In a world where corporate social responsibility (CSR) often remains a buzzword, there are some who dedicate their careers to creating meaningful impact on the ground. One passionate advocate for sustainable development is Jennifer Sabianan whose journey in CSR and sustainability has been nothing short of inspiring.
As the Country Lead for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development of Philippines and Vietnam at Cargill, Jennifer is on a mission to create meaningful change. She spearheads initiatives that align Cargill's global corporate vision with the sustainable development goals and commitment to nourishing a world in safe, responsible, and sustainable ways. Her work focuses on crucial areas such as food security, nutrition, farmer livelihoods, climate action, human rights, and community development.
“Looking back when I was a kid, my father planted corn using Cargill’s corn seeds. I like to think that through my role in Cargill, I’ve come full circle. I'm looking at it as an opportunity to really give back to the farmers and community, having grown up in a farming family.”
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
Jennifer’s journey is a testament to her resilience and dedication to making a difference. But how did she embark on this path to becoming a sustainability champion?
“This career is really a choice. But of course, there were twists and turns. When I was growing up, there was a local non-government organization in our community that supported children. I was not chosen to be part of their project but my sister became one of their beneficiaries. I was amazed at how they worked on providing a venue for collaboration and interaction with women and children. I had a dream that one day I will also become like them.”
Inspired, Jennifer planned on studying social work in college. However, there were no universities in their province that offered the course. Instead, Jennifer received a government scholarship to take up Accounting. After graduation, she became a bookkeeper and taught accounting subjects. Disheartened, Jennifer had no idea if she would ever get to live her dream.
“But by a twist of fate, there was a program funded by the European Union back in 2000. They were implementing an integrated agriculture program that provided financial education to upland communities. The project was looking for someone who can teach these communities accounting and financial inclusion because farmers need access to facilities that would enable them to save and borrow money for agricultural production. That’s how I got started in the development sector.”
WIDENING HER HORIZON
After working with the European Union, Jennifer continued her journey with various NGOs, working on projects related to microfinance, organizational development, and disaster preparedness. Jennifer knew that she needed to widen her horizon and gain more experiences in other aspects of sustainable development. She began to take on bigger roles where she gained insights into disaster preparedness, climate mitigation, and adaptation. Her work took her to different corners of the Philippines and even Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, giving her a more regional perspective.
In 2015, Jennifer moved to Aboitiz Foundation where she worked on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Projects on microfinance, enterprise development, health and well-being and disaster management. There, she gained insights on the important role of companies in sustainability and community development. She also saw the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships in achieving collective impact in the communities.
“One of the programs I worked on was to develop a capacity building program for agriculture cooperatives and explore an inclusive business model that would help provide the farmers access to markets by linking them to Aboitiz’ food group, Pilmico Foods Corporation. That’s when my close work with farmers and farmers cooperatives really started.”
HELPING FARMERS THRIVE
In 2021, Jennifer moved to Cargill Philippines where she brings to life the company’s Corporate Responsibility vision in the country by building and managing relationships with key stakeholders to drive meaningful impact in the communities.
Her current role also allows her to work closely with farmers, which she finds deeply rewarding. Through Cargill’s Agri-Sagana project, Jennifer helps capacitate farmers and cooperatives in the corn supply chain to boost agricultural yields, improve their standard of living, and contribute to the country’s food security.
“For our pilot project, we worked with Save the Children Philippines in supporting more than 430 farmers from Santo Domingo Cooperative in Cagayan. They were heavily impacted by Typhoon Ulysses before, so we provided them with farm inputs and school supplies for their children. We also trained them on good agricultural practices with the help of the Department of Agriculture.”
For Jennifer, what made this intervention truly remarkable was that Cargill became the off taker, purchasing the consolidated volume of premium corn from the farmers at competitive prices.
"We never compel the farmers to sell with us. We just provided them with the option. But since we offer the highest prices, they sell to us. When we evaluated the project, we learned that farmers among other interventions given to them, valued most this integration into the supply chain because it helped ensure fair and stable prices for their produce.”
Cargill also continued to engage with the cooperative, buying their corn at competitive rates and encouraging them to explore other markets when higher prices were available elsewhere. They also provided market insights on corn prices, empowering the farmers to make informed decisions about their crop sales.
Through the partnership with Asia Society for Social Improvements and Sustainable Transformation (ASSIST), the project has already scaled up, working with 10 cooperatives and around 8,000 farmers. Cargill is also implementing other farmer livelihoods rehabilitation projects in Bohol. The RISE Coco Project is focused on rehabilitating the livelihoods of more than 1,000 farmers, more than 50% percent of them are women. Interventions include replanting 100,000 coconut seedlings to 700 hectares of coconut farms damaged by typhoons, training on good agriculture practices, capacity building of collectives like coop and developing the market access to corporate buyers like Cargill. Another project is the rehabilitation of seaweeds farming in Mahanay Islands that is impacting the lives of about 100 seaweed farmers. Cargill Europe is also looking at buying the consolidated volumes from the seaweed farmers.
WOMEN MAKE CHANGE WORK
When asked about her role models, Jennifer looks up to women leaders in agriculture like Ginggay Hontiveros and Cherrie Atilano for their passion and dedication to working with farmers despite having other opportunities. They inspire her to continue her work in the development sector.
“Through our projects, we’re trying to encourage women to take a more active role in agriculture. We are always moving forward to the agenda of women’s economic empowerment. If we can educate women and help them realize their role and value in agriculture, we can give women opportunities to work and take care of their family. And that can also translate to other members of the community.”
Jennifer believes in the power of community engagement, and her ability to connect with farmers has proven instrumental in building trust and facilitating change.
“We are really committed to help push forward food security and nutrition here in the Philippines. We also want to help empower and encourage the youth to become the future leaders of agriculture.”