In 2016, the government of Colombia signed a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerilla group. After more than 50 years of armed conflict, many hoped that Colombia could move past its reliance on the drug trade to fuel its national economy.
According to studies from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, however, the amount of Colombian land used to grow coca leaf – the plant used to make cocaine – has been steadily rising by about 45 per cent per year since 2013, reaching 422,550 acres by the end of 2017. This is in spite of the government’s ongoing campaign of crop eradication and a program established by the peace treaty to pay farmers for voluntarily giving up coca production and switching their crops to cacao. When approximately 73 per cent of the nation’s cacao farmers live below the poverty line, it can be difficult to convince coca producers to face the financial risks that come from giving up the lucrative plant, despite its illegality.
One group hoping to change this is Montreal‑based startup Choco4Peace, which recently recruited Matt Whiteman, BA’09, MA’15, to serve as manager of partnerships and growth. Choco4Peace uses blockchain technology to connect producers directly with stakeholders in the cacao industry, providing farmers with access to broader markets, fair prices, increased investment, and better equipment. The Choco4Peace platform emphasizes transparency and traceability, helping to build trust and mitigate risk for producer and investor, alike.
For Whiteman, joining Choco4Peace was a natural fit, both personally and professionally. As a graduate student, his research focused on the ethics of engaging with vulnerable communities abroad. This experience, including time spent in Eldoret, Kenya, gave Whiteman a unique perspective. “I had gotten fed up with watching so many millions, billions, trillions of development dollars squandered because [aid] organizations weren’t able to properly respond to the communities they were working with, or suffered from inefficiency, corruption, and circumstances beyond their control,” he says. Enter the emerging paradigm of the “social enterprise” – revenue‑generating organizations with an emphasis on achieving social, cultural, or community outcomes. “If you can put a market value on doing the right thing,” says Whiteman, “then that is really interesting to me.”
At present, Choco4Peace are gathering seed funding to pilot their project and have secured support – financial or otherwise – from a diverse group of investors and other stakeholders, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Bank, and the sitting president of Colombia, Ivan Duque. They have also received expressions of interest in partnership from six cacao associations in three regions of Colombia, representing about 600 farmers, and have pending buyers ranging from airlines to universities and hospitals. To meet this demand in the short‑term, Choco4Peace have joined with a premium bean‑to‑bar chocolate maker in Montreal to produce small batches of product using cacao purchased through their supply chain.
“I have always wanted what I do to matter – to feel real,” says Whiteman. “I think about the world I want to live in, and what I want my role to be in shaping that. What would I be satisfied with on my deathbed?” Looking forward, he is optimistic about what Choco4Peace can help to achieve. “The potential for this project to secure peace in a country plagued by over 50 years of war, to lift people out of poverty, to create environmental benefits – that is irresistible to me.”
Get more information at choco4peace.org.
Last November, Shannon Foster, BSc’03, was recognized with the 2018 Leadership Award for Women in Technology from the association of Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC). This award honours a woman who, as an ASTTBC member, has distinguished herself in her field of technology and has demonstrated leadership by serving as a role model and promoter of careers in technology. Shannon’s personal mission is to build a support network among women in technology to help retain talent in the industry. In pursuing it, she has enthusiastically demonstrated leadership and mentorship in the BCIT Women in Engineering Club. She also initiated a series of pub nights for female technologists in multiple cities across BC. Shannon works as a civil engineering technologist for Urban Systems Ltd., and is based remotely out of Revelstoke, BC. She works alongside engineers to deliver civil design and construction projects for municipalities, First Nation communities, and land development clients.
Troy Wong, BCom’07, recently received the Emerging Leader Award from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario). This award recognizes exceptional achievement by CPAs under 34 years of age who are regarded by their peers as leaders committed to innovation, impactful contribution, and social responsibility. Troy co‑founded Neptune Dash Technologies Corp., the world’s first publicly traded blockchain masternode company, which raised $23.1 million in its first year and is one of the top‑ten publicly traded blockchain companies in Canada.
After various roles in Asia and a Master of Advanced Management degree from Yale University, Arun Adhikary, MBA’09, is now the senior director of the Carlsberg Group in USA and Mexico.
Pearl E. Gregor, PhD’09, has released I, the Woman, Planted the Tree: A Journey through Dreams of the Feminine, the first book in her Dreams Along the Way series. This memoir chronicles her harrowing journey through clinical depression with no relief from talk therapy, the medical establishment, pharmaceuticals, or conventional religion. She shows the tumultuous process of the descent to the unconscious and the slow process of individuation through meditation, dreams, and alternative therapies. The book is well‑footnoted for additional reading in Jungian and feminist theory, women’s history, consciousness studies, and more. Her dissertation at UBC was The Apple and the Talking Snake: Feminist Dream Reading and the Subjunctive Curriculum.
For the last two years, Preeti Adhikary, MBA’10, has been working as the VP of marketing at Fusemachines Inc., an artificial intelligence company based in New York City.