We were invited to pose some questions to Megan Willis, Unilever’s Head of Sustainable Sourcing, following Unilever’s announcement of their AWA programme last month.

In case you missed it, Magnum, part of the UK giant, Unilever, released news last month about their programme to help empower women in the Cocoa industry. Working with a 3D modelling and artistic agency, they created digital art based on the facial scans of the women participating in the programme and promoted fashion from Ivorian designer Rebecca Zoro.

Some Key takeaways from the project:

Bringing AWA to the phygital world

  • Magnum’s digital ambassador, AWA, helps to bring to life Magnum’s digital collection in a suite of stunning campaign stills photography and moving image assets live on @AWAbyMagnum.
  • AWA was created in collaboration with visual artists and 3D modelling agency, The Diigitals, known for using advanced technology to bring to life digital avatars based on the profiles and live portraits of real people.

AWA by Magnum; The Rebecca Zoro Edit

  • Magnum’s exclusive fashion collection was designed and produced in collaboration with Ivorian Designer, Rebecca Zoro, celebrated for her bold prints and African inspired styles. Together with her local team of artists, designers and artisans, Rebecca curated a limited-edition collection with 5 items designed to be worn in a multitude of ways to suit any style.
  • The collection features several one size items, including: a tie-skirt, a cape, a large scarf (able to be worn as a top or headscarf), a smaller accessory scarf and a silver cast bracelet, all exclusively designed by Zoro for the launch of AWA by Magnum.

AWA by Magnum – Cocoa Farmer Graduation

  • In July 2022, 198 members of the cocoa farming community graduated from the Magnum by AWA programme – which began in 2020 – having set up their own or invested in income-generating businesses through Magnum’s wider programme.  The graduation was attended by the cocoa farmers, key figures from the local community as well as Magnum representatives to celebrate their success.
  • The support from Magnum and 100WEEKS enabled the participants to invest in a range of businesses to support their work, enabling many who currently can’t to send their children to school. This year, a further 400 farmers will join the programme from 2 new cooperatives as it scales up, meaning 600 women have been positively impacted by the cash transfer programme by the end of 2022.

The press release at the end of this article disclosed that 74% of the women involved had increased their income-generating base. It’s too early to know the long-term impact, but a number of studies on microloans of this nature show that they can be transformative to individuals and local communities.

Q&A with Megan Willis

Help me to understand the germination of this project. What’s the project’s problem statement to define the issue of women in cocoa? I’d like to understand the scale of cocoa that Magnum purchases and how they purchase it (this might not be directly relevant to this project, so I’ll leave that optional, but it helps set the context).

Magnum is aware that women in cocoa farming communities are often in the shadows, performing a significant amount of labour but lacking access to finance, not owning land or being a lead member of a farming cooperative, often leaving them reliant on men in the community. This not only impacts their mental well-being and sense of purpose but also their long-term ambitions. We believe that the best way to address this and close the gap for women in cocoa farming communities, as well as ensure that they are earning a living income, is by taking a holistic approach to economic empowerment. 

Our goal is for farmers in our extended network to be more resilient overall and less dependent on a single revenue source like cocoa farming. This forms part of our ambition to support 5,000 women in cocoa farming communities by 2025. 

The AWA by Magnum programme, in collaboration with NGOs and partners through Magnum’s supply chain network, such as CARE International and 100WEEKS, provides women in the cocoa farming communities with the skills, funding and infrastructure to socially and economically establish themselves independently. This has been achieved by setting up direct cash transfers, providing training to diversify these women’s incomes and helping to establish long-term community-based lending structures to financially stabilise their families and build their personal business ambitions for greater prosperity. 

Research shows that women and girls, on average, earn less, save less and live close to poverty more often than men. Moreover, we know that women invest significantly more in the family’s well-being, thereby by supporting women through the AWA by Magnum programme, our impact goes further to improve the well-being of the wider community.
We wanted them to be able to earn additional money so that they could invest in their farm or start a new business. To do this, we decided to invest in training, financial literacy and economic empowerment for women in the cocoa farming communities

What will you do with the digital avatars, is the imagery available for sale as NFT or will it be used in Magnums awareness campaigns?

