of resources. But they also have shown us that, to maximise our impact, we need strategic alliances — alliances with local stakeholders and NGOs as well as with partners that can provide co-financing, knowledge and expertise, and new networks.

This recognition is what led Danone to launch a global partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on June 9, during the International Economic Forum on Latin America and the Caribbean.1 The partnership is focused on developing joint projects in five key areas: fostering sustainable agriculture, supporting inclusive recycling, protecting watersheds, increasing access to clean water, and driving CO2 reduction. These are not only regional development challenges but also strategic priorities for Danone.

Take sustainable agriculture, which is central to job creation, food security, environmental protection and climate resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Approximately 70% of the grazing areas of Latin America and the Caribbean are undergoing degradation processes.2 Soil degradation is a major challenge for Danone because it undermines our ability to secure the raw materials we need.

This is why we are helping family farmers adopt sustainable agriculture practices through projects like Margarita, which is supported by the Danone Ecosystem Fund and Danone Mexico. Margarita trains family farmers and helps them access micro-credit, secure fair purchasing contracts and organise into co-ops. The project has empowered over 300 farmers, who are now satisfying 13% of Danone Mexico’s milk demand. Working with partners like the IDB, we aim to reach close to 1 000 farmers and up to 25% of projected milk demand by 2025.

Or take inclusive recycling, an area where the IDB and Danone have already begun to collaborate. Danone is committed to building inclusive, circular economies by creating a second life for all plastics. To do this, we are working to support and strengthen recycling industries in the regions where we operate. In the LAC region, between 400 000 and 4 million people live from recycling activities, but they work in informal and often unsafe conditions.

Danone is working with the IDB and other partners to professionalise recycling industries in Latin America. In Argentina, the Danone Ecosystem Fund began promoting inclusive recycling more than seven years ago through the Cartoneros project. Cartoneros has improved working conditions for around 1 600 wastepickers and benefited an estimated 775 000 people. Cartoneros helped us understand that we could have a greater impact by joining forces with other companies. The IDB makes this possible through its Inclusive Recycling Regional Initiative.

I am proud of the social and environmental value Danone has co-created. The most consistent feedback we get from beneficiaries of projects like Margarita and Cartoneros is: “now I’ll be able to pay for my children’s education, so that they don’t experience what I have been through.” But it’s just the beginning; we need coalitions of actors like the IDB if we are to scale our work and mobilise support from consumers.

The bottom line is that we need a new, groundbreaking paradigm for development that motivates governments, NGOs and businesses to work together at the local level. As Jay Naidoo and I stressed in a joint report for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, development aid can play a central role in this paradigm shift if it is re-focused to catalyse and leverage co-creation.

The social and environmental challenges we face are tremendous. If the sustainable development goals are our roadmap, co-creation should be a guiding principle.

I believe the food industry can lead the way. That’s why Danone wants to play an active part in driving the Alimentation Revolution, together with our consumers, business partners and the global community at large. Together, we can transform the food system to make it more just, healthy and sustainable. We have one planet. And we have one health. Danone is committed to protecting and nourishing both.

1.↩ This event is a joint effort between the Inter-American Development Bank, the Ministry of Economy and Finance of France, and the OECD Development Centre.

2.↩ According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations