The World Food Prize

Oct. 18, 2012

Ken PowellAt the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, General Mills CEO Ken Powell addressed attendees on efforts by General Mills to fight hunger in Africa through collaboration and employee volunteerism.

Good Morning!

Thank you, Ambassador Quinn (Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia), for the kind introduction.

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It’s a pleasure to be here in Des Moines today. I’m honored to be among so many passionate leaders proudly carrying on Norman Borlaug’s work.

Because of his ties to the University of Minnesota, we in Minnesota like to claim Norman Borlaug as our own. He was a man who embraced the world, and during his career, he made a unique and lasting impact on the issue of global food security. He once said, “You can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs." On that, I think the entire world can agree.

General Mills is proud to follow in his footsteps, playing a role in strengthening communities and improving food security here and around the world… particularly in Africa.

As a food company, we come to this work quite naturally… with a legacy of community support and engagement that stretches back more than a century.

We also come to this work with humility. We know that we do not have all the answers. But we truly are “Hungry to Help.”

We are hungry to help the entrepreneur in Tanzania who is trying to package her products and access new markets.

We are hungry to help the food scientist in Zambia searching for solutions to retain food flavor and optimize nutrients.

And we are hungry to help the farmer in Malawi who, by selling her crop, will generate the money needed to support her family and pay for her children to go to school.

Through Partners in Food Solutions -- a nonprofit we created -- we’re helping others … and we’re learning ourselves. The magic of this is that something so beneficial to us can be so powerful in improving food security across the continent. I hope that you’ll find our story inspirational. More importantly, I hope you’ll find it useful.

Let me give you a little background on General Mills.

General Mills traces its roots to 1866, when our founder, Cadwallader Washburn built his first flour mill on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Milling was an explosive business in those days… and in 1878, Washburn’s mill – the largest in the world – exploded. Amid the devastation … his investment having literally gone up in smoke… Washburn immediately began outlining plans for a new, even larger mill.

But Washburn also believed that he had a responsibility to the families of the 18 workers killed. To the orphaned children. To the employees who would work in his new mill … to his community. Even to his competitors.

So he built an orphanage that survives to this day … and he invested in technology to filter flour dust from the air, making milling dramatically safer. Then, in an extraordinary gesture, Washburn shared the technology with all of his competitors.

Washburn’s values remain strong at General Mills today.

Generation after generation has continued to innovate … and to help others. More than 60 years ago, our food scientists developed a high-protein powder that fed those suffering from malnourishment in more than 125 countries for decades.

Our Pillsbury organization, working with NASA, developed the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points process more than 30 years ago. Today, HACCP is the gold standard for product safety in food processing around the world.

A founding supporter of Feeding America here in the U.S., General Mills today also is working with the Global Foodbanking Network to find innovative ways to provide food around the world. We’re currently in nearly a half-dozen countries, with more to come.

So throughout our history, we’ve innovated and we’ve shared. That spirit is at the core of what we are doing in Africa.

You might ask, “What’s in it for General Mills?”

Well, we’re involved because it’s the right thing to do, of course. It’s the right thing for all of us.

But the real answer… the more powerful answer… is that we are in Africa because we have the expertise that African food processors need. There are only a handful of companies in the world who have this level of expertise. If we don’t step up, who will?

My personal journey began in 2007, when I attended a discussion on hunger and food security at the World Economic Forum. Listening to the experts detail the challenges in Africa, it was difficult at first to see how General Mills, based in Minnesota, could play a meaningful role. But as I listened, I thought that we might find a way.

I returned to General Mills motivated to try… and was inspired – as usual – by our employees.

I found they already were reaching out to Africa. They were packing meals for children developed by General Mills food scientists in an initiative called “One Million Meals for Malawi.” Thousands participated, filling every available volunteer slot. Our employees were indeed hungry to help.

However, like others before us, we soon realized that sending food from the U.S. was neither efficient nor sustainable.

So we launched the African Women and Children’s Hunger Project, a three-year, $5 million dollar effort centered on finding ways to help inside Africa.

Partnering with organizations such as Land O’Lakes and established NGOs such as CARE and World Vision, we built grain storage systems and dug community wells.

We were having an impact, but believed we could do more. Our next idea was simple – but we think it was quite inspired.

What if we could tap our expertise to work with small and mid-sized, local African food processors to produce safer and more nutritious foods, thereby expanding markets for local farmers?

Wouldn’t that boost farmer income and increase the supply of affordable, nutritious foods?

And wouldn’t that strengthen food security and fuel local economies?

This, in a nutshell, is the idea behind Partners in Food Solutions, and it features three aspects that we think are fairly unique.

First, the name - Partners in Food Solutions - also describes our business model. We undertake what we call “extreme partnering,” and we’ve recruited world-class companies to help, including our Minneapolis neighbor Cargill and Dutch-based DSM; bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies like USAID and the World Food Program; international NGOs such as TechnoServe; and social investors like Root Capital. Each provides different expertise, but together we accomplish far more than any of us could do alone.

Second, we’ve embraced virtual technology to build relationships, share ideas and solve problems. We communicate and collaborate electronically, and also engage our African partners directly on the ground.

For example, in partnership with USAID and PEPFAR, our partner TechnoServe is hiring and managing small, in-country staffs to identify promising companies, and develop and implement projects that our volunteers work on back home.

