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ECOM is Redefining Farmer Well-being with the Social Progress Index

ECOM’s holistic metrics add up to better data and decision-making

ECOM continues to adopt a proactive approach to inclusion by increasing the quality of data we collect and ensure our programs and services become even more relevant and accessible to marginalized communities. To that end, we are developing more holistic metrics for farmer well-being to boost our business acumen and the profitability and prosperity of our farmers, partners and clients.

“A measurement revolution”

As a founding member of the Social Progress Imperative, a global not-for-profit that developed the Social Progress Index (SPI), Michael Green recognizes the need for a “measurement revolution” in which social and environmental indicators supersede economic factors:

“We need…a measure based on the real things that matter to real people. Do I have enough to eat? Can I read and write? Am I safe? Do I have rights?… Is my future and the future of my children prevented from environmental destruction? These are questions that GDP does not and cannot answer.”

Since its inception in 2014, SPI has been providing leaders in 45 countries with the best social and environmental data of their societies, allowing them to advance social change. This universal tool aligns itself with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals; however, the Social Progress Imperative chose to focus on three main criteria — basic needs, opportunity and foundations of well-being. With more than 50 indicators, SPI wants to understand whether a community is meeting its essential needs and if it possesses what is necessary to sustain and optimize well-being. SPI’s inclusion of opportunity as a cornerstone of well-being aligns well with ECOM’s commitment to empower farmers.

ECOM’s version of SPI

ECOM’s version of SPI will be adapted to invite a deeper consideration of SMS’ farming communities from a social and environmental perspective, allowing us to grasp the interstitial truths of how farmers and their cocoa and coffee-growing communities live. Subsequently, we can initiate smarter partnerships and more targeted resource allocation and investments.

ECOM has partnered with The Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS), a Costa Rica-based applied research center founded by one of the leading, Latin American business schools INCAE, to assist in adapting and scaling up SPI to ECOM’s coffee and cocoa supply chains. They share our goal of democratizing access to market intelligence. The primary data we collect will be consolidated and analyzed in SMS Integrity (SMSi), our in-house technology platform, and will act as a benchmark against which to monitor social progress in the coming years.

“Seeing the progress through the years is important to us,” said Benjamin Rimaud, E&S Officer, who is coordinating the SPI initiative for ECOM. “It’s a powerful tool to benchmark and then re-assess your strategy…and to figure out how you can have a roundtable with partners and stakeholders to address the local needs.”

The SPI pilot in Nicaragua: “A very human project”

In 2017, Maria Jose Canales Pereira, Human Resources Manager for the ECOM Group in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, worked with CLACDS to pilot SPI in different producing communities in Nicaragua over four months. To assist with data collection, SMS Nicaragua established a strategic alliance with students at different universities in Managua and Matagalpa. Seven-hundred-and-fifty people were surveyed in seven companies across three sectors: agriculture, tourism and agro-industries.


Ms. Pereira found the pilot to be very rewarding. “It was a dynamic, energetic project, because of all the young people involved in the process, but also a very human project. [The opportunity] to be sitting in front of every farmer in our company and doing…almost 110 questions…[and] to coach people. And the positivity they felt sharing their information…”

SMS Nicaragua was able to identify six areas of intervention, including education, water and sanitation, women empowerment and nutrition. They mapped the NGOs, companies and government institutions working in these areas to find synergies. Subsequently, SMS was able to initiate programs with the ECOM Foundation and NicaFrance to address key needs like improved educational infrastructures. This year, they inaugurated the first technological center in which all the classroom’s instructions and material is received via an online platform.

Forward progress

SMS is currently standardizing the questionnaire and reviewing the survey methodology to ensure the tool is well calibrated for other countries of origin. The first phase will test the comprehensiveness of the questionnaires, the dashboard design and report generation. There are plans to initiate a follow-up survey in Nicaragua and extend the pilot to other countries in Latin America in 2020.

The more ECOM understands about the social progress of its farming communities’, the greater the benefits — more efficient operations, higher income and optimized input use — to the farmers. With such data, we can also bolster supply chain relationships by diminishing volatility and increasing transparency. Above all, ECOM’s use of SPI is a reminder that we must all act for the greater social good, particularly in this unpredictable era of climate change and food and livelihood insecurity.

[Implementing the Social Progress Index] was a challenging…dynamic [and] energetic project…but it also was a very human project — the possibility to be sitting in front of every farmer in our company and doing…almost 110 questions [and having] the opportunity to talk…

María José Canales Pereira, Human Resources Manager, ECOM Group Costa Rica-Nicaragua.