Return to World Ark Blog Landing

Editor’s note: PepsiCo is one of a growing number of global companies that are investing in sustainable development by leveraging the skills, expertise and market knowledge of their most talented employees. In March 2014, eight PepsiCo associates began a 30-day volunteer assignment with Heifer International South Africa.  Their work on a sustainable agriculture project in the Limpopo Province highlighted how NGOs and corporations can collaborate to bring real, lasting change to communities in need. Silvia Cruz-Vargas was one of the eight employees on the trip and reflects on her experiences below.

In 2013 I applied to PepsiCorps, PepsiCo’s international corporate volunteering program, and was chosen to be part of an eight-person team that traveled to South Africa to work on a sustainable agriculture assignment with Heifer International South Africa, an arm of the U.S.-based nonprofit Heifer International.

 In 2007, PepsiCo launched Performance with Purpose, a comprehensive strategy to guide our global business.  PepsiCo Chairman

Silvia Cruz-Vargas was one of eight PepsiCorps members who spent a month working with Heifer International South Africa.
Silvia Cruz-Vargas was one of eight PepsiCorps members who spent a month working with Heifer International South Africa.

and CEO, Indra Nooyi, describes Performance with Purpose as the strategy to deliver great performance while doing the right things for people and communities around the world.  As a company, PepsiCo is committed to work in local communities, particularly those in greatest need. Together, with Heifer International South Africa, our goal was to co-create innovative approaches to solve difficult problems like poverty and hunger.

As an employee of PepsiCo’s Global Citizenship and Sustainability Department, I am responsible for advancing PepsiCo’s philanthropic programs/grants in the areas of human and environmental sustainability, overseeing our nonprofit partners who specialize in these fields.  I applied to PepsiCorps because I was excited by the prospect of viewing this type of program through a different lens.  As a volunteer, I would work directly with people in need and serve as a catalyst for change in the communities in which they live.  The opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of programs similar to those I oversee was very motivating to me, and I was grateful to make it through the rigorous and competitive application process.

PepsiCo’s Global Citizenship and Sustainability Department and Heifer International both have vast experience creating and supporting programs that promote affordable nutrition, sustainable agriculture, youth employability and the economic empowerment of women. Working with Heifer’s team was a perfect opportunity to develop new solutions to difficult problems through an exchange of ideas and knowledge.  The chance for me to put my professional skills and experience to use in a hands-on way was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve systemic and transformational change.

Our assignment was focused on the Blouberg Project, a sustainable agriculture program designed to improve living conditions for the Limpopo Province’s poorest residents, many of whom are women and children living with HIV/AIDS.  The Blouberg Project provides the training, skills and resources necessary to help the residents become more productive farmers and raise healthy livestock. Working side by side with the Heifer International South Africa staff and community members, the PepsiCorps team was tasked to create business development plans for the: 

  • Farmers Business Association (FBA):  to manage the Blouberg Project (local residents and the Heifer program team)
  • Community Animal Health Workers Association (CAHWA):  to help maintain the health of program livestock; and
  • Beekeeping and Honey Business (BHB): to train and teach responsibility to the community’s youth.

Living, working and interacting with the local communities for four weeks was critical to the program.  We learned about the local culture and were able to see first-hand how the efforts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors were vital to the program's long-term success. By leveraging PepsiCo’s market knowledge, value chain expertise and business skills, coupled with Heifer International’s values-based, holistic community development model, we developed sustainable plans for each element of the Blouberg project.

We identified some of the constraints the small holder farmers in Blouberg face, proposed a long-term vision to create and activate a Farmer’s Business Association and developed strategies and tactics to gain access to different markets. We proposed a framework for the CAHWA group to provide access to services and counsel on livestock management, such as breeding, nutrition, and hygiene to 700 hundred community members. Lastly, we completed a value-chain analysis and business plan for the Beekeeping program to ensure appropriate use of capital and set a proper vision for scale.

Marisia Geraci, chief executive officer for Heifer International South Africa, agreed that the collaboration was beneficial.
“The PepsiCo volunteers fully immersed themselves into the local context of our Blouberg project in a rural, impoverished community here in South Africa," she said. "They were a tremendous asset to the organization as a whole, our staff and most importantly, our farmers. The in-depth analysis, planning and market linkage creation is already proving to be impactful and has fast tracked the Blouberg project in a way we could not have achieved on our own. This clearly demonstrates that partnerships between the public-private sector are vital if we are to succeed in ending hunger and poverty.”

Since my return from South Africa in April, I find myself more deeply immersed in my work at PepsiCo.  Seeing the faces of the women and girls we helped was a turning point in my life.  I feel a renewed and greater sense of dedication and commitment to my job, working towards bigger goals with higher standards. PepsiCorps helped me find my inner compass. By working under pressure, championing change and building teams, I came back ready to embrace increasing levels of responsibility, act with more confidence and lead with lasting impact.

As a team, we emerged with new skills to create strategies that foster and sustain innovation. The skills to become leaders who can inspire others to achieve success. This experience prompted us to explore our motivations and the link between innovation and leadership. The groundbreaking solutions we collectively developed in South Africa showcase the tremendous amount of talent here at PepsiCo.  Every member of our PepsiCorps team brought a unique ability, area of expertise, and most important, a sincere passion to collectively tackle global challenges.

Author

Silvia Cruz-Vargas

Silvia Cruz-Vargas is a Senior Manager Programs & Partnerships within PepsiCo’s Global Citizenship & Sustainability team. She is responsible for leading and directing efforts surrounding PepsiCo’s philanthropic interests in the areas of Human and Environmental Sustainability. As part of her role, Silvia leads and coordinates key relationships for the PepsiCo Foundation and is part of Adelante, PepsiCo’s Hispanic network of employees. Silvia began working at PepsiCo in 2010 as part of the Global Operations Group supporting PepsiCo’s international businesses. She has also participated on global cross functional teams within PepsiCo. She holds a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs as well as a Bachelors of Science and Masters in Environmental Management from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.