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With the generous support of a MasterCard Foundation bursary I was able to attend a 3-week professional course on Livelihoods and Markets. The course was offered by the Coady International Institute, a world-renowned centre of excellence in community-based development and leadership education. The Institute was named in honour of Rev. Dr. Moses Coady, a prominent founder of the Antigonish Movement – a people’s movement for economic and social justice that began in Nova Scotia during the 1920s.

The course brought together a global classroom of 15 practitioners in the area of markets and livelihoods for 3-week intensive course.  The classroom experienced was enriched by Coady’s educational philosophy which encourages learning from your classmates, as well as the instructors. My classmates shared their diverse experiences from their work as social responsibility consultants for Plan International in Kenya, to  cooperative managers from SEWA (SEWA is the global leader in cooperative development, as they work with over 1.5 million poor women in India), accountants for credit unions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, value-chain experts in agribusiness in Bangladesh, to micro-finance managers from ACCESS India,

Our professors were seasoned experts in Livelihoods and Markets, drawing upon years of research and practitioner experiences. Senior Coady Staff and former Ford Foundation Fellow, Yogesh Kumar Ghore, and Ashoka Fellow, Farouk Jiwa lead us through the curriculum.

For poor producers, globalization has created many challenges. It has largely resulted in greater competition and less ability for poor producers to add value to their products. Micro and small entrepreneurs, as well as other organizations that work to support such producers must best understand how to enhance markets access for producers.

The curriculum focused on sustainable livelihoods and market development approaches for the poor.  We learned the  latest methodologies and practices for sub-sector and value-chain analysis. We had opportunities to research and develop value chains through field activities with Nova Scotia cooperatives, including Scotsburn Dairy and Co-op Atlantic.

Ensuring greater distributive justice in value chains (rewards / profits are distributed fairly among all value chain partners) is a challenge. With a case studies approach we explored and debated what role creative financing solution such as factoring may have to play in strengthening the tea value chain for farmers in Kenya. We looked at micro-franchising pilot programs in Rwanda offering health care solution to urban poor. Case studies took us to Bangladesh where we analyzed a complex dairy value chains with key bottle necks that were inhibiting female farmers. Social enterprises like Honey Care Africa and KickStart were also examined and their approaches discussed and contrasted. We engaged with concepts such as Base of the Pyramid, Triple Bottom Line, Pro-poor Financing. the 4 p’s of Marketing, and then dissected the spectrum from social responsibility to social enterprise.

I left the course with valuable tools  to add to my social enterprise development. Through value-chain analysis, I am able to examine key constrains for micro and small producers from market access, input supply, technology / product development, management training, policy reform, to available finance solutions. I have also left with a new global network of practitioners, innovators and researchers in this field!

Lastly, it left my head spinning with all sorts of ideas and concepts! I’ll be sure to blog about them in the upcoming weeks! Stay posted!

During my course at the Coady International Institute, I had the pleasure of sharing the classroom space with several Ghanaians. Upon hearing my idea of a locally run chocolate social enterprise in Tanzania they were excited to share an inspiring story of a Ghanaian chocolate company.

Ghana is a world leader in the chocolate industry as it produces an average of 70% of the world cocoa. A vast majority of this is exported, but the Golden Tree is a Ghanaian company that works with local cacao beans and creates valuable finished products! Please check out their website for more information and even order some for a gift:) It is an excellent example of the potential to add significant value to a raw product.

I am still searching for research on this company. The daily life of a cacao farmer in almost all producer companies is challenging. Most do not receive a price for their product which can allow them to break out of poverty. I would be interested to learn how The Golden Tree buys from their producers. Are they able to offer fairer prices? What are the work conditions for the employees of the cacao company? Was it difficult to start-up a chocolate production company in the context of Ghana and what challenges did they overcome as well as what supports were they able to leverage?

The Golden Tree – Ghana Chocolate

Eye Candy!

I wanted to share some of the photos from the events I had catered recently. Several    friends (Sara, Keith, Megan and Tristan) are amazing photographers and had agreed to take some photos during the event. I had made sea-salt sea shells,  a basil-infused fondu, roasted pecan & caramel bons bons, as well as mint truffles and clove truffles. I also experimented with adding color to the chocolate by placing decorative gold dusted swirls on dark chocolate.  Check out the photos and let me know what you think!

Gold Dusted Chocolate

Gold Dusted Chocolate


Zanzibar Clove Ganache

Zanzibar Clove Ganache

Packaging Experiments

Packaging Experiments

Sea-Salt Dark Chocolate Sea Shells

Sea-Salt Dark Chocolate Sea Shells

Heart Shaped Clove Chocolate
Heart Shaped Clove Chocolate
A Table of Chocolate

A Table of Chocolates

Chocolate Graduation

Chocolate Graduation

Spring is in the air folks! Can you hear the birds, bask in the sunshine, smell the flowers – and all those newly-minted degrees! April was a big month for me – I graduated TWICE!

