Alex is the first-ever Executive Secretary of the Initiative Cacao Côte d’Ivoire-Ghana (ICCIG) since 2021. Prior to that, he was the Director of Corporate Affairs, Cocoa, Mars Wrigley Confectionery. Alex joined Mars in 2013, as Global Programs lead, where he built partnerships to deliver an average of $20M per year in external funding in support of their raw material sourcing strategies. He developed advocacy and engagement strategies to support their sustainability objectives.
He was responsible for overseeing all government relationships and international institutional activity relevant to cocoa in West Africa. He contributed to associate relevant engagement to cocoa as we progress on our journey to ensure that cocoa is a sustainable crop for the future.
He was also Director of International Government Relations, and in that role, he supported the design of a framework for the development of strategies to guide Mars’ engagement with international organisations, such as the WHO, IFAD, and World Bank and others.
As an Agro-Industrial Engineer with an M.Sc. in Process Design & Management (Major in Food Bioprocesses), my professional journey has been a dedicated "pursuit of sustainability". Having championed social, economic and environmental initiatives in the coffee sector throughout Latin America, I am currently leading the Sustainable Coffee Agenda at the Specialty Coffee Association, the largest trade association in the coffee sector.
My passion for the coffee sector led me to Rikolto in the 2010s. During this time, I was involved in collecting micro-narratives and testing innovative approaches to assess inclusive business in the Colombian and Ecuadorian coffee sectors. This experience, working alongside with like-minded and committed professionals, forged an indelible and lasting connection with Rikolto.
For me, Rikolto represents an enabling environment where I can continue to promote inclusive business models, develop public and private partnerships, and engage diverse stakeholders in dialogue to support farmers' livelihoods and ensure nutritious and affordable food and beverages for all.
When Rikolto invited me to join the Board, I had no hesitation in accepting. Among the many admirable qualities I've observed in Rikolto, it's Rikolto's consistency and passion that resonate with me. It was this commitment that convinced me that, as a member of Rikolto's global family, I could actively contribute to the promotion of sustainable food systems that benefit both local communities and the environment on a global scale.
I have fond memories of working extensively with Rikolto's team in Indonesia (then known as VECO) in 2015, to promote sustainable coffee and cocoa on two leading platforms in Indonesia. At the time, I was IDH-Sustainable Trade Initiative's Country Director for Indonesia and Malaysia, and since then I've been actively involved in various committees and advisory boards (e.g. PepsiCo and TFA/World Economic Forum).More recently, my focus has shifted to climate finance and sustainable commodities with ADM Capital and other relevant financial institutions and companies.
Drawing on this diverse professional experience and academic background in environmental management and development, as well as environmental engineering, I'm looking forward to enriching Rikolto's discussions on climate and sustainable finance, and enabling Rikolto and its partners to refine their business models and thereby scale their impact.
Based in Ghana, Jennifer Azuka Abuah is a sustainability expert with more than 12 years of distinguished experience managing Olam's Cocoa Livelihoods Programme, overseeing a network of 50,000 registered farmers. In addition to her high-impact work, she founded Emmy's Daughter Organics, an agro-processing start-up specialising in medicinal and aromatic plants. Jennifer's innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with her commitment to sustainable agricultural practices, brings valuable on-the-ground perspective and insights to the Board.
Rikolto and I go way back. As a teenager and boy scout I was already involved in fundraising in Belgium, for Vredeseilanden at the time. Every year in January I took to the streets, selling gadgets to raise money, often even on my birthday. Many years later, I started working for FADO in Indonesia, a small NGO which later merged with Vredeseilanden. On my return to Belgium I became a member of the General Assembly and of its Finance Committee, and later, a member of the Belgian Board of Directors.
It was this board that initiated the transition towards an international network organisation, and my role in the International Board of Directors is to be the link between the old and the new board. I know how Rikolto works in the field, I'm familiar with our core values and approaches, and I know and fully support the new direction it wants to take. I also bring to the international board my financial expertise, as I currently work in the banking industry, as well as my experience in change management and general management.
What kept me involved with Rikolto for so long is the organisation’s constant willingness to improve, to do better. Rikolto is known and appreciated for its self-reflection and innovation. So after all these years you can still find me at the door of a Belgian supermarket in January, raising funds for Rikolto!
I came into contact with Rikolto as a member of the board of The Shift, the first Belgian network in which private companies, NGOs and other civil society actors discussed sustainability issues. At that time I worked for Unilever in the area of sustainability. Working at the crossroads between environmental aspects, international relations and business has always been my main interest.
Rikolto has occasionally invited me to their strategic discussions on how to work with private companies and I've always liked the open spirit during those meetings. This is really one of the strengths of the organisation: to create settings in which all people around the table feel safe to express their vision, without being pinned down. Then a couple of years ago, I joined the General Assembly of Vredeilanden (now Rikolto in Belgium).
