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DOVE’s Journey of Women Empowerment in Cocoa Growing Communities 

Behind our beloved DOVE® Chocolate brand there’s an eye-opening backstory of women empowerment. It begins in the cocoa growing communities of Côte d’Ivoire in western Africa. In sourcing communities, women comprise nearly half of the global agricultural labor force, while also providing unpaid work caring for their families. This is no different in cocoa communities where the wellbeing of children is intrinsically linked to women’s social and economic empowerment. Through Mars Wrigley’s Cocoa for Generations strategy we’re committed to unlocking opportunities for women—and our DOVE® brand plays a critical role in realizing our commitment. In 2016, DOVE® began partnering with CARE, an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping save lives, defeat poverty, achieve social justice and fight and create brighter futures for girls and women. 

In this Q&A, Leslie Philipsen, Director of the DOVE® Brand, and Caitlin Yacey, DOVE® Brand Manager, take you through the brand’s journey of empowering women within our supply chain.

What inspired the DOVE® partnership with CARE? 

Leslie Philipsen: Our passion for chocolate extends to the happiness and wellbeing of the people we work with, from farm to consumer. Mars has long been focused on sustainability and, within sustainability, our DOVE® brand is particularly focused on supporting women.  We stand for empowerment, commitment and inspiring women, so the CARE/DOVE® partnership was a perfect fit.  

Setting a goal to improve the working lives of thousands of women around the world is a tall order. Where did you all begin? 

Caitlin Yacey: We knew that women reinvest their resources to benefit others. When you help women achieve financial security—and the ability to contribute to family decision-making, as well as household income—it lifts up the entire community. In 2015, we began with a donation to establish CARE Village Savings and Loans (VSLAs). These are self-managed groups that provide a safe place for women (and men) to save money and access small loans for their businesses. The VSLAs also help members develop leadership and business skills, and gain confidence to secure larger loans to make their businesses thrive. A loan of just $20 to $50 offers women a chance to buy fertilizer for the family farm, help grow her small business or pay for healthcare and education.

Leslie Philipsen: Today, our VSLAs operate in 88 communities in the Cote d’Ivoire, where 75% of the members are women. Through the VSLA’s, we’ve touched the lives of more than 24,000 households so far…and our data shows that within three years, a typical member could more than double their individual savings.  

Over the course of five years, DOVE® has donated more than $1.5 million to CARE. And through Mars Wrigley, we recently invested an additional $10 million to expand programs, targeting to reach more than 60,000 members in cocoa communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025., as well as another $4 million during COVID. 

How are those funds being used?

Leslie Philipsen: Every year, we ask, “What more can we unlock to impact more women?” In 2019, we built a new covered marketplace in the village of Gueyo, where many of our VSLA members sell their goods—from fruits and vegetables to clothing to household items—every day. 

Last year, we expanded our efforts by celebrating local female “Makers” at Amazon Pop Up stores. Our 2021 focus is on helping improve literacy and financial know-how among women. Looking ahead, we have definite plans to expand our support, but are still deciding what they’ll include. 

Why is working on the DOVE® brand so important to you personally?

Leslie Philipsen: It’s been a fantastic, fulfilling journey. I’ve gone to Côte d’Ivoire, met the women of the VSLAs and heard their stories firsthand…like how our support is helping them put their children through school. Their success and their gratitude were extremely moving. I’ve also met some of the men, who are extremely proud of their wives’ success. Being a part of this story makes me feel like my job has a true purpose. I’ve worked for a number of other companies, but Mars is the only place where I’ve been able to make such a difference.

Caitlin Yacey: Exactly. This story is very consistent with the Mars culture—investing in things that don’t necessarily drive directly to the bottom line. This is the culture and type of work I want to be involved in…the ways the sustainability and altruism come to life fulfills me. I love that our brand empowers women around the world, whether they’re making our chocolate or enjoying eating it. Making an impact on real people makes my job that much more engaging, every single day.

Take a closer look at our journey in this video and be inspired by the amazing women from our cocoa communities!

At Mars, women have played a powerful role in our history and leadership for the past 100 years. This past November, our CEO Grant Reid signed the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles to promote gender equality at Mars, where over half of our 130,000 Associates are women. We then launched our Full Potential platform to drive gender equity in the three spaces where we have the most influence: the workplace, sourcing communities and in the marketplace.

“We are proud to have recently expanded our work with Mars Wrigley. Thanks to the company’s investment last year, we’ve already significantly scaled up our Village Savings and Loan Association programming in cocoa-growing communities in West Africa. With this expansion, we have continued to see women in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana come together to realize critical improvements in their lives, and those of their families and communities, all under their own leadership. We look forward to continuing this important work with Mars,” said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE.

We know we can’t do it alone. If we’re to drive change at scale, we need to include the voices of all women. To help amplify those voices, we’ve launched #HereToBeHeard—a global crowdsourcing movement aimed at capturing voices of women from all walks of life to help inform the actions global businesses and society must take to help women reach their full potential.