The Power of We: Convening for Cocoa Sustainability in Disruptive Times

Author Charlotte Grant

Senior Communications Manager
World Cocoa Foundation

At this time last year, my colleagues and I were at the office savoring delicious chocolate bars that I had brought back from 2020 Partnership Meeting site visits in Bogotá, Colombia. Today, I am sitting at home with my whole family, a 50-foot, blue ethernet cable running up the staircase, the cute noises of a third grade classroom next door – and still lots of chocolate – reflecting on the success of our first ever online Partnership Meeting. What happened?

Of course, we are all too familiar with the events that led WCF to cancel our plans to meet in person for our annual flagship conference on cocoa sustainability. The final decision was taken in early 2020. As the point person on the event, I must confess I had my doubts on online gatherings. We know from surveys and experience that the Partnership Meeting brings a strong networking value to participants. Would our community want to attend a meeting with no in-person interaction? We also know that our cocoa family is spread out all over the globe, and the technology divide can affect our ability to communicate well over the internet. Would we be able to bring together stakeholders from origin and consumer countries to reflect our diverse community? Finally, the experience of our Partnership Meeting team, although agile and tech savvy, was limited. Would we manage to deliver a smooth and relevant online experience?

But as other cocoa events got canceled one after the other, we found the Partnership Meeting to be the last dialogue opportunity standing. In 2020, with a crisis possibly linked to man’s encroachment on nature crippling the world and cocoa farmers hit hard by economic hardship, maintaining our collective focus on sustainability could not wait. In November, this message was delivered loud and clear by WCF board member Chris McGrath, representing our gold sponsor Mondelēz International, and WCF President Rick Scobey, in their welcome messages.

We are extremely proud of the response of our global cocoa community. As we started sharing our plans, companies such as Mondelēz, Mars Wrigley, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Compañia Nacional de Chocolates, GCB Cocoa, Luker Chocolate, Ecom, Olam, Ferrero and Sucden stepped up with sponsorship support. We then launched a video crowdsourcing campaign and cocoa farmers sent us more than six hours of interviews. As the program took shape, we were able to bring together a large and diverse group of 112 speakers under our big Partnership Meeting tent: from civil society with sessions such as the Cocoa Barometer preview prepared by the VOICE network, government officials with a high level panel on EU dialogue, to private sector leaders such as Sunny Verghese. We also convened donors and multilaterals with GEF’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the World Bank and more, experts and researchers from Wageningen University  or ICRAF for instance, and cocoa farmers in breakouts and video testimonies. Even more importantly, 405 attendees from 30 countries came to share the ride with us, exceeding last year’s impressive attendance in Berlin. Finally, my amazing WCF colleagues, from Abidjan, Accra, and Washington DC, rose to the challenge to organize sessions, execute contracting, troubleshoot Zoom technology, and learn a whole new way of convening stakeholders.

We took some risks, and things did not always go as planned, with some issues with translation services and at least one breakout session that did not deliver on its promise due to a technical failure. Faced with these challenges, our speakers did not give up and persevered. We owe them a debt of gratitude. We also wish we could have fostered more dialogue amongst participants: 484 private messages were exchanged between attendees, but we would have liked to see more meetings on the platform. Our ambition is to be even more inclusive in 2021, with more cocoa farmers and a more diverse set of cocoa and chocolate private sector players around the table.

Will 2021 be the year when we can meet in person again? We certainly hope so and will do our best to make it happen, with tentative dates for the next Partnership Meeting set for November 17-18, 2021. Mark your calendars! In the meantime, we are grateful for the lessons learned in 2020 and are convinced that future Partnership Meetings will greatly benefit from this year like no other.

Note: If you attended the 2020 Partnership Meeting, we want your feedback! Please email WCF with your suggestions.



  • Sunny Verghese, Richard Scobey and Carlos Manuel Rodrigez discuss 'Building Back Better for Sustainability'

  • Jordy van Honk moderates a panel on 'What's Next for the Dialogue on Living Income?' with Stephanie Daniels, Buddy Buruku, Yuca Waarts, Cathy Pieters and Michael Ekow Amoah

  • The Partnership Meeting looked at lessons learned from CocoaAction