In our series of videos focused on private businesses and entrepreneurs, founder and Chairman of Blue Skies Holdings, Anthony Pile, talks to us about managing sustainability and risk in a high risk social enterprise.
Blue Skies has been cutting and packing consistently high quality just-harvested fruit products and delivering them to supermarkets across Europe since 1998. Employing over 2000 people in Ghana, Egypt, South Africa and Brazil, this multi-award winning social enterprise is committed to building long term partnerships, and fostering sustainable development in Africa and South America. By nurturing this culture and forging global partnerships Blue Skies has become an ethical model for development to governments all over the world.
In this video, Anthony tells us about how Blue Skies balance risk and relationships with stakeholders to be well positioned to deal with factors such as geo-political risk in West Africa, the impact of the Ash cloud and other unexpected challenges.
Blue Skies is a company which manages to get 20 to 30 tonnes of fruit salad by air into the markets of Europe every day. Blue Skies is a company which regards the development of people as very important. You know if you are going to beat that animal, that devil, poverty, then you have got to actually enable people, you have got to lift them, you have got to give them hope and I think Blue Skies does that by paying people round about 3 to 4 times the minimum wage at the lowest level. You automatically introduce discretionary income into the equation and that discretionary income will be used for education or it might be used to buy a car or maybe just to actually improve the living conditions that people find themselves in. But very often it goes into education and there is a great thirst for education in Ghana. Young people want to see as much bolted on to their knapsack as possible so that they can go out and make a difference in the world.
The Foundation is a very important addendum to what we do in the business. It is actually a way of extending the tentacles of influence and of, if you like, help to the community so we are working within the community. The Foundation is a way of ordering the requests that we receive so we have the lowest level, little groups of people in the villages and on the farms, the towns, who put together ideas of what they would like to have in their areas. It can be very simple things like you know we would like to have some water or how about some electricity or sometimes schools or maybe a community place – all these things are things that are important to the community. They feed it through then to a committee who then turn it around and say well what’s really important, what’s it going to cost and then they submit it in due course to a Board. Now our Foundation is made up actually of Waitrose, Alva Hine which is a principal retailer in Holland and ourselves and we all put in equal amounts of money each year, quite sizeable amounts, and that pot is available then for the selection of projects for that money. What’s interesting is that it is really growing and it seems to be extremely successful. Why? Because it has sustainability. It’s one thing just to go along and say what do you want and here’s some money. You’d like a corn mill, fine, then the corn mill actually isn’t working the following year because nobody knows how to repair it or they haven’t got the cash to repair it. It’s another thing to actually build in sustainability like charging a certain amount for that corn mill to be used and then it fills a coffer which then maintains the equipment. Now I’m not the world’s greatest fan of Fairtrade, let me tell you that before I get into big trouble. The reason is that actually I think that very often it queers the marketplace by simply selecting certain people and fixing prices and all the rest of it, so it’s got its problems. I also think it’s got its advantages and I’m not going to knock it. But the reality is, the pure approach that our Foundation, the Blue Skies Foundation has, is actually the solution. It’s not about razzamatazz, wow we’ve got a great marketing thing, this that and the other, it’s simply about doing something that’s worthwhile in the community, quietly, effectively and sustainably.