As a multi-lingual Dutch person I have lived, worked and studied in the UK, the US, Germany and The Netherlands, but currently live in Belgium. So I feel well connected with the many stakeholders of Rikolto in Belgium. I also braved the mountains of Nicaragua and the rice fields in Indonesia on my bike to raise funds for Rikolto's activities.
So I did not hesitate when I was asked to join the new International Board. Together with Koen Dolphen, I see myself as the link between the 'old' and the 'new' Rikolto and I understand Rikolto's way of working and thinking. I look forward to sharing my experience working with multi-stakeholder processes and communications.
When I discovered that Rikolto was looking for someone to join the Board of both the Belgian non-profit organisation as well as the international foundation, I was curious to know more. Based on my experience and my passion, I felt I could and wanted to join the Boards. Working in an international context to make sustainable food available for all is something I really want to contribute to. Being an economist and having grown up between fruit and vegetables, I gained experienced in international organisations and have more then 10 years of experience in people management. After several years active as an expressive and enthusiastic consultant, I felt it was time to go back to the roots: being active with food made with love in an artisanal way (Bon&belge).
I have always enjoyed working with Rikolto, from the first time a few years ago while reviewing regional programmes in the Andes and Latin America. The first email that I received said: "here are all the documents that you need, and here is a list of all the things that have gone wrong. Start there!". I found that very refreshing; all the other institutes and NGOs that I usually work with are often only focused on showing all the good things that are happening.
One of the things that I very much respect and value about Rikolto, is the fact that you are willing to try new things. There seems to be a greater appetite or willingness to fail, with a strong genuine desire to learn about what is going on. The other element that I like is Rikolto's capacity to bridge practice from the field to influence policies. I think this remains a big challenge, not only for Rikolto, but for most organisations that try to do this. Furthermore Rikolto’s people and underlying values very much appeal to me: the notion of interdependence and dialogue, and the idea of working with various different kinds of partners that may not seem obvious from the outside.
That is what has moved me to support Rikolto's work as part of its international board of directors. I want to provide support in the areas in which I am knowledgeable and in which I have useful skills, strengthening Rikolto's capacity as it transitions towards a network organisation.
I really appreciate to join Rikolto's International Board and I see myself bringing over 30 years of experience in working with smallholder farmers especially women and youth in East Africa. In my current position I have also engaged with micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in food staples input markets, processing, packaging and trading. This partnership with private sector led to innovations that increased access to markets by smallholder farmers and stimulated growth of SMEs agribusinesses including produce off-takers and processors as they are the backbone of the food systems. In so doing we are building resilient and sustainable food systems in the region.
I am excited that Rikolto is supporting the approach. My previous experience when I worked with the Ministry of Agriculturein Tanzania in advisory services as a communication and knowledge management specialist brought me closer to farmer-based organisations. I supported them to mobilise and utilise their social capital that built and strengthened collective actions in various value chain development initiatives.
As an Agriculture and Rural Development practitioner, I knew about Rikolto (then VECO) since early 1990s when I was working in IFAD funded Southern Highlands Extension and Rural Finance project in Tanzania. The collaboration with Rikolto helped smallholder farmers to build strong organisations that have a voice in bringing lasting change in their livelihoods. In my work in East Africa, I was brought closer to Rikolto when implementing joint projects in Tanzania and Uganda.
I will position myself in the Board to share knowledge and continue to support the work that Rikolto is doing with smallholder farmers and focus on transformation of smallholder farmers towards commercialisation. We will work closely with SMEs in building strong agribusinesses that promote regional trade and thus develop sustainable food systems in the region to attain food and nutrition security and for wealth creation.
I’ve gotten to know Rikolto as a member of the Food Lab network, through the strategic learning assessments for both Central America and Latin America where I had the pleasure to meet both regional staff and visit some of the incredible farmer associations that Rikolto is supporting.
I’ve found Rikolto to be one of the few organisations that reflect on their work and are willing to learn. Rikolto shares the same values regarding commitment to being a learning organisation as the Sustainable Food Lab. What I love about the organisation is that it’s a mix between practical work on the field and a robust theoretical foundation. I was also struck by Rikolto's history: I haven't seen many successful mergers between 3 different civil society organisations and this is a testament to their adaptability.
My background is in supply chain management and ethical purchasing, managing cocoa purchasing from 1995-2002 at a US specialty chocolate company and then running my own consulting company to help companies develop ethical sourcing programs. I’ve always worked at the intersection between trade & development, and continue this work in our programme on Agriculture & Development at the Food Lab.
In my role on Rikolto's board, I will bring insights from this US perspective on business, where the dialogue is different to Europe on concepts such as corporate social responsibility and working with NGOs.
I am thrilled to be involved in the debates on the future of smallholder farming and on defining the global strategies for the future.