General Mills food scientists and engineers may be 8,000 miles away, but they collaborate with these food technologists, processors and mill operators in Africa as if standing together.

Finally, some may see our work in Africa as philanthropy, but it’s much more than that. It’s about creating shared value, and for our African partners… it is about unlocking opportunity – business opportunity – through knowledge-sharing.

And that’s a powerful point. Our efforts are helping African businesses grow and reach their potential.

According to Harvard Business Review, Africa’s economy grew 5.7 percent in the past decade, and it’s expected to grow 5.4 percent this year. That’s more than twice the anticipated growth rate of Brazil.

The African continent is ripe with opportunity, and clearly every food company in the world will one day be in Africa because Africa is -- and will be -- so important to feeding the world.

But that’s not our focus today. We’re there because we can help African processors, farmers and communities.

We’re there because through Partners in Food Solutions, we also can help our employees live their values.

James Blair is one such employee. James works for General Mills Europe, but he traveled to Sierra Leone last year to help one of our partners – Project Peanut Butter – as it prepared for a UNICEF audit of operations.

James was impressed with the Project Peanut Butter factory, which makes a therapeutic food that is saving the lives of malnourished children. With his expertise, James was able to identify quality and safety issues that were quickly addressed.

He also found ways to improve efficiency, including one change that increased the plant’s potential output by nearly 10 percent. A Scotsman quick to laugh, James worked hard to help improve this small factory in this faraway war-torn country because he was hungry to help.

It was only on his return, while sitting at Heathrow Airport on his way home to Edinburgh, that the tears began to flow.

“There are still many sad and even tragic sights to be seen in Sierra Leone,” he said, “but projects like these are the start of a better future.”

A 17-year veteran of the food industry and a father of two, James was thankful to be able to tap his expertise. As a result, his loyalty is strong. “I can’t think of a better employer,” he says. “General Mills is where I want to be.”

This is the benefit Partners in Food Solutions gives us, and there are many examples.

Scott Chandler, a General Mills finance director in Singapore, is coordinating several projects, including one in Zambia that’s helping a honey producer develop a plan for growth. Jessica Schwartz, a packaging expert in Minneapolis, helped a fortified flour producer in Kenya redesign its branding.

The PFS work ranges from product formulation to packaging, from plant design to quality improvement. More than 500 General Mills, Cargill and DSM employees are participating.

These employees grow. They gain leadership skills. And they value that they work for companies that care enough about the world to set this all in motion. They tell us this is some of most meaningful work of their careers.

It’s having a big impact on our client companies, too.

At Nyirefami, a small company in Tanzania that mills flour, Partners in Food Solutions volunteers provided the expertise needed to install a quality control lab, and to improve washing and pre-drying operations.

With our assistance, Nyirefami’s capacity has risen five-fold, paving the way for Nyirefami to buy more grain from local farmers and to earn the highest level of food certification available in Tanzania.

Omaroi Omyo, a distributor for Nyirefami told us, “Partners in Food Solutions is not just helping a company, you are helping Tanzania — the farmers, the employees, and people like me who sell the product and those who eat the food.”

I had the pleasure of visiting some of our Partners in Food Solutions partners in Kenya, Zambia and Malawi this year. I’ve also seen the impact we are having on the lives of farmers, who thrive as food processors grow.

Veronica Banda is a farmer in the Eastern Province of Zambia. She sells her cotton to Cargill and her corn to COMACO, a nonprofit that markets food to consumers while striving to save wild animals and ecosystems.

Veronica works hard. Farming’s not easy. She also cares for children, including several who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS.

Veronica’s income is rising … because COMACO’s revenues and sales are rising. Today, Veronica can not only feed her children, she also can send them to school.

Veronica is an amazing woman, believe me. I wish I could introduce her to you. She stands as one of the 40,000 smallholder famers who are already benefitting from the success of COMACO.

Veronica’s story is one I will never forget. Because the improvement in her life, and the lives of her children, is what Partners in Food Solutions is all about.

It’s a powerful idea – and it’s playing out with more and more small companies. Already, PFS is working with 40 food processors on more than 125 projects in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi. As our reach grows, our impact grows, and we know we could accelerate this with more partners.

So it gives me pleasure today to announce that Partners in Food Solutions is deepening its partnership with USAID with a new $15 million dollar co-investment.

This public-private partnership – implemented by TechnoServe and part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives – will help improve African food security.

PFS will provide more than $8 million in resources to the endeavor, leveraging almost $7 million in funding from USAID.

This commitment will utilize more than 50,000 hours of expertise from our employee volunteers and enable us to work with more than 250 processors and millers throughout eastern and southern Africa. These kind of innovative partnerships, under the leadership of USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah, deserve our collective thanks and appreciation. (applause)

Broadly, this new support from USAID will move us closer to our goal of helping more than 200 Africa-based food processors, while training hundreds more. Hundreds of thousands of farmers will benefit, and thousands of tons of healthier local foods will reach millions of African consumers.

Our vision is big … and our journey clearly is long. This is not easy work, but there is much potential. And I believe the role we are playing is exactly the role that we can play best.

I know that many of the people in this room have similar stories. Many of you are doing amazing things.

But some of you in this room may be asking, as I did only a few years ago… “What can I do? What difference can I make?”

To you I say… do what you can do… engage. Do what you do best … and you will make a difference.

Because I know that you, too, are hungry to help.

Thank you.


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