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Improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers throughout the tea supply chain: a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains student’s story

1 February 2018 – Richard Bond, Global Senior Manager for Sustainability at Mars Drinks, describes how studying CISL’s PCSVC improved his communication and leadership skills – and planted an idea that is helping to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Kenya.

I initially became interested in the sustainability agenda whilst working in the Commercial (procurement) team at Mars on projects linked to reducing energy consumption, implementing rainwater harvest projects and solar panels. After assuming the role of global supply chain manager for Mars, I wanted to build my knowledge and skills through a professional qualification. The Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains (PCSVC) offered me the opportunity to plug that gap. 

A steep learning curve

I have to confess, I was quite nervous about going ‘back to school’, and I knew from talking to people who had previously taken the course that it was going to be a steep learning curve. While it is an intense programme that rightfully asks a lot of students, I’m glad I stuck with it. As the course progressed, my confidence grew and I saw the impact the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) was having on the professionalism of my approach, from how I communicated with sustainability stakeholders, to sourcing information and producing strategy documents and presentations. At Cambridge, I was exposed to a range of ideas and approaches that fired my interest in the subject. As a result, I became more strategic in how I approached my work and understood broader global trends.

I valued the exposure to the knowledge and resources of the tutors and visiting experts. It was actually a conversation with a guest speaker from Oxfam that informed my course research which eventually helped deliver a significant organisational sustainability objective at Mars.  

Embedding learning

The Oxfam talk on their ‘behind the brands’ campaign, challenging the ‘Big 10’ food and beverage companies to become more sustainable, led to a conversation about how a sustainable sourcing and pricing matrix could help the supply chain. This gave me an idea of how this approach could be applied to raw materials such as tea.

The analytical assignment I completed for the course concluded that, due to the complications of the supply chain, and the challenges and risks associated with financial transactions throughout it, Mars needed to work with other stakeholders to help make this transition.

Adaptation and collaboration

I adapted my objective to one that would see Mars form a collaborative partnership with selected partners from the tea industry to scope, develop and implement a robust support initiative for smallholder farmers with measurable and achievable targets. Our strategic goals linked to the core focus areas of our sustainability strategy, which included climate change and farmer income.

The crucial impact would be the improvement of income and, as a result, the livelihood of smallholder farmers throughout our tea supply chain. I knew if I could come out of the PCSVC course with something that was tangible, with internal support at Mars, I had every chance of making it a reality.

Internally, I talked with key stakeholders in our global leadership teams about why we should invest in this scale-up opportunity and how closely it aligned with our goals.

Throughout the process, my tutor was very supportive of my research and gave me the guidance and insights on who to approach and scope the work.

One of the key challenges was identifying organisations that would be willing to be part of a collaborative partnership. The implementation took a little longer than I had anticipated but in May 2017 we launched the initiative at the Ethical Tea Partnership annual tea conference, in collaboration with the Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KTDA), The Ethical Tea Partnership, GIZ and Taylors of Harrogate.

It was incredibly satisfying to translate an idea originating at CISL into a collaborative programme of this scale, something that Mars Drinks had never done before.

The partnership has projected annual energy savings of 19,000,000 kWh, cost savings of around 530 million Kenyan Shillings ($5.2 million USD), and will enable KTDA sites to use 300,000 fewer trees for fuel.

A robust skill set

Looking back on my time at CISL, I now appreciate how the course improved my confidence, and equipped me with the robust professional skill set I have today. On a personal level, it made me and my family proud of what I had achieved.

Since leaving, I’ve had the opportunity to go back and present at CISL. It’s so rewarding to be able to pass your knowledge, learnings and experiences on to others. I still keep in professional contact with a number of people I met on the course and am interested in doing the Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business in the next few years. It ignited a passion to continue my educational journey.


Accredited by the University of Cambridge, the part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains (PCSVC) is recognised as one of the leading courses globally. Submit your application before 11 May 2018.

About the author

Richard Bond

Richard Bond is the Global Senior Manager of Sustainability for Mars Drinks, a segment of Mars, Incorporated.

In addition to defining the strategic direction for sustainability at Mars Drinks, he focuses on sourcing certified raw materials, supply chain mapping and origin programmes within the tea and coffee sectors. In May 2015 he joined the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains (PCSVC). PCSVC is a ten-month part-time course which gives participants the skills needed to develop the strategic business case for embedding sustainability across value chains.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.