Guest blog by Madison Barre, General Mills Employee and Partners in Food Solutions Volunteer.
One of the lessons I learned as an employee at General Mills was that food security is not proprietary. Rather, it is our collective responsibility. Everyone wants to ensure food is safe, accessible, nutritious, and available for all.
At General Mills, that responsibility is at the heart of much of what we do. It’s also why as a new hire six years ago I signed up to volunteer with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) – an organization which General Mills helped found that lets employees volunteer their time and expertise to help small food companies in Africa.
I’ve always enjoyed being a part of volunteer opportunities that offer a chance to make an impact in the world, and when I heard colleagues talking about how rewarding it was to participate in this particular program, I knew I had to be involved. What no one told me – and what I never expected – was how being a volunteer would enable me to grow in my career while helping increase food security and safety in Africa.
As a Research and Development Engineer, my daily routine ranges from testing new products in the kitchen to collaborating with various manufacturing facilities to improve processing and safety procedures. Though PFS uses a virtual volunteer model, in rare cases volunteers are able to travel to Africa and work directly with client companies. I was excited to be one of them.
All the skills that I use daily in my job served me well on my recent volunteer trip to Malawi. While there, I worked with a small company that makes highly-fortified foods, helping them review their food safety programs. I also advised and mentored their new Quality Manager on food safety standards. Each day while I was there, I traveled to the production plant to shadow the manager and provide personalized advice and guidance. We spent much of our time reviewing the company’s food safety programs and preparing for an upcoming food safety certification. Most importantly, we worked together to build confidence and credibility within her team to protect food safety.
Most of our Partners in Food Solutions clients don’t have the world at their fingertips like we do in the United States, and their access to resources is often limited. At an American company like General Mills, I have access to a vast pool of tools and expertise that empowers PFS volunteers like me to make a true difference. We practice a “Learn, Do, Teach” method at work, and I try to bring that guiding principle to all of my PFS projects.
By sharing what I know, I am helping our clients produce safe, nutritious food for their own communities. My hope is that they will become experts too, and help even more entrepreneurs and manufacturers provide quality food for the world.
Partners in Food Solutions works to strengthen food security, improve nutrition and increase economic development across Africa by boosting the competitiveness of the food processing sector. Tapping into the expertise of their consortium of world-class food companies, PFS links technical and business expert volunteers like me with promising entrepreneurs working to strengthen the African food value chain. The partnership opens doors for leading food companies like General Mills to provide small and medium-sized processors and millers in the developing world with the business and technical skills they need to succeed by helping them improve production, marketing, and safety processes.
My volunteer experience has been transformative for me. PFS opens up the world not just for our clients, but for volunteers like me who are eager to use their problem-solving skills and expand their expertise to improve global food security.
I’m encouraged to work for a company like General Mills where the spirit of volunteerism is central to our mission and company culture, and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to serve others in countries all over the world. When I first joined General Mills, I was told volunteering for Partners in Food Solutions would be one of the most gratifying experiences of my career. Now, having participated in four PFS projects, I couldn’t agree more.
Madison Barre began working for General Mills six years ago and is currently a Research and Development Engineer for new product innovation with the Meals Department. Through Feed the Future, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Partners in Food Solutions have aligned to build the capacity of local companies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.