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strategy

In January 2007, 47-year-old Dutchman Feike Sijbesma attended his first World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Just weeks before, his employer Royal Dutch State Mines (DSM) had announced that Sijbesma would be its next chief executive. DSM – once a coalmining firm – was, at the time, predominantly a European industrial chemical company with divisions in food ingredients. But all that was about to change. On one snowy afternoon, Sijbesma sat in on a private WEF breakout session during which African leaders criticized Western food aid shipped to their continent for the last 50 years. Western food is full calories, which keeps people alive, they acknowledged. But being largely devoid of micronutrients, it leaves people unhealthy and unable to reach their full physical and cognitive potential. It is a practice that keeps people going, they argued, but leaves them unable to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s economic growth. Following the session, Sijbesma approached one African president who had spoken most passionately. He introduced himself, explained

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that DSM had a division in nutrition, and promised to help solve the issue. The response from this president was a sceptical “sure you will”, as he had heard it all before. Undeterred, and inspired to ‘Do Something Meaningful’ (the DSM initials have been repurposed), Sijbesma approached the United Nations and the World Food Programme (WFP) to ask how DSM could help. This was well before the ‘public private partnership’ concept had become entrenched in development vernacular, so DSM was forging new and difficult ground. Yet DSM persisted and signed its first memorandum of understanding with WFP later that same year – a partnership that has now lasted a decade. These days, DSM helps ensure that the food WFP serves in its school feeding programmes and emergency relief efforts is nutritious, fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Not only has DSM made its nutritional scientist available to the WFP, but it has invented specific products for WFP missions, such as MixMe sachets, which can be added in-situ in schools and homes. Over the years, DSM employees have raised millions in cash and in-kind contributions,

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Dialogue Q4 2017