Reflections from the 2017 World Economic Forum
POSTED 24th May 2019

In January 2017, Divine CEO Sophi Tranchell attended the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She had been invited as a result of being named one of Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2016. Read on below to learn more about her reflections both prior to the trip and after, as written by Sophi.

Pre-Davos Reflections

Running Divine has been an amazing journey, and it has taken me to some wonderful places where I’ve met incredible people. There are many moments that stand out over the last 17 years, including:

  • Visiting the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo in Kumasi, Ghana and experiencing democracy in action at their Annual General Meeting (AGM). Also -- seeing golden cocoa pods growing from the trunks of the trees.
  • Arriving at the factory in Germany, the smell of warm chocolate in the air, having driven past the gabled building as snow floated down.
  • Launching Divine Chocolate USA in Washington, D.C. with Comfort Kumeah, the General Secretary of Kuapa, who addressed the assembled policy people on Capitol Hill on a snowy Valentine’s Day.
  • Watching Kuapa farmer Mary Antwi Nyamekye eat her very first chocolate cake from the Women's Institute stall at a Bristol street market.
  • Arriving in the dead of night in Suada, a magical town at the end of a fjord, with clear blue skies and glassy still water, to attend a Fairtrade conference in Norway’s first Fairtrade City.
  • Meeting sugarcane farmers in the Shire Valley in Malawi, their bicycles upturned, weeding their sugarcane, standing taller than them, in the baking sun.

Lots of people have been curious about Divine, the chocolate company owned by cocoa farmers. Chancellor Gordon Brown always invited the farmers for tea, the Archbishop wanted to know if the business model was part of the solution following the financial crisis in 2008, and even the Queen has acknowledged the model of a food company that delivers more value to the farmers in Ghana.

Now, I am on my way to World Economic Forum in Davos.

My journey with Divine has made me acutely aware of the barriers to greater equality and fairness in the way business and government operate, and the invitation to Davos offers an extraordinary opportunity to address these issues with key influencers from around the world.

The agenda promises meeting with the great and good, exploring ways to deliver a sustainable and equitable future for all through responsive and responsible leadership, and recognising the importance of restoring trust and fostering cooperation.

I am hoping to share our business model, hear new ideas, and make new friends who can help us build the business and hopefully create a world where everyone can celebrate and cherish chocolate. This seems only appropriate while in Switzerland, the home of some of the best loved chocolate in the world.

Post-Davos Reflections

In Europe’s highest city, covered in snow, I met some truly inspiring Social Entrepreneurs working internationally.

They worked with the poor and the vulnerable, with refugees, pregnant teenagers in Colombia, elderly people in Japan, and people who needed spectacles.

Their enterprises were ensuring children aren’t working to make things like carpets and rugs, helping organise street vendors in India, giving women a voice from Turkey to Pakistan, using technology to improve literacy and sharing some of the world’s best stories.

Others were recycling the unrecyclable, including making the plastic that washes ashore into shampoo bottles, making solar lamps (and working with women to use and maintain them), and working with local people to protect the world’s wildlife.

It was a privilege to spend time with them - committed, energetic people. I was also pleased to see that the Schwab Social Entrepreneur programme -- along with the Global Shapers and Young Global Leaders -- was driving a more diverse and more truly international attendance at Davos, making it more inclusive and giving developing countries a presence there.

It was clear that all of us were responding to failures in the way governments and business have organised the world, which seemed particularly appropriate as the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum was ‘Responsive and Responsible Leadership’.

We have each built a business to help the people who had been left behind, but we also wanted to change the system that caused it.

Building coalitions is an important tool. I came away resolved to double my efforts at building a coalition that changes the way the chocolate industry works and really improves the livelihoods of cocoa farmers. (And, all of you chocolate lovers can be a part of it!)

It was an incredibly stimulating environment, a gathering of some of the best thinkers and most powerful people in the world. With lots of competing programmes, I tried to follow ones that seemed to be most relevant.

There was a session on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with four African Heads of State, the Prime Minister of Sweden, Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever), people from the World Bank, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and our very own Richard Curtis. It was good to hear what they were actually doing to achieve the SDGs. The Ethiopian President spoke about a renewable energy hub in East Africa. Paul Polman said that we need 1000 corporations to commit if we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

I also attended a Private session with Theresa May who personally led UK’s Modern Slavery Act through Parliament. It comes into effect this year and requires companies turning over more than £36 million to report on what they have done to ensure that there is no slavery in their supply chains. It will also have an impact on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that supply bigger companies. It is a problem that affects 45 million people and requires a global response. As the UK has passed legislation, a number of other countries are considering similar legislation and, as companies are already having to report here, it should be simpler to achieve.

The session on Tax Justice was encouraging; 130 jurisdictions have already committed to sharing information, significant progress. The Polish Deputy Prime Minister said: ”I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

It was a treat to meet Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s International Executive Director, who was an eloquent advocate for country by country reporting.

It was shocking to see the NASA time lapse satellite imagery over the last 30 years. It showed the impact of monoculture production of crops like palm oil on deforestation which ultimately disturbs the precipitation patterns and causes forests to burn; you could actually see them burning all over the world. While horrifying, it could be a persuasive tool in talking to powerful policy makers.

Arianna Huffington interviewed Jamie Oliver, the champion of sugar tax and a passionate proponent for healthy and sustainable food. He talked about his frustrations, naming and shaming metropolitan leaders, and how food is a great way to teach children about maths and science. He also said that your attitude to food could make you a better human. When asked what he thought the new US President would do with Michelle’s vegetable garden, he said - “He’s not stupid so he won’t cut down the garden, as it would be like cutting down hope!”

The World Food Programme hosted a dinner Challenging the Food System; they talked about the Field to Market Alliance. They want to support smallholders getting access to information. They also want to support access to appropriate inputs and planting materials to significantly increase their yields, so they may supply the world’s growing population with food and hopefully improve their incomes.

The extraordinary week finished with a concert that exactly coincided with the United States’ Presidential inauguration. The Afghan Women’s Orchestra “Zohra” from Kabul supported by Geneva’s Youth Orchestra, dressed in delightfully colourful outfits, played a mixture of traditional and classical music.

It was a momentous occasion -- a performance by Afghanistan’s first female conductors and the first women to play music in their country for 30 years.

They were a magnificent reminder of how the world can be.