The target of our company’s profits? Orphans. Photo: Ben Aijan.
We hope this guest blog post from Donald Larson, CEO and Founder of the Sunshine Nut Company, inspires you just as much as it inspired us. In this piece, he tells the story of how he gave up a top job at Hershey’s to pursue his own socially good company.
The disturbing conversation happened in the Ghana airport back in 2004. I had recently turned 40 and was on a promising career at Hershey’s. I was moved into Commodities as Director of Cocoa Operations to bring innovation and opportunity as I had done in other assignments.
We had just surfaced from the African bush after assessing the cocoa crop that would bring delicious chocolate to the mouths of millions.
As we sat in the airport lounge waiting for our flight home, a conversation which had started with a group of young college graduates turned uncomfortable when they discovered that I was one of the largest cocoa buyers in the world. Looks of warmth and welcoming turned to looks of disgust as they remarked that people were in poverty because of the prices Hershey was paying for the cocoa.
Wait a minute…we were buying all that cocoa from these poor farmers. Our company was the one providing income for millions of families. I thought I was part of the solution, not part of the problem. It’s the market (the law of supply and demand) that dictates the price.
I wasn’t the enemy. Yes – we were concerned about low pricing because of shareholder value. If we didn’t hit the numbers, we might not have jobs. But these hostile graduates talked about “fair trade” as the solution – which involves in many cases raising the price above the market levels. In my eyes, fair trade wasn’t the solution either as artificially raising the price of a good will eventually create an imbalance in supply that would lead the prices to come crashing down for lack of demand. I think fair trade is an option at small scale for people willing to support the movement.
That conversation kept me unsettled because a business model to eradicate poverty didn’t exist. Three years later I was disillusioned with the lifestyle that I had reached. Success was not all that it was cracked up to be. So I went on a spiritual journey and during that period of contemplation, the idea popped into my head – “Build food factories in third world nations to bring lasting economic transformation.” As I pondered this idea over the next few months, the formation of a concept came into clarity… a concept that I believe will have the ability to transform the lives of the poor for the long term. I had a new calling and I named it “The Sunshine Approach.”
This business model is built on a 90 percent distribution of the company’s net proceeds back to the poor and orphaned in Africa. It would be built on the harvests from small farm holders in Africa and pay them fairly. It would involve putting food processing factories near the farming communities to help bring them a market. These world-class food factories would help teach food processing courses at the local universities to give everyone opportunity.
The 90 percent distribution would include 30 percent going back to the farmers through “hand-ups” not handouts… as projects in the farming villages which would raise the standard of living. Another 30 percent would go to orphan care, which is so greatly needed.
Our factories would hire a large percentage of young adults who come out from these orphanages, further educate them, and look to promote them into positions of leadership. The final 30 percent would build food companies in other African nations with other types of small farm holders’ harvests to spread the prosperity resulting from this type of business model.
So I am now on the road to a solution. That road led me to Mozambique where I have lived with my family the last two years building The Sunshine Nut Company. Look to see our delicious roasted cashews soon in stores in both South Africa and the USA. Our small factory’s 50 employees will mean employment for more than 1,000 additional employees in the shelling factories up North and 50,000 farming families receiving fair pricing for the cashews we purchase. But more importantly, look for the sale of these outstanding, competitive food products to be the engine used to drive transformation among the poor, the orphaned, and those wanting opportunity.
The Sunshine Approach is all about value-driven business – where values such as dignity, love and community come together with excellence. You can help by enjoying our product.
Providing hope never tasted so good.