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Marketing Armenian cheese
by Elena Vasseur Garcia and Sara Sangoi

Elena Vasseur Garcia (left), from Kraft Latin America, and Peter Hofsaess, from Kraft Germany, travelled to Armenia as Private/Corporate Sector volunteers to share their expertise with local cheese manufacturers. (UNV)Elena Vasseur Garcia (left), from Kraft Latin America, and Peter Hofsaess, from Kraft Germany, travelled to Armenia as Private/Corporate Sector volunteers to share their expertise with local cheese manufacturers. (UNV)
22 July 2010

Yerevan, Armenia: "For many years, community development goals were philanthropic activities which were seen separate from business objectives, not fundamental to them; doing well and doing good were seen as separate pursuits. But I think that this is changing. What many of the organizations that are represented here today are learning is that cutting-edge innovation and competitive advantage can result from weaving social and environmental considerations into business strategies from the beginning. And in that process, we can help develop the next generation of ideas and markets and employees." - Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard, at the Business for Social Responsibility Annual Conference, November 12, 2003

The pressure on corporations to address economic responsibilities as well as social ones seems to have a positive effect on corporations as well as the cause.  There are many types of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives: some are marketing related (i.e. cause promotion, cause-related marketing, and socially related business activities), and others are outside the typical functions of marketing departments (i.e. employee volunteering and socially responsible business practices).

Kraft is one of the enterprises aware of corporate social responsibility, understood as the voluntary commitment a business makes in choosing and implementing community well-being through discretionary business practices and a contribution of corporate resources.

Kraft responds strategically to social and environmental concerns in its business operations, among others through partnering with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme. Kraft promotes among their employees a culture of volunteerism in developing and transition countries within the UN system.

The Armenian Development Agency (ADA) has had the opportunity to host the first Kraft volunteers within the framework of a project by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) aiming at improving the quality of local fresh cheese production.

Elena Vasseur Garcia, from Kraft Latin America, and Peter Hofsaess, from Kraft Germany, traveled all the way to Armenia to share their knowledge with the local cheese manufacturers. They did so with a lot of enthusiasm and passion, and with the conviction that one day Armenian cheese will be in markets around the world.

"For both of us", says Elena, "it was the first time visiting Armenia, with a lot of expectation on our mission. The first pleasant surprise was the great hospitality of the Armenian people; they really made us feel at home. We had the opportunity to visit seven cheese manufacturers; all of them opened their plants and their hearts to us. We have just come back after two weeks of mission, but our knowledge stays in Armenia. We provided them with all the key information to make a successful cheese production. It is just great to have the opportunity to help others; we hope that in the future we will have another great UNV experience."

Elena and Peter have been working with Kraft for more than 15 and 20 years respectively. Their high-level expertise will not only help improve the know-how of ADA’s cheese companies about quality assurance and product diversification, but it will also contribute to improving the livelihoods of rural producers and larger communities.

Ensuring a reliable source of income for rural producers dealing with these products will contribute directly to reducing rural poverty, which is central to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While directly contributing to an improvement of hygienic and safety standards for consumers, the mission will contribute to the creation of new jobs in cheese production and processing, with a positive impact on the development of the whole country.

Moreover, the presence of such high level experts from the private sector volunteering for the development of Armenia has had a great impact on Armenian small entrepreneurs, who are now looking at the CSR issue with different eyes.

The UNV programme in Armenia was established in August 2008. Since then, a number of international volunteers, mostly Private/Corporate Sector volunteers, have come to the country to help in development and transition issues with various UN agencies. The marketing and export sectors are only two of the many covered by the experts’ assistance. Environmental issues, livelihood and community mobilization are other important areas of involvement.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)