The Sweetness of Social Entrepreneurship: How Madécasse is Using Chocolate as a Force for Change

When I attended the Natural Products Expo East 2016, I was impressed by the number of social entrepreneurs seeking to change that practice. I found business owners, like those behind Madécasse, who realized that they could be both a force for good and own thriving, lucrative businesses.

Madécasse was founded by two former Peace Corp volunteers, Tim McCollum and Brett Beach,  who served in Malagasy, Madagascar. They fell in love with the people and the place and they wanted to do more to help them. They founded Madécasse, a fair trade business that produces heirloom chocolate from Madagascar.

The entire chocolate-making process is done in the country and in partnership with the local community. Madécasse has provided jobs for many people in Malagasy, both in their factories and on their farms. Additionally, the company has preserved land, through its cocoa farming, that would have probably been deforested for firewood or to grow rice. Anyone doing business in a developing country knows it isn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy for Madécasse either. The company has had to invest in infrastructure projects, like building bridges, just to make their operations possible. One of the ways they’ve been able to overcome some of the challenges is by building smart partnerships with organizations like Whole Foods’ Whole Planet Foundation, which has partnered with them to build wells and improve school buildings.  Another avenue the company pursued was to secure funding from an alternative lender, RSF Social Finance. “Because of RSF’s financing, Madécasse was able to double sales quickly, jumping from shipping $150,000 to $300,000 worth of product each month and launching the new products with Kroger and Whole Foods.” (Megan Mendenhall, “Madécasse Breaks the Mold by Making Chocolate at the Source”, 2015)

Madécasse is a perfect example of how business can be a force for good. For a long time now, I’ve been saying that there is a fatal flaw in our traditional international development model. I keep asking myself, why organizations are “serving” the same communities decade after decade. The model hasn’t, and I believe can never, work because it reinforces a dependency mindset, based on paternalism. Such a mindset is the antithesis of helpfulness. It deflates the ego and cripples ingenuity, inhibiting people’s ability to work to better their own lives. There are no incentives for growth, there is limited transfer of technology, and it is focused on increasing the production of raw materials for export as a means to capital. Truthfully, I believe these exports are sought because they do more good for donor nations than those we are supposed to be helping.  It’s just bad no matter how you look at it.

People have to have an ownership stake in their lives. If you really want to help people, the best thing you can do for them is to give them that. Teach a course on entrepreneurship or basic business skills. Help people come up with new and innovative ways to utilize the resources around them. If you have the ability to put the infrastructure in place, why not start a business in a developing country, producing finished goods, like ready-to-consume chocolate? You will find that you will increase your personal wealth and you will empower people to do the same for themselves.

And, in case you are wondering, Madécasse the chocolate is absolutely delicious! My favorite is the toasted coconut dark chocolate. ?

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” 

― Trevor NoahBorn a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood