Mars Ambassador Jeanette Ho visits Ghana for a first-hand experience of UTZ certified co-ops and farmers, partner organizations, auditors and schools. Here she shares her story.

My name is Jeannette Ho and I’m a Global Product Development Scientist at Mars, Inc. I recently participated in the Mars Ambassador Program (MAP) and I’d like to share some of my experiences and thoughts.

Each year Mars, Inc. sponsors associates to participate in partnerships with organizations that have shared missions. Both Mars and UTZ play important roles in cocoa sustainability and thus the Mars Ambassador Program is an opportunity to collaborate in making a greater impact.

My project focused on the methods and role of data collection in certification.

Mars_ambassador_2014-002Why would a Product Development Scientist work on sustainability and data collection you might ask? Well I work in the chocolate industry and I help to make products sold all around the world. Since my role is not directly involved with sourcing, I thought it would be good to understand where our raw materials come from and what sustainability really means.

I was interested to take part in the Mars Ambassador Program with UTZ Certified because, as a scientist, I have a passion for efficiency solutions. As a consumer and world citizen I have a passion for sustainable practices that affect people, the environment and our economy.

At the end of my trip, I can definitely say the experience has given me a new perspective on sustainability and certified products.

The first week I spent meeting with people from various functions at UTZ. I soon realized that running a global certification program was more complex than I would have thought.

Mars_ambassador_2014-001My second week on assignment I flew to Accra, Ghana to meet up with UTZ’s field representative Kwame Osei. While in Ghana, we visited UTZ certified co-ops and farmers, partner organizations, auditors and even a couple schools. Some of the groups were smaller entities, and others much larger.

During the visits I noticed the similarities and differences amongst the operations, and delved into understanding how and why these differences existed. There were challenges and opportunities for efficiency and continuous improvement in the field, and I shared this with the UTZ team upon my return. Some groups were pioneering new methods of data collection and others were championing methods I felt could be applied more broadly in the field. I made note of my observations, existing infrastructure and management systems, and personal recommendations on ways to collect and use data to improve certification impact for the future. The Ghana field visit was but a glimpse at the opportunities that lie ahead for the future of cocoa farming and certification.

Overall the days were long, the roads quite bumpy, and the everyday quite different from life in New Jersey. I found most people in Ghana to be very friendly, and curious as to why I was so far from home and what I thought of their country. When would I be back, they asked? I hadn’t yet seen all the sites like Cape Coast, Labadi Beach, or Lake Volta! I also met some inspiring people along the way, and it reinforced the idea that the world is becoming smaller and that the opportunity to improve is very real if we make the efforts.

The MAP experience made me realize there was more to sustainability than just the idea of it. It takes people, organization and real efforts to make changes meaningful and I am glad to see Mars and UTZ Certified working together towards this important goal.

Read more about Jeanette’s experiences.