Mars Chocolate Goes to Harvard Business School to Discuss Cocoa Sustainability

On Sunday, February 26th, I participated in a panel on sustainable sourcing at Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Social Enterprise 2012 conference. Moderated by HBS professor Christopher Marquis, other participants in the discussion included Justin Bakule of Foundation Strategy Group, Pacita Juan of EchoStore, and Chuck Rubin of CommonSoles.

This was a chance to talk about both the business and philanthropic aspects of social entrepreneurship and it was gratifying to discuss with my co-panelists the challenges and opportunities we all share. There is a strong business case for investing in cocoa sustainability – we estimate that by 2020, there will be a million ton shortfall of supply if nothing changes.  As important for us, though, is the recognition that the solution to this problem must come from the principles that guide Mars Chocolate. Putting farmers first is what will make our effort a success.

There was consensus among the panelists that implementing successful sustainability efforts must come from the heart of a business, particularly when you’re working within source communities.  An initiative that is only about branding without addressing core concerns is not likely to succeed.  Additionally, audience and panel members alike were interested in addressing the challenges of executing at a large enough scale to have an actual impact on the mainstream.  I had the opportunity to talk about our certification efforts and why they are a critical element of achieving the kind of scale that will help the entire cocoa industry become more sustainable.

Both the panelists and the audience were very engaged with the question of how business can help drive change in a positive way. The conversation was smart and thoughtful and I was encouraged to see that the next generation of business leaders is thinking about these subjects in such a reflective way.  I wish to extend many thanks to the organizers of the Social Enterprise Conference, all of whom are Harvard Business School graduate students, for a valuable and engaging event!

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