This ESADE MBA Is Aiming To Improve Cocoa Producer Livelihoods In West Africa

Selene Scotton's interest in commodity pricing stems from her time working in West Africa with the Peace Corps. Now she hopes to positively impact producers' lives with the skills learned in her MBA

Selene Scotton is currently pursuing a full-time MBA at ESADE Business School after two years work with the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa. The 18 month program is currently ranked sixth in Europe by the Financial Times.

While in Benin, Selene worked closely with NGOs and local businesses and got first-hand experience of the impact of commodity pricing on producers and communities. She’s hoping to hone the skills from her MBA to be able to work on increasing shared value and sustainability in commodities and on improving producers’ livelihoods.

With 94% of the ESADE class being international students and with international exchange programs available across the world, the MBA offers invaluable global experience as well as world-class education that should enable Selene to have an impact on her graduation.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?

Before my MBA I was in Benin with the Peace Corps in the sector of community economic development. I worked with entrepreneurs and NGO’s to strengthen their business capacities, many of which were involved in agriculture related activities.

Working at a grassroots level was both incredibly challenging and rewarding at the same time. I enjoy being in the field and working directly with people, yet I decided to pursue an MBA in order to strengthen my business knowledge and be able to contribute more value to my future endeavours.

Why ESADE?

ESADE has a diverse, international, cohort as well as the opportunity to continue to learn about other cultures through an international exchange in the second year. In January 2018, I’ll be on an exchange program at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and while there, I hope to make it to the southern regions of India where they grow cocoa. It was this mix of an excellent education and global experience on offer at ESADE that I felt would help me further my career.

Where does your interest in commodity pricing come from?

One of the most unique aspects of the Peace Corps is the diverse exposure to different business; from shea nut and cashew production to food processing and artisanal products. While in Benin the majority of my work was related to agriculture and the more I learned about soft commodities the more fascinated I became.

My curiosity grew into a passion for commodities and more specifically, cocoa. The cocoa industry is intertwined with West Africa with almost 60% of the world’s supply coming out of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana alone. The majority of the producers are smallholder farmers, owning around three hectors of land. My research and a short trip to Ghana sparked my interest in this area.

Commodity pricing has a huge impact on producer livelihoods and just this year we have seen this more so than ever. The cocoa price dipped from a six year high to a four year low. This put increasing strain on the governments and farmers and pressured Cote d’Ivoire to lower their prices paid to the farmers from 1100 FCFA to 700 FCFA per kilo, which translates to almost 1 euro per kilo.

How do you aim to impact this with your MBA?

I’d like to work in soft commodities increasing producer livelihoods through industry initiatives that bring together the private and public sectors. There are many efforts either through certification programs such as UTZ/Rainforest Alliance or partner NGO’s to train producers in sustainable agriculture practices and give them access to inputs to further increase their yields and productivity.

This barely scratches the surface to the extent that some of these programs reach, but the overall point is that there are good efforts from major industry players to increase sustainability in our supply chains and these efforts will only continue to grow.

What advice would you give to anyone considering undertaking an MBA?

For those considering pursuing an MBA, go into it with a good idea of where you see yourself in the future. Of course always be open to other possibilities, however having a sense of direction and a clear objective helps.

The ESADE MBA exposed me to many new perspective careers, which I took advantage to learn more about through our career days, company visits, and guest speakers. However, my passion for sustainable sourcing remains and I will continue to pursue this as my post MBA path.

Around the same time I was applying to MBA programs I came across a quote: “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else”. Having vs. not having a plan is neither good nor bad, however in my case I wanted to have a good idea of where I was going before I started.

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