It’s intended to make profits. Its assessment of market opportunity is that it should multiply 50 times based on the current plan. It uses the latest technology in milk processing and packaging. It involves two global giants and a unique technical alliance. What could be more ordinary about a new business enterprise? Not much, except that it is not just a business enterprise but also a social business enterprise. Meet Grameen Danone Foods Limited, a joint venture launched last week in Dhaka and the reason that Zinedine Zidane was seen doing some fancy footwork at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
In November, 2005, Franck Riboud, Danone’s Chairman and CEO, and Mohammed Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, met. Twelve months later, on November 8, 2006, they met again. Along with Zidane and scores of reporters and photographers, they ate yogurt, the company’s first product. This venture has been conceived and designed to address a critical social problem. The plan: make a profit and use the profits to replicate the model over and over again. The essence of the model is community focus — purchase from, produce in, sell to, employ from and improve lives of the local community. And with the surplus generated by profits, go to another community and do the same thing all over again.
Attempts to reduce malnutrition in Bangladesh, as in India, have so far relied on government programmes and NGOs. But this time, a new product — yogurt — has been developed especially for children suffering from malnutrition. Besides the normal benefits available in yogurt (calcium, protein and live bacteria), this one has vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc added to it. An 80 gm pack is expected to provide 30 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of nutrients for children. At Taka 5 per cup, it is expected to compete with branded snacks that have found their way even into rural Bangladesh, as well as to find a place on the thala when the family sits down for its evening meal.
The milk for the yogurt will be purchased locally everyday. Grameen will be providing micro-credit to help increase local ownership of cows and milk production. The yogurt will be sweetened with date molasses produced locally. The production unit has been designed to be small enough to cater to demand within a radius of 30 kms. The plant is powered by solar energy and bio-gas and has provision for harvesting rain water. The product will be sold door-to-door by Grameen ladies. And the cups will be made not from plastic but from biodegradable corn starch.
Describing their first meeting, Riboud spoke of how Yunus and he, in the middle of their 2005 lunch, just agreed that they needed to do something about malnourished children. No feasibility studies, no what-if analyses. Just a vision and the determination. “It may be an impossible dream,” said Riboud. “But with Zidane’s help, we will make the impossible possible.” Here’s to such dreamers.
Pradeep Kakkar is a Management Consultant working in the development sector