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danone.communities : what is it?

The story of danone.communities begins in 2005 with the meeting of Pr.Yunus and Franck Riboud. It is part of an innovative approach to support social businesses that are created to respond to issues of malnutrition and poverty. These little companies develop a new kind of business models, able to ensure their autonomy and to serve their social mission. On the field, these projects mobilize diverse skills: the co-construction and the involvement of local communities are central to these adventures.

Meeting of minds

It all started in November 2005 with a meeting between Danone CEO Franck Riboud and Muhammad Yunus, President of microlender Grameen Bank and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Realizing that they shared the same vision of development for poor countries, the two men moved quickly to found a business that would leverage their complementary skills. Grameen Danone Foods was built on an innovative idea: set up a small yogurt plant in Bogra, Bangladesh, to promote local development and bring health to the country’s poorest people. Today, the micro-plant they envisioned is in full operation and more plants will be built on the same model throughout Bangladesh.

 

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The birth of Grameen Bank and the growth of microcredit

A native of Bangladesh, Professor Muhammad Yunus holds a doctorate in economics from Vanderbilt University in the United States. In 1972, he returned to Bangladesh to teach at Chittagong University. The microcredit concept came to him in 1974, during a famine in Bangladesh: “The country was suffering from a terrible famine,” he recalls. “When I saw that the theories I taught couldn’t prevent people from dying all around me, my head started to spin.” He set out to learn more about the precarious life of the villagers living near the university, and observed first-hand how his $27 loan enabled a group of 42 families to make and sell small handicrafts without resorting to loan sharks. On reflection, Yunus became convinced that similar loans on a broader scale could reduce poverty in rural Bangladesh.

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Danone’s dual commitment to business success and social progress

Discours de Marseille, Antoine Riboud, 1972

Marseille, 1972. Antoine Riboud, Danone CEO and father of present-day CEO Franck Riboud, stepped up to the podium at a meeting of CNPF, the French employers’ association. And the speech he gave became a milestone.

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Bringing health through food to as many people as possible

In the early 2000s, as Danone expanded its international presence into countries that are significantly poorer than those in Europe, affordability became a critical issue. In response, the group developed low-cost products such as Milkuat in Indonesia and Danimals in South Africa. Danone also launched Dream, an advanced Research and Development project targeting low-cost products with powerful health benefits, and began to consider new economic models.

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Muhammad Yunus and social business

The social business network supported by danone.communities was inspired by the work of Professor Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of Grameen Bank -- the world’s first large-scale microlender, which has helped nearly 2.5 million poor people to date. Muhammad Yunus has clearly defined social business and distinguished it from traditional business:

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Working together for change

In the real world, good intentions aren’t enough. Which is why danone.communities is leading the way towards a new kind of development, hoping others will follow and develop creative solutions of their own. It’s a work in progress, growing stronger with each new project and each new partnership with local stakeholders, for this is by nature a shared effort.
 
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