Improving community relations: Inside COFCO International’s Sustainability Ambassador Network
“Supporting the communities where we work and live is central to the success of our business,” says Abdias Machado, Sustainability Manager, Latin America, COFCO International. “Our Sustainability Ambassador Network helps to strengthen our social and environmental efforts, while creating opportunities for our employees to participate and encouraging more talented individuals to join the company.”
Established in 2020 to help build momentum on COFCO International’s sustainability strategy and community investment ambitions, the network has quickly grown to encompass 184 members in 66 locations across 20 countries. Machado, who is himself a Sustainability Ambassador, has been closely involved in engaging employees in Latin America and beyond to join the network and encourage their colleagues to participate, including through the company’s Global Impact Season.
“Our Sustainability Ambassador network creates value in multiple ways,” explains Machado. “Firstly, it awakens our employees’ interest in volunteering, giving them an opportunity to support community projects, strengthen their personal development and make a positive social impact. Importantly, it ensures ongoing engagement with the people and communities with whom we interact daily, and enables employees throughout our business to take action on delivering our Meeting Tomorrow’s Demand strategy at a local level.”
Furthermore, the company encourages the exchange of knowledge and experiences, which is important to strengthen the network and learn about new approaches from other Ambassadors. For example, recently, ambassadors representing all regions in Brazil joined an in-person workshop to exchange experiences and learn more about key sustainability topics including climate change, diversity and apiculture.
Better communication and stronger community relationships
With Sustainability Ambassadors on the ground interacting with community members, COFCO International’s managers can respond to stakeholders’ needs and concerns more rapidly, developing and maintaining good relationships. Ambassadors also present ideas for community projects to the company’s sustainability team for evaluation. From a management perspective, Machado explains that the greatest challenge is balancing the need to ensure projects support the company’s strategy with managing ambassadors’ expectations for funding.
“Our Project Pollinate biodiversity initiative originated in this way, from the grassroots, and has now reached 10,000 people, while encouraging bees on the land surrounding our sugar plantations,” says Machado. “We provide training to beekeepers to improve their honey yields, enable children to nurture stingless bees at home, and train pilots to apply agricultural inputs to our sugarcane plantations more precisely.”
Similarly, ambassadors play a key role in communicating the company’s investments in expanding access to education, improving community wellbeing and promoting environmental conservation. This can help communities to understand the benefits of COFCO International’s presence, reducing and eliminating potential misunderstandings.
The company’s Global Impact Season provides an annual opportunity to consolidate and further strengthen support for high impact projects. The latest edition focused on carbon emission reductions, and included projects globally, from the installation of solar panels in our communities, changes to internal company travel policies and practices, encouragement of greener procurement, to hosting learning sessions about reducing emissions in our day-to-day work.
Looking ahead, Machado believes that acting on the company’s new materiality assessment will bring interesting challenges in ensuring that the issues raised as most important to the business and its stakeholders – climate change, zero deforestation and human rights – are progressed as community projects.
“Now, we must come together as a business, especially executive leaders, to be a “game changer” and engage ourselves and other employees in this network, creating a new series of projects that help to protect and grow our business in the same moment that we drive climate action and social resilience in our local communities.” There's no strong business without strong communities and vice versa. he concludes.
For more information, please see COFCO International’s 2022 Sustainability Report.