AWA is built from the faces of 128 women who are among the first 198 people in cocoa farming communities to graduate from Magnum’s Cocoa Programme. Magnum believes that the women from the cocoa farming communities are the best ambassadors for the programme and designed AWA to shine a spotlight on all of these women. As an ambassador of the programme, AWA isn’t for sale. 

Moving forward, AWA will continue to play an important role in helping us share our commitments to our cocoa farming communities and will bring awareness of the women in these communities.

The fashion clothing. I had a look and loved it. tell us the background. Why fashion? Why Rebecca Zoro? What’s next?

To shine a light on the programme, Magnum collaborated on a limited-edition, five-piece fashion collection by Cote d’Ivoire-based designer Rebecca Zoro who is renowned for her vibrant designs which celebrate Ivorian culture through traditional Ivorian prints, textiles and styles. Having grown up in a cocoa farming community, Rebecca was able to achieve her dreams of being a fashion designer and is passionate about other women in cocoa farming communities being given the opportunity to achieve their own dreams. Rebecca is a passionate advocate for female entrepreneurship and works with local communities, designers, artisans and manufacturers to promote creativity, craft and financial independence. Rebecca is the perfect embodiment of Magnum’s campaign mission to empower more women to explore their creative side and diversify their income to better their livelihoods for generations to come. 

In terms of next steps, we are in the process of further developing the impact programmes in local communities with the support of our on the ground NGO partners 100WEEKs and CARE International in collaboration with Rebecca Zoro. This will support the women in cocoa farming communities to enhance their creative talent in areas such as embroidery and fashion design. 

Good to see specific numbers here. What are the ambitions to scale? Others are also working to improve women’s opportunities, usually at a micro-scale, but the potential is huge, and there are thousands that could benefit – once they graduate, do they need ongoing support? How do you scale, and what are your ambitions/practical objectives? Is there a blueprint you’ve created?

Magnum’s aim is to empower 5,000 women in cocoa farming communities socially and economically by 2025.  This forms part of Magnum’s commitment to support the cocoa farming community through its investment of €25M to fund its wider cocoa impact programmes. 

This summer, we saw the first cohort of women and men graduating from the programme, and we are delighted by the results, with research showing that those who have completed the programme have 12x more savings than the benchmark in Cote d’Ivoire and almost three-quarters (74%) of people on the programme have expanded their incoming generating activities compared to before the programme began. Moreover, more children can attend school thanks to the financial security the programme offers parents. 

In collaboration with NGOs including CARE International and 100WEEKS, Magnum aims to further its commitments with a further 400 members of the cocoa farming community joining the programme from 2 new cooperatives as it scales up, meaning 600 women will have been positively impacted by the programme by the end of 2022.

In terms of continued support, the programme lasts up to 3 years which includes at least 6-months of training with our NGO partner, CARE International, followed by 100 weeks of dedicated curriculum and cash transfers from 100WEEKS. The length of the programme enables the participants to immerse themselves in the curriculum and set up their business or investment alongside their other responsibilities, such as taking care of their families or cocoa farming. Moreover, following the programme, the graduates still receive support and guidance from CARE International for at least 6 months. 

Next, we are looking to continue this momentum as part of our commitment to support 5,000 women in cocoa farming communities and are establishing further programmes in the Côte d’Ivoire communities – we hope to share more details soon! 

Do you share learnings with competitors / other chocolate companies? 

AWA by Magnum approaches many systematic issues in the cocoa farming industry, that are also being tackled by other FMCG companies with a particular focus on female empowerment. While we don’t directly work with competitors on this project, it’s through addressing these issues that we are able to take steps in breaking down barriers that have existed in cocoa supply chains for many years. 

Is this a charity or good business? is it good for the cocoa industry overall? why?

Female empowerment programmes such AWA by Magnum bring vital change to the cocoa farming industry, with women’s economic empowerment being largely recognised as a leading opportunity to realising gender equality, reaching the 2030 SDGs and driving wider economic prosperity for all. Magnum believes personal ambition should be a right, not a privilege and through the support of partners such as CARE International and 100WEEKS, Magnum’s holistic impact programmes act in helping women in these communities follow their true passions and personal missions. 

 How supportive has the government/regulator been? 

