BFP: What do you do?
LP: I lead corporate entrepreneurship initiatives in emerging markets, specifically focused on Africa and BoP. This work includes designing projects that bring sustainable solutions to development challenges while contributing to core business targets. The NBU incubates new ideas and businesses to create new markets and capabilities for Unilever.
All of the BoP projects aim to bring a market based solution to an entrenched development challenge as a way to better serve our consumers, require working with public/social sector partners, and do not fit into the normal business model of a large corporate entity.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
LP:Demonstrating how ‘doing good’ for communities can also be ‘doing good’ for business and vice versa.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
LP: Synching up ways of working between public/social sector partners and Unilever. Even if we share the same mission there are often different ways of working, decision making, and pace. All of the challenges are non-technical, instead they are more about organizational culture and systems.
BFP: What advice can you give others facing a similar challenge?
LP: It’s really important to have the tough discussions early on in a partnership when working in a public private partnership (PPP). For example, everyone should be very clear about how each party is benefiting from working together, whether profit is made or not, who is paying for what, is everyone comfortable with the use of a brand or not, etc.
Also, everyone should be doing what they do best. For example, I always ask, should a business be involved for this work to be successful or are we seen as simply a funding mechanism? Why should Unilever be involved vs. some other corporate? Are we leveraging the core capabilities and strengths of Unilever? Also, why should we be working with this NGO? What gap in capabilities are they filling for this work to be successful?
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
LP: They should talk to as many people as possible who are doing what they think they want to do. This could be helpful to figure out what it is about the work you are interested in and what skills you need in order to do the work. It is good to know what drives you, what intentions you have, and finally what you want to contribute to the larger society to make sure those are all internally consistent.
BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
LP: Learning from others doing similar work and sharing new strategies, ideas, and ways of working.
Thank you to Ling Ling for taking the time to do this interview.