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As the judges review applications for the 2015 P3 Impact Award, we are taking a look back at last year’s finalists. First up is the winner of the 2014 P3 Impact Award, CocoaLink, a partnership between the World Cocoa Foundation, the government of Ghana, and the Hershey Company. We spoke with Todd H. Camp, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Relations at The Hershey Company.

Concordia: How did CocoaLink come about? Whose idea was it, and how did the World Cocoa Foundation, the Ghana Cocoa Board, and Hershey decide to partner on it?

CocoaLink was the idea of a Hershey executive, who, while traveling through West Africa in 2010, noticed that a significant number of cocoa farmers were using cell phones. From the very beginnings of this innovative idea we called CocoaLink, we believed that a public-private approach would be the most effective way to harness the power of mobile technology to improve farming and communities while enhancing literacy and digital learning. We knew that without the support and ownership of the local government and NGOs working on the ground, this would not succeed—that a public-private partnership that truly involved and engaged the Ghanaian government would be the only way the program could be effectively launched and sustained. Our idea was to bring both public and private partners together for shared buy-in and shared ownership. Importantly, we wanted the Ghanaian government fully onboard because our vision was to hand the program over to them to own and run once the program was up, running and proven successful. That has now happened and the program is being fully run by the Ghanaian government, ensuring its long-term sustainability.

C: What was it like being selected as the P3 Impact Award Winner? How has CocoaLink changed since winning the award?

To be honest, it was a bit surprising. As we had the opportunity to learn about the other finalists, the scale they had reached and the complexity of the issues their partnerships were effectively addressing, we realized CocoaLink was in great company as a finalist for this prestigious award. We were both humbled by being honored with the P3 award, and encouraged that the work our partnerships were focused on in West Africa was making a real and sustainable difference in the lives of cocoa farming families, and that these efforts were recognized as “the most impactful public-private partnership” by the thought leaders in this space.

Since winning the P3IA, CocoaLink has continued to evolve and expand. It is now being fully operationally run by the government of Ghana, and the program continues to increase in farmer enrollment and participation. In addition to the basic messages that make up the core of the program, participating farmers have increased usage of the two-way communication aspect—giving them real-time access to the cocoa experts in the Ghanaian government, and allowing them to receive quick answers to questions that would have taken days or weeks prior to CocoaLink. We’ve also initiated pilots on integrating smart phone technology, including videos, to increase the effectiveness and simplicity of the messages sent. Ultimately, the goal of CocoaLink is to enable better agricultural and social practices as simply as possible, and technology has proven to be a key lever to that end. We’ve also started to explore other potential uses of this mobile platform, including global health outreach and our emerging nutrition work in West Africa. We feel the CocoaLink foundation that was built by our P3 offers significant potential—we are just scratching the surface.

C: What has Hershey been working on since winning the P3IA? Are you considering any new partnerships?

Hershey has been focused on cocoa sustainability, particularly in West Africa, since the 1960’s. More recently, we’ve been looking for ways to supplement our cocoa work, support these cocoa-growing communities, align with our business strategy and bring our Corporate Social Responsibility values to life. We’ve launched what we consider to be our signature social innovation program, Nourishing Minds, and the first significant program under this Nourishing Minds platform, Energize Learning, in Ghana. Ghana is one of the strongest emerging countries in Africa. However, access to basic nutrition is still a challenge, with about 30,000 children suffering from malnutrition annually, according to Project Peanut Butter, our NGO partner in this effort. Through Energize Learning, Hershey will distribute Vivi, a highly nutritious peanut-based supplement, to children through the Ghanaian school feeding program. As Hershey Chairman and CEO John P. Bilbrey said recently, the program “will harness our strongest assets—our employees and our food expertise.” The Vivi supplement, produced in the Hershey-funded Project Peanut Butter factory in Kumasi, Ghana, has been found to increase the daily caloric intake for hungry children by 25%. Distribution will initially be prioritized to school feeding programs in the vicinity of the Kumasi factory and in the northern region of Ghana, where child malnutrition rates are highest. The program aims to reach 50,000 schoolchildren by 2016. As part of Energize Learning, Hershey employees are sharing their expertise with local farmers to increase productivity and expand Ghana’s peanut crop—a critical component of Vivi—for the long-term. Hershey also is working with the University of Ghana to evaluate and analyze the outcome of Energize Learning over the next two years. The company hopes to eventually expand the program to reach all children in Ghana’s school feeding program. Hershey’s commitment to improving the lives of children dates back to the 1909 creation of the Milton Hershey School, which offers a private education to socially and economically eligible students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Energize Learning is part of Hershey’s holistic commitment to helping children in need across the globe build bright futures and lead successful lives.

To supplement this work, we’ve recently initiated two additional partnerships, both in the early stages. First, Hershey has joined the existing Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) consortium. PFS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that links the technical and business expertise of volunteer employees from General Mills, Cargill, Royal DSM, Bühler and Hershey to small and growing food processors and millers in the developing world. Hershey has also signed a partnership agreement with Feeding America, where we will fund school-feeding programs in six major markets across the United States. We’ll work with Feeding America to expand our efforts and integrate the passion and expertise of our employees right here in our home market.

C: The mission of CocoaLink is to deliver farming and marketing information to cocoa farmers in western Ghana. What were some issues with implementing this mission? What, in your opinion, have been the greatest successes of the project so far?

The simplicity of CocoaLink is its effectiveness in using low-cost mobile technology to increase knowledge and reduce communities’ isolation. The continuous feedback from community trainers and farmers allows us to make rapid improvements while measuring impact with greater precision than previously possible. However, CocoaLink did not come without its share of challenges. The aforementioned community isolation presented obstacles in terms of cellular signal strength and reliable electricity for charging the farmers’ cell phones. Additionally, enrolling farmers was initially a challenge, as this process had to be conducted on the ground by agricultural extension agents. We worked farm by farm and community by community, so reaching critical mass required a dedicated and unwavering effort to “market” the benefits of this free program to the cocoa farmers in the region. Finally, CocoaLink provides timely messages on planting, pruning, fertilizer use, labor, and improving farmer and family safety—complex issues on which our partnership had to devise and provide simple, actionable information via SMS text. However, thanks to the collective expertise of our P3, along with some innovative technical solutions, these challenges were overcome.

Some of the greatest successes of this project have been the tangible benefits that have been realized by participating farmers—with increased yields of 46% and increased incomes of 70%, found after a 3 year impact study of CocoaLink by World Education. In addition to the enhancements to the livelihoods of these cocoa farming families, connecting these remote communities, both with each other and with the cocoa experts in Ghana, has led to a proliferation of knowledge sharing and significantly improved farming practices that benefit the entire industry.

For more information about the CocoaLink program, visit the Hershey website.
Learn more about the P3 Impact Award here.