Black-Owned-Innonation in Germany & Austria: Curse or Blessing?

NOTE:

This blog article was first published in German and under the title : “Fortunately sustainability is not a European invention”.

My little sister once asked me what I meant by sustainability all this time. She remembers how our mother used to try to dry food leftovers from the previous evening – especially rice or to – on the terrace to prepare new dishes. She had made porridge out of dried rice and couscous out of dried to mixed with other ingredients. To is a kind of puree made from either corn flour or millet flour, which is very common in Burkina Faso or Mali. To is eaten with a sauce or soup. These practices are not only known by my mother. Other mothers had also done so. It may be that such practices have their origins in the fact that most people in such poor countries simply exhaust all possibilities to secure their food.

But yes, sister, that is also sustainability, for instance. This example allowed me to explain to Rosine what sustainability could mean. Making a virtue out of necessity. In this case, acting sustainably means acting against the throwaway society, or creating something new out of old. If my mother were to do the same to generate income, for example, she would be the hip mother who pursues a sustainable business model. So if my mother were in Berlin, for example, and if she were white and wanted to commercialize this idea, then she would probably be called the hype granny of Neukölln.

This approach is also the basis of the KOKOJOO business model. To create new innovative products from old or even waste, and in doing so generate new sources of income for the owners of the waste.

But my mother is black. And I am black too. And my approach is often not even considered sustainable. At KOKOJOO, sustainability does not even stop with the use of waste from which we generate new innovative products. I mean I was born and raised in Burkina Faso (West Africa). I know what it means to fight my way to the top. I know what it means to study in a white-dominated milieu, and I know how white-dominated development policy works.

With all this background, I can claim to know what my compatriots want and what could really bring about development.

So it is all the more surprising that some people in the cocoa industry also demand that I adopt their sustainability principle for the KOKOJOO brand. What is even more surprising, and just to shake my head, is when I hear after a pitch: Oh, that’s just a drink.

At this point I can’t help but describe what happened: In November 2019 I took part in the startup show 2Mi2Mi in Austria. Even during the pitch, the investor Haselsteiner could not hold back and took over the stage for himself. I could not even finish answering the questions of the other investors before Mr Haselsteiner interrupted me. And the crowning glory of the whole thing was when he claimed at the end of the pitch. I quote:

“It is except that a drink is created, not added value. No… if it had an effect… on the spot… creates employment… avoids the problem of disposability… but it’s not like that”.

Mr Haselsteiner, on what basis do you allow yourself to make such a judgment? Either you have not understood the business model? – In this case, you could have kept quiet and asked the right questions to understand the whole thing. – Or you did not care about what I had told you. In retrospect, I wonder if you would have behaved like this if it had been a young white (Austrian) who had founded KOKOJOO and fought for your favor during the show?

These thoughts remind me of a discussion I had during an exchange with a partner. He asked me why the potential of the cocoa fruit has not been exploited to date. In reply I told him the following:

  • Many in the cocoa sector act according to the maxim: Why should I change my business model when I am making millions in sales or profits from the cocoa bean business? This was accompanied by a lack of awareness that all the resources of this earth are not infinitely available. It is true that cocoa is always cultivated and scientific attempts are being made to maximize yields. But if you consider the amount of deforestation to grow cocoa, and the associated environmental disasters or droughts, or the outbreak of viruses that infect cocoa trees, then it becomes clear that cocoa resources are not as infinite as some might think.
  • In many places there is simply a lack of an out-of-the-box thinking mentality. The motto in many places is to hold on to the old and not to allow any changes. In order to recognize the potential of the cocoa fruit, one must first of all know the history of the cocoa fruit and, above all, be familiar with the major interrelationships with regard to its processing. Although many people in Europe have heard the word cocoa, they are not aware that cocoa does not mean cocoa. For many people, cocoa simply means the cocoa bean that is processed into chocolate in all its forms or into cocoa butter.  They do not even know what a cocoa fruit looks like, let alone how their favorite chocolate is made. Even chocolate specialists are not entirely happy about this ignorance. Why should they be, they are only interested in the beans anyway.
  • If you know how the processes work and are interested in the manufacturing processes or the procedures and conditions in the countries where the chocolate is grown, then this one last step towards innovation is missing. The recognition of possible application examples or the ability to see parallels with other products in order to develop possibilities. If you do not have contact with the countries where the products are grown or if you do not allow people from the growing countries to put their knowledge and talents to work in Europe, you will lose the opportunity for innovation. For one thing is clear, how cocoa originated in Latin America, just as many in the growing regions know how cocoa can still be used. The only difference is that they do not have the necessary resources to carry out industrial exploitation. But Europe does. If you look at most of the news in the field of cocoa – not chocolate, in Europe, be it in the field of cocoa ceremonies or in the field of recycling of raw cocoa beans, then you realize that the initiators brought the ideas to Europe either from holidays or from a project abroad and are trying to implement them here. In summary, it can be said that the biggest chocolate producing and consuming countries have lacked an out-of-the-box mentality until now. However, if someone from the producing countries manages to develop ways to recycle the alleged waste, he or she will not be adequately supported. Reasons for this range from envy, risk-aversion to reluctance towards the new or simply a lack of appreciation.

What I found out after this conversation should be interesting. Other European actors have joined forces in a research group in Germany to explore the potential of the cocoa fruit. In several places it is stressed that the result should be to generate new sources of income for farmers. The surprising thing is, however, that not even scientists or other local actors from the region where cocoa originates, nor from the world’s largest cocoa growing region, are involved.

After all, cocoa does not grow in Europe. So I wonder, with all due respect, what principle they use to explore raw materials that are not their own. Just because they have the necessary financial resources? And people are still seriously claiming that this is about sustainability?

This approach is very much reminiscent of the basic idea of colonialism, which incidentally led to the division of Africa between the then colonial powers in Berlin in 1884, 100 years before I was born, without the participation of those affected. The whole thing is thus exemplary of the “exploitative” practices in international economic relations.

At this point I want to make it clear that this blog article is not an advertising text for KOKOJOO. My aim is merely to describe events and present facts that may lead one or the other to think a little bit outside the box and realize that white people, or Europe, do not have a monopoly on sustainability. Other peoples, other people, also know how to build sustainable business models. Only they lack the means to make their ideas big./.

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