CAIRO: In a country with around 200,000 to one million street children, Danone Egypt moved to provide disabled homeless children with shelter, healthcare, and education – after being in the Egyptian market for only a year and a half.
The French-based company Danone signed Thursday a protocol with Egypt’s National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, whereby Danone Egypt pours in a total of LE 1 million within the framework of a renewable two-year agreement to shelter around 82 handicapped street children, part of Danone’s corporate social responsibility program.
“If you are active in the food business and want to provide health to people through nutrition, you have a logical link between social responsibility and the products you make, Charlie Cappetti, general manager of Danone Egypt, told Daily News Egypt. “It is quite natural for a food company to take such a step.
The care home will provide children with physical, psychological and educational support, with an end objective to re-unite them with their families. Face for Children in Need, a charity organization, in cooperation with Danone Egypt, will equip the premises with furnishings and equipment necessary for the residence of children. The organization will also operate and manage the shelter as well as hire and train the staff.
“The shelter specifically targets handicapped street children because they are more vulnerable than healthy children . and it is more expensive for a family to look after these children, Cappetti explained.
Part of the funding of the protocol will go to research studies to implement microfinance schemes for poor families.
“Fighting poverty is not done by providing people with food and shelter only, it is much better to help them work.to earn money and support their families, Cappetti pointed out.
For a relatively new company to the Egyptian market – it first entered the market in July 2006 – to launch such ambitious projects can only translate into Danone’s firm belief in corporate social responsibility as one of the factors behind business success.
“At Danone, we [naturally] have economic turnovers and profit objectives, but we believe that a social dimension can also help achieve these objectives, said Cappetti. “This is what differentiates us for our competitors and helps us win the hearts of consumers in markets where we operate.
The cooperation agreement was signed in the presence of French football icon Zinedine Zidane, who acts as the world ambassador of Danone Children’s Programs – a worldwide effort that aims to help the most disadvantaged youngsters.
“Stars are now indispensable for giving impetus to the development of the civil communities and participating in effectively addressing diverse key problems, said Zidane. “Therefore, I decided to collaborate with Danone – one of the well-known, established companies in France who is also a leader in many countries of the world.
Zidane has been traveling with Danone to help solve social problems affecting children in different countries. He recently participated in the construction of schools for children in Indonesia as well as inaugurated a microfinance project to provide families with job opportunities in Bangladesh.
“Here we are today with you to contribute to dealing with an issue, which I fully know tops the priorities of Egyptian society, namely street children, he added. “I am calling upon the private sector and different [entities] to exert more effort to care for the children, solve their problems, and significantly participate in providing means for a decent life for them.
Zidane also announced Egypt’s participation for the first time in Danone Nations Cup for children aged 10-12. The competition brings 600 children from 40 countries across the globe. The competition is expected to launch in France in July 2008 under the supervision of Fifa and the French Football Federation.
Established in 1919, Danone is one of the largest companies in the nutrition industry worldwide. It operates in more than 120 countries, with total annual sales estimated to be $20 billion. Group Danone has quite an aggressive growth strategy: to enter five-eight new countries each year, most of which are in emerging and developing markets.
The company first entered the Egyptian market in July 2006 and managed to capture 20 percent market share in less than a year. So far, Danone Egypt has poured in some LE 100 million in investments, resulting in close to LE 100 million sales in its first year of operation.
“Egypt is a huge market, with a population of 75 million.. In addition, there’s a pool of people available and willing to work. The challenge is to give them the proper training, stated Cappetti.
“Our investment in the Egyptian market [includes] informing Egyptian consumers of benefits of eating yoghurt. We see that people who did not eat yoghurt at all are now trying it, he added. “This means that the total yoghurt market is now growing in Egypt. The market is now interesting for everyone.
Despite growing consumption of yoghurt and nutrition foodstuffs, Cappetti believes that market demand is not operating at par. He explained that an Egyptian consumes less than one kilogram of yoghurt per year, while in France, that number is 30 kg.
“Egypt today is at the bottom five countries of yoghurt consumption. It is important to make Egyptians eat more yoghurt so that we can grow and get new consumers into this product category, he said.
Danone sees ample opportunities for growth in the Egyptian market in particular, which is currently still under penetrated. Hence, the company revealed plans to double its investments to LE 200 million in production lines as of next year, increasing Danone’s production capacity and as well as introducing new products into the Egyptian market.
“Today, our yoghurt production capacity is saturated, and that is why we have a new production line coming in 2008 to allow us to grow further . and eventually export to markets in Libya and Sudan, stated Cappetti.