I graduated from Ecole Chocolat, gaining a certificate as a professional chocolatier! I have been studying since January and it has been a fantastic boost for this project. My motivation for taking the course was not to become a professional chocolatier.  Instead, I knew studying this course would give me access to knowledge and practical experience that would be essential to informing and strengthening my project proposal. It has been one of the best decisions I made and exceeded my expectations.

I started as such a novice in the kitchen, but my confidence and skill set has really improved. It was my first time participating in an on-line course, and I was initially skeptical, particularly because of the hands-on skills I wanted to develop. The course and format surprised and impressed me! As an on-line course it is cost-effective and also gives the students more flexibility in when they want to study. I think it would be a great training tool for when this social enterprise is launched in Tanzania. As long as we had consistent internet access, within a period of 3-months, it would be possible to train several new chocolatiers in the foundations of working with chocolate!

I have gained insight into the art and science of chocolate – from learning about the history of chocolate, researching chocolate industry, experimenting with recipe development, learning about professional equipment, the art and science of tempering, and hands on experience in creating flavored chocolates, truffles, infused ganaches, decorative molds, and much more!

So how exactly did it work? I had an “on-line student page” where I would find readings, resources as well as a weekly assignment. The course began with the history of chocolate. We explored the ancient cultures of the Maya and Aztec people who are considered to be the first to grow Cacao and considered it as both a divine gift and a health food. Originally these cultures would mix ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to create a frothy and spicy chocolate drink!

As each week went by I studied well-established chocolatiers to learn the challenges they overcame, and the reasons behind their success. I began to work with chocolate and developed the most fundamental, and ironically most frustrating skill of “tempering”. This is a process of heating, cooling, and re-heating the chocolate that at a micro-level is realigning the particles to give the chocolate a shiny appearance and a snappy texture.

One of my favorite assignments was to hold a “tasting night”. I invited my friends over and prepared a selection of chocolates – dark, grand cru, milk to white. Similar to a wine testing, we spent the evening taking time to really “taste” chocolate – paying attention to aspects like aroma, flavor tones, and “mouthfeel”.

After a few more weeks in the kitchen I was ready to move on to molds and discovered my new favorite store in Montreal – Chocolat Chocolat. Assignments included recipe development and experimentation, sourcing out chocolate suppliers, researching professional equipment, business plan development, to marketing and packaging assignments.

But that was just the first graduation of the spring. I also graduated from the Sauvé Scholars Program – that will be in the next post!!!

If you would like any info on the Ecole Chocolat, please ask me! I’d be happy to share more!

The last few weeks have been crazy (so crazy that I’ve barely had a spare moment to blog!)

A few weeks ago I let all of you into the secret that I had lined up my first ever chocolate-catering gig. It was an event hosted by two of my Sauvé Scholar pals to thank some of the Montreal community for their support.

Anyway, despite some last-minute hustling, the event went off AMAZINGLY well! I managed to produce gold-dusted dark chocolate truffles, sea-salt seashells, pecan and caramel bon-bons and some mint-ganache centered squares (pics to follow soon!)

Everyone seemed to enjoy the chocolate (with a few rave reviews, much to my delight!)…in fact they enjoyed it so much that I’ve been asked to do a repeat performance at the closing function of the Sauvé Scholars programme. Keep watching for an update on how that goes…now back to the kitchen with me! :)

Usually Mondays give me the blahs – but not since my favorite chef moved to Montreal! His name is John – and like most restaurant chefs, he works crazy hours all throughout the week, including the weekend, and then gets to enjoy a Monday off. Incredibly, on his day off, he actually comes to my place and helps me experiment with chocolate.

John instills in me “kitchen confidence”. Basically, knowing he is around and is a true king of the kitchen, makes me try all sorts of new things. 3 weeks ago he taught me the secret to infusing cream. This is a technique which allows you to add flavor – lets say mint – to cream. Once the flavor is in the cream, you can then blend it with the chocolate to create a flavored ganache. It is difficult to directly flavor chocolate, because once melted chocolate comes in contact with most watery  liquids, the chocolate “seizes”, making it very difficult to work with.

The secret to most flavoring of chocolate is through creating a ganache. First you infuse the flavor into the cream, and then you mix it with the chocolate. It is kind of a sneaky way to get interesting flavors into chocolate…YUM!

Chef John on his latest Monday visit!

Chef John on his latest Monday visit!

It is very rare to find a chocolate factory in the “global south”. As such I was THRILLED to learn about the Grenada Chocolate Company. Their success is an inspiration :) I would love to build a relationship with them … perhaps a Chocolate Makers of the Global South Coalition! I hope I can find funding to do a study tour at their location in the near future. They seem very willing to share their expertise and experiences. Check them out by watching the video below.

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