Every year, innocent gives one or two lucky employees the opportunity to go and work with one of the charities we support through our foundation, using some of our work skills. Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while may remember tales from Andrew in Malawi, JT in Kenya, or our Emilie in Ethopia.
Emilie in Ethiopia showing the bees who was boss
On Friday, I'll be following in their illustrious footsteps, lugging my camera and a notebook with me, as I head to India to work with disability charity ADD gathering materials for their fundraising and training needs. I'll be penning a few posts while I'm away but it sees only right that I do some introductions first...
ADD supports disabled people in 11 different countries across Africa and Asia to challenge disability discrimination. Their vision is to create a world where disabled people can enjoy their rights and participate in society as fully as they choose to, and we've been supporting the work that they do in India since April 2009.
Three quarters of the disabled population in India live in rural communities, and less than 2% receive any form of vocational training. ADD India works to educate people in the skills they need to earn a livelihood, and offers financial support through microloans- these are frequently used to boost incomes in India, but disabled people are generally excluded from these schemes.
The project that we're funding has so far delivered loans to over 200 people, enabling them to gain independence through their livelihood, and to participate more fully in the communities in which they live. Over the next few weeks, I'll be meeting a few of the people who have benefited from these loans, and be able to see first hand the impact that it has had not only on their lives, but on the lives of their families, who are often marginalised as well.
So there you are. Introductions done. I'd definitely recommend that you get to know them a bit better here, but if not, I'll be in touch shortly with some more info from the other side of the world.
I have recently come back from an incredible couple of weeks in Madagascar. It's a land full of contrasts with unique wildlife and beautiful landscape, but it's also home to some of the poorest people in the world.
During my time there I visited Project Lanirano run by Azafady on behalf of the Innocent Foundation. Azafady are a small NGO based in the south east of Madagascar and they do some fantastic work to alleviate poverty in the area and create more sustainable livelihoods for the local people.
Project Lanirano is an initiative that has two main aspects: an urban side, and a rural side. The urban element of the project assists women in making their small businesses more profitable, and the rural side teaches farmers new agricultural methods.
I think the best way to tell the story of my visit is to talk you through some good ol' pics:
Here are some women receiving small business training. Many of the group were illiterate before they started so their progression has been immense.
I met a number of women who had already benefited from the small grants for their business. They told me their stories and it was incredible to hear how such a small amount of money can have such an enormous impact on their lives. The lady on the right gave me a zebu statue as a gift, which I clearly seem happy about but not sure she was quite so pleased by the look on her face.
This woman told me that because of the business grant she was now able to afford to feed her family 3 meals-a-day.
I spent the afternoon looking at a flash spreadsheet that held some frightening data about the women's income & expenditure. The average member of the group is living on 4p per day.
This is me and Latena (Head of Sustainable Livelihoods for Azafady), just before we embarked on a bumpy mission out to the bush. Despite my smile I was feeling rather ill, having been up all night being sick. Not ideal.
This didn't deter me from visiting the rural side of the project where I watched a lesson in how to compost.
The locals have also started to grow their vegetable patch to get more variety in their diet.
After chatting to some of the locals about the new methods, my illness had finally caught up with me and I needed to go back to the Jeep to crash out.
The work Azafady are doing is making a huge impact on people's lives in Madagascar. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see their efforts first-hand.
I recommend checking out their range of volunteering programs, including the community conservation I undertook prior to visiting the foundation project.
I would also like to take the opportunity to say a massive thanks to Samm & Latena and everyone at Azafady - you were amazing.
P.S I couldn't write a blog about Madagascar without including some pictures of Lemurs. So I bid you farewell with a few new friends of mine.
And this happy chap.
There was an article published in the Guardian today that we’re pretty disappointed with. We want to make a few things absolutely clear.
The innocent Foundation exists to fund rural development projects in some of the world’s poorest countries. Since it began in 2004 it has achieved an incredible amount, supporting 37 projects, committing almost £1.3m in funding, which in turn has allowed our charity partners to leverage a further £5.8m from other funding sources such as the EU. There are many things we’ve achieved over the years, but helping more than 340,000 people to live a better life, is probably the single thing we’re most proud of.
The Foundation is a professionally run charity that meets all the relevant legal requirements. The finances of the Foundation are managed conservatively, always maintaining sufficient funds to meet all our NGO funding commitments whilst making sure we have enough funds in reserve to mean the projects do not suffer if the business has lower or no profit years.
As we promise on our packaging, we donate 10% of our profits to charity (sometimes more than 10%). Like many businesses, the last few years have been tough but despite not making a profit in 2008 and 2009 we still donated a total of £273,000 to charity (most of which went to Age UK – a charity we’ve supported through the Big Knit).
It’s not likely we’re going to make a profit this year. We’re trying to grow our business, and we’re investing in this, but nevertheless we made a decision a few months ago to donate £250,000 to the innocent Foundation to make sure that it can continue to support new projects going forward.
The innocent Foundation is something that everyone who works for innocent is immensely proud of. We are committed to supporting the work it does and committed to running it professionally. To suggest otherwise, and infer that the Foundation is run half-heartedly or without proper care, is simply not true, or fair.
Pictures often speak better than words so here a a few highlights of Emilie's recent 2-day visit to innocent foundation project with Find Your Feet in Uttar Pradesh, India.
The first day started with a warm and colourful welcome.
This involved flower necklaces and face painting to fit in (kind of).
We then joined a proper mother's group and chatted about
Balance sheet secrets were shared.
Travelling to the second village involved a little adventure.
But it was all worth it - I was told all about the vegetable programme that Find Your Feet is running with the innocent foundation. The aim is to help the farmers diversify their crops and it's cleraly working - I got given more vegetables than I could carry.
And then the best bit: the village photo.
We ended the first day around the vegetable tree of luck - a beautiful use of my gifts.
On day 2, I thought I needed more than face paint to blend in, so Savitri helped me put on a sari -not an easy task.
The sari didn't really want to stay on after a few dance moves
but this provoked roaring laughter from the local children.
We then visited one of Find Your Feet's water pumps in the
middle of the fields. A great way for the villagers to grow
vegetables all year round and not just in the rainsy season.
We followed this by a weaving class and general chat about setting up a business.
And last but not least - delicious Indian treats were passed round constantly. Here we have a mix of peas, biscuits, strange fruits and lumps of sugar (a rare delicacy)
Whilst 2011 may officially be the year of the rabbit, here at Fruit Towers it would seem that it's all about the lemurs.
Not content with giving them a starring role on our new OJ packaging, we're also really excited because the innocent foundation is working with Feedback Madagascar to fund a yam growing project.
'Where's the link?' I hear you cry.
Turns out that the Madagascan rainforests where these yams grow are also home to the only bamboo lemurs you can find in the world. So not only will this foundation project be helping to ensure a regular food source for local people in the area, who previously struggled when their rice crops ran out, it'll also be making sure that the bamboo lemurs' habitat is conserved.
Check out BBC2's "Attenborough and the Giant Egg' on March 2nd at 8 o'clock to learn more about the incredible work that Feedback Madagascar are doing.
Remember where you heard it first. 2011 (unofficially), the year of the lemur.