Intrapreneurship series tells narratives of large companies that engage in independent social activism by building projects that contribute to local communities. These projects are driven by intrapreneurs who, by adapting entrepreneurial and start-up strategies, add to their companies’ coefficient of innovation. By reinforcing the value of social intrapreneurs, we hope to encourage more companies to engage in employee-driven creative ideation, galvanising intrapreneurs with potential into positive action. Learn more about SEV’s original social intrapreneurship builder.
Putting their money where their mouths are
by Joanne Willemin & Yusuf Jaffar
Whole Foods Market is a chain of stores selling natural and organic food in North America and the UK since 1980. The company emphasises its dedication to selling high quality products but also shares other values such as local community empowerment, respect for the environment and promoting healthy eating habits through education.
One of their notable social innovative projects is the Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) started in 2007 that aims to provide loans to local independent farmers, producers and food artisans. These loans enable them to grow their businesses and also develop specific projects in the fields of biodynamic farming, non-GMO animal feed and sustainable packaging.
The loan amounts range from $1,000 to $100,000 and can represent up to 80% of the total cost of the project. LPLP attaches low fixed interest rates to the loans with an average of 5%, and the beneficiaries can make full repayment early without penalty.
Innovation to emulate
Consuming locally has numerous benefits. It is environmentally friendly; it provides the local economy with dynamism; and it has undeniable health benefits for the population. However, independent local producers do not have it easy. Most of them are small and have limited financial resources which prevents them from growing or becoming more efficient operationally.
Through their loan program, Whole Foods Market invests in companies and projects that banks do not wish to finance. Indeed, the group has a better understanding of the market and is thus more likely to detect the true potential of different projects.
Whole Foods Market’s LPLP has supported the development of local producers to a significant degree. In addition to funding, recipients also benefit from enhanced credibility that their participation in this program guarantees.
As of June 2016, the company had funded more than 310 projects in 42 US states and two Canadian provinces. The total lending sum amounted to US$20m: half of the monies were granted to women, and more than one third went to organic, biodynamic or non-GMO certified producers. The program has been very efficient and experiences low rates of default. Finally, in order the maximise the impact, the repayment money is reinvested back in new projects.