By Amanda MacArthur, Vice President, Global Pro Bono and Engagement, PYXERA Global
Last fall, eight PepsiCo employees spent four weeks in the rural town of Afogados da Ingazeira in Pajeú, Brazil. In theory, their mission was simple: to provide pro bono service to two sustainable agriculture organizations working to improve agricultural productivity in spite of a three-year drought. Considered to be the worst in 60 years, the region’s persistent water shortage is limiting local farmers’ ability to earn a living. As one regional farmer, Valmir, stated, “To grow crops in these conditions is only for the few. I used to be able to grow five boxes of passion fruit. Today I can’t even grow enough to make my own juice.”
The pro bono service of the eight employees was made possible through PepsiCorps, a one-month leadership program facilitated by PYXERA Global, designed to embody the company’s Performance with Purpose mission. Spanning two projects, the experience taught them first-hand about the challenges people faced in the semiarid region. It quickly became apparent that at the heart of every obstacle was the drought and the resulting water shortage.
Sue Tsokris, the Vice President of Sustainability and Global Citizenship at PepsiCo, and the Vice President of the PepsiCo Foundation had the chance to travel to Brazil to witness the program first-hand. “On paper, Performance with Purpose is about delivering strong financial performance while focusing on Human, Environmental, and Talent Sustainability, because doing good is good for business,” Sue pointed out. “In practice, it’s much more three-dimensional.”
Aly ElSherei, the first Egyptian to participate in the PepsiCorps program and the Productivity and Sustainability Manager for PepsiCo Snacks in Egypt, was deeply moved by the experience, both personally and professionally. Aly and his PepsiCorps colleagues worked with Projeto Dom Helder Camara, a government project focusing on supporting agricultural families, and the local community of Quiemada Nova to develop a commercialization strategy for their recently launched fruit-pulp business.
“Working with a global team from different cultures and with diverse backgrounds has made this experience unforgettable…. The team passed through the different stages of Storming, Norming, and Performing,” shared Aly in an article in The New Global Citizen capturing his experience. Reaching high performance so quickly “required excellent leadership skills from each member of the team… Our dynamic environment forced every one of us to play a leading role, based on our unique knowledge, skills, and relevant experiences. The rest of the team always supported their momentary leader, which allowed the team to integrate the strengths of its members while avoiding the weaknesses of any individual.”
Matt Gould, the Gatorade Marketing Manager from Toronto, Canada and his team worked with the NGO, Diaconia to develop a marketing strategy to increase the supply and demand of organic fruits. He described his perspective: “The experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will broaden our global network, provide a new perspective of the world we live in, and ultimately allow each of us to leverage our business background to make a difference in the local community.”
According to Sue Tsokris, helping others is just a starting point.
“PepsiCorps is not just about helping those in need, though it’s not a bad place to start. Helping others is the sandbox the group plays in. The program, built on the core principles of Performance with Purpose… is about rising to the occasion… cultivating unity, and, finally, inspiring and motivating others around that common purpose.”
Through global pro bono service programs like PepsiCorps, employees can better understand that “success is driven by mutually beneficial collaboration, a culture of servant leadership that deemphasizes who is in charge in favor of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”
Sue understood perfectly why pro bono service programs like these are win-win-win.
“Between the social problem solving, the employee skill-building, the deep connections with people from other cultures, and the cross-company relationship-building, it is hard to identify just one thing that makes the PepsiCorps program so impactful. Ultimately, it’s a combination of all of these things, and more. At the end of four weeks in Afogados, it isn’t entirely clear who gained the most from the experience—our employees, our hosts, or our company. The true victory is realizing it doesn’t really matter.”
Short-term partnerships like PepsiCorps create longstanding shared value for these seemingly divergent groups. Eight employees returned to their respective countries after four weeks. The knowledge imparted, shared, and gained, however, continues to strengthen the ability of each to exist in an interconnected global marketplace.
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