The Outreach and Engagement (O&E) department plays a vital role in the growth and development of the organisation. Led by Dan Strechay, who was previously the U.S. Representative of the RSPO, the department’s diverse team focuses on outreach and engagement of stakeholders, communications, event planning and marketing, and the RSPO Trademark. Dan was officially appointed as director of the department in March this year and has plans in motion to improve RSPO’s responsiveness to its members, streamline communications, increase internal capabilities, and help his teammates to grow and reach their full potential.
First, could you tell us what outreach and engagement even means?
The O&E department provides three important functions – communications, stakeholder engagement, and market development. There are 17 of us spread across the globe – the United States, Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and China – to take action with regards to activities that fall under these three functions. Generally, we are the external outward-facing arm of the Secretariat.
Tell us about your vision and goals for the O&E department, and your plans to achieve them.
I want to create a team that is responsive to the needs of our members and stakeholders, and also a forward-looking team that helps RSPO to anticipate where we should be moving as an organisation, beyond just thinking about RSPO as a certification standard-setter. Besides that, we also need to change the conversation around palm oil, specifically sustainable palm oil. We need to talk to consumers in their own language. We have to acknowledge the fact that the industry has caused significant loss of biodiversity, and has had other issues specifically around human rights. But at the same time, we also have to acknowledge and celebrate the tremendous amount of progress that has taken place with regards to the production and use of sustainable palm oil.
You’ve been at the RSPO for 4 years and previously led the Secretariat's efforts in the North American market, which saw more than 500% growth in membership during that time. Tell us the biggest opportunities and challenges you’ve seen in that market and markets around the world. Are brands becoming more receptive to sustainable palm oil, and how?
I was very lucky to join the RSPO in North America at the right time where many influential stakeholders there had already done a lot of groundwork. The market just needed a nudge, and someone to connect the stakeholders and provide the right information. I feel what we accomplished in North America can be replicated in other markets. If a company comes to us and wants to make the transition to sustainable palm oil, we will do everything possible to facilitate that. If stakeholders have questions about our standards, we need to help answer those questions in real-time.
I think the opportunities are huge in places like India and China and we have seen good initial growth in these markets, especially China. I’m actually very bullish on the Asian markets and hopefully they’ll outpace the growth that we have in North America. Coming out of the Covid-19 situation we have an opportunity where consumers are thinking fundamentally about how we interact with our environment and what the consequences of our actions or inaction will mean for us.
In terms of promoting RSPO, how does the O&E team increase awareness of the organisation?
The O&E team promotes the organisation by focusing on what has been accomplished to date and what is possible if we work together with civil society, businesses, and governments. We try to demonstrate our impact and mobilise companies to not wait for consumers to demand for sustainable palm oil, but instead to do it for them. Consumers want companies to do the right thing for them without them having to ask.
We also want people to understand that we are not trying to create a boutique supply chain. We are creating a supply chain for all consumers, regardless of region. For markets that are already way ahead, like Europe and the United States, we want to ensure we maintain demand for sustainable palm oil. At the same time, we work on emerging markets for sustainable palm oil, namely China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. We have to create a value proposition that is specific to these markets. So, we leverage programmes like Youth in Sustainability (YiS) in Indonesia, partner with organisations like the China Chamber of Commerce of Foodstuffs and Native Produce (CFNA), or we use the I-SPOC group in India to leverage multinational corporations to prime the pump for sustainable palm oil.
What are some of the challenges that the O&E team face in convincing potential members to join RSPO and/or meeting their time bound plans for 100% CSPO?
First, it’s the lack of awareness among companies about certification. Their main concern is always cost, as every market is price-sensitive. We will tell these companies that the cost is only for the first year. For the second year, it has already been embedded in the products and it’s the way you do business the right way. They should provide consumers with the best possible products that have the least possible impact on humans and the environment.
In terms of 100% commitment, we have already reached the half-year point of 2020, and at this juncture, we should know that a lot of companies will not hit their 100% targets. But that is not to say that not a lot has been achieved, instead, we have to recognise what has been achieved, and that we are making a lot of progress in transforming this industry. That being said, our members must recommit and redouble their efforts to fulfil their policies as soon as possible and in making sustainable palm oil the norm for consumers – globally.