It’s almost a tradition! I spend January 1st totally horizontal after a great New Year’s party with countless intake of (strong) homemade cocktails! But I knew it was my last drop of alcohol for a while. Like last year, I’ve decided once again, to do 40 days cleansing which includes no alcohol and eating Moringa every day. I decided to do this mainly to ‘walk the talk’ of our (me and my business partner Daniel), Social enterprise; Roots Food, where we are bringing one the healthiest foods on the planet, the leaves from a tree called Moringa, to North Europe. We do in the hope that the average Dane will take the leaf powder into their daily meals and juices because of its super amazing nutritional value. But running a startup like Roots Food has thrown me into a number of considerations about the world today. Thoughts about my choices regarding daily consumption beyond my own health and what it actually means to be a social entrepreneur, as we claim to be.
To be honest, I first and foremost started Roots Food to help prevent and fight poverty in a developing country like the Philippines and not really because of the health of people in the West. Sure, I love the idea of ‘you are what you eat’ and it’s great to start a business where the impact on individuals can be positive. But the fitness center kind of scares me (even though I was caught up there once 10 years ago, when spinning was mandatory) and I really have a love/hate relationship with “health addicts” and very fit people. However… I do sometimes check them out Ha-ha – who doesn’t?!
I’ve always been more drawn to the compassion in spiritual movements, than the interest of my own health, but excuses like being stuck in daily routines and the fact I generally get put off by people trying to preach and force their ‘saved’ lifestyle on you, have limited it to some meditation and a few documentaries here and there. But with my Moringa start-up, Daniel and I saw a chance to re-think and get inspired on how we ‘do’ food. What made me fall in love with Moringa, was not only that there is a potential market for it, but really the compassion that this very giving tree has. Moringa can save lives by fighting malnutrition and provide sustainable farming in areas where it is difficult to grow other crops, fx. where the super typhoon Haiyan beheaded 75% of the entire coconut tree’s in the region of Leyte. With Moringa, we could do the ‘full circle’; do good and add to people’s healthy life-style, which is embedded in our slogan ‘Eat Happy – Be Happy’ – and I could be a real social entrepreneur, as I’ve always wanted to be since I first encountered the term in 2010.
Women’s empowerment project, Moringa farm, Pangasinan, Philippines
Last November, I attended the very first international symposium on Moringa. I was excited to meet the global community addressing climate change, food security and sustainable livelihood with Moringa alone, and moreover super proud that it was hosted by our partners in the Philippines.
The Moringa symposium was three intense days long, with more than 200 scientists, a good amount of growers and a handful of entrepreneurs. I attended numerous of speaker’s presentations from anything between nutrition and farming. Sometimes I left highly technical presentations, with lots of molecules on a screen having a hard time understanding what was really being said. But there was a constant awesome atmosphere of empowerment! What I did understand is that humanity has just revealed the various strength of Moringa.
I had the pleasure to attend the presentation of ‘the mother’ of Moringa, Dr. Monica Mercu (who wrote THE moringa book). I was somewhat star-struck! Dr. Mercu pointed out several of benefits of Moringa as medicine and the potential for preventing A LOT of diseases. But more importantly, Dr. Mercu pointed out one important challenge for improving the strength of the Moringa industry; the lack of investment in clinical trials, simply because companies are not interested in commercializing something they cannot patent, a tree. It made me realize some of the challenges that the Moringa industry is facing and not to mention our startup.
Is it only patentable innovations that get investment? What about all the talk about the social entrepreneur giving back to the people, planet and making a profit? Where are the stakeholder and investors who are concerned about food security for the soon to be 9 billion people on the planet and who concerned about the global challenges with malnutrition? We have an idea here!
These challenges really made me think more about my own actions and my little impact in this world. With clichés like ‘walk the talk’, ‘practice what you preach’ and to make a change, start with the man in the mirror (as MJ would put it) in mind, I started to think more about how we, Roots Food, promote Moringa and how I authentically and genuinely, can become a true “social entrepreneur”.
To be a real social entrepreneur
In the first year of Roots Food we were faced with some tough decisions. One of these was about whether or not to get Fair Trade certified and Organic certified, both extremely expensive for us and for the farmers. We are now working with local organic certification and working towards the international certification, while following fair trade principles such as a minimum price guarantee for our supplier partners.
We’ve actually struggled a lot in our social impact positioning, and I’ve dropped off some theories from my masters such as “The Poor as Primary Stakeholders “ (SEPPS), Community development, Cooperatives and ethical business. But to be honest, it’s really hard to coin the social impact we do, heck, we even became top 10 clean tech startup in Denmark in 2015, not even understanding how we could be “clean tech”- I must admit, we are super lucky! Lucky to come across a tree like Moringa, it’s a tree that grows so fast that it has a huge impact on the environment by absorbing C02, it gives life back to it’s surrounding soil, it purifies water, fight malnutrition and gives you a kick-ass boost of vitamins. Great right? Why is it then still so hard to explain? What is it the first mover consumers want to know?
In 2015, it really hit me – I, my self, I’m really not the target group of my business. I don’t go near fitness centers, I don’t eat vegan or vegetarian, I LOVE my coffee and I don’t drink too much tea (Moringa is an amazing nutritional tea). But I do care about others and I don’t like to be a hypocrite, well knowingly that most of us are at some level.
So, that is why last year I did 40 days with no alcohol, more conscious eating and Moringa everyday – and it was great!
This year, I’ve decided to upgrade it a notch. 60 days, going meat free, cut off diary products and be out there with my “target group” – Not to look and feel better (though it won’t hurt if that happens 😉 – but to show compassion to others and make a positive impact on the climate.
I made my startup in the hope of making an impact in the world for peace, fighting poverty and climate change. I have just realized what ‘they’ mean when the say, start the change within your self. So I am starting with me, becoming my own target group and increasingly learning and questioning – what is an informed conscious decision and strive towards being a living and breathing social entrepreneur.
*Top cover profile – photo credit: Maj Skibstrup
– Jacqueline Hansen, CEO & Co-founder, Roots Food