We’re pleased to say that the local authorities have been supportive of the programme, with many local authority figures present at the graduation ceremonies this summer. Furthermore, many of these figures also offered to strengthen the programme’s activities through various contributions, such as facilitating access to local resources, which helped the women to expand their income diversification activities. 

What issues do you find on the ground? chiefs/culture/education?

AWA by Magnum was created through the collaboration with NGOs on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire and it’s through this continued work with NGOs including 100WEEKs and CARE international that we have been able to bring this to life. The programme was designed to address many of the issues that can prevent social and economic empowerment. For instance, one of the modules in the programme specifically focused on gender roles and aimed to dig into the roles within households between men and women, helping to convey methods to manage family budgets and gender stereotypes while also helping to address gender-based violence. Additional training was also available and offered on literacy as well as lessons on agriculture, including the technical literacy of food crops and livestock management. An important topic covered in the training is around ensuring children in the community are protected from issues like child labour and how the community can work together to identify cases.

What surprises were there? good or bad

There weren’t any surprises per se but there were challenges in running the programme remotely. Here, we were so grateful for the support and expertise of our NGO partners CARE International and 100WEEKS, who allowed us to successfully run the programme remotely and helped the programme to be rolled out in such an effective way. 

This was made possible by our NGO partner’s local presence and knowledge, which helped us to find solutions to challenges as they arose. One challenge was the access to sales opportunities for the products that members of the VSLAs produced through their income diversification activities.

By supporting them in identifying these opportunities through our extended network and identifying market access, they are able to make viable and profitable businesses. 
This collaboration and trust has helped the partnership immensely and its through this that we are able to further our commitment in the years to come. 


September 2022, UK: Magnum ice cream, the world’s authority on ice cream and chocolate, unveils AWA by Magnum; to celebrate upscaling Magnum’s female empowerment programme throughout their cocoa farming communities in Cote d’Ivoire.

In collaboration with NGOs and partners through Magnum’s supply chain network, such as CARE International and 100WEEKS, the AWA by Magnum programme provides women in the cocoa farming communities with the entrepreneurship and literacy skills, funding (through direct mobile payments) and infrastructure of the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLAs). This helps the women to financially establish themselves independently, providing training to further their economic understanding and provide a lasting impact, with individuals participating in the AWA programme having 12 times more savings compared to the benchmark in Côte d’Ivoire. Further to this, the first cohort of graduates from Magnum’s female empowerment programme have successfully established businesses such as fashion retail and food production, with almost three quarters (74%) of people in the programme having already expanded their income generating activities.

Women play a vital role in cocoa farming communities in Côte d’Ivoire. To support them, Magnum is amplifying their voices and work, while bringing awareness to its long-term strategy to financially and socially empower them this World Cocoa & Chocolate Day.

The empowerment program is also brought to life by AWA, Magnum’s first ever digital ambassador, who was created using facial scanning technology combined with the live portraits of 128 Ivorian women of the cocoa farming communities and who have been positively impacted by Magnum’s long-term programme.

2022 marks the first cohort of programme graduates and, looking beyond this, AWA will tell the stories of achievement from the programme and how, by empowering them both economically and socially, the women have been able to diversify their income. 

AWA will model a limited-edition fashion collection created in partnership with Rebecca Zoro, using local materials and inspired by her Ivorian heritage and culture. The 5-piece collection, which is available for purchase on 1st October 2022 via the AWA by Magnum Online Store.

Speaking about her collaboration with Magnum and her inspiration for the collection, growing up in and around cocoa farming communities, Rebecca said: “Since my early childhood I have always been passionate about the strength, beauty and work of Ivorian women.  Today I highlight this love through my creations. The inspirational trips inside Côte d’Ivoire as part of this project allowed me to “see” and especially to “feel” the positive impact that female entrepreneurship can have on our local communities. 

AWA by Magnum is a dream come true because it is the synergy between the young stylist that I am, the commitment of the women I met and the talent of our local artisans. I am so excited to present AWA on such a global platform and proud to know that the benefits will go to farming communities through Magnum’s cocoa program that supports them. I thank all the people who between countries and continents have spared no effort to make this beautiful project see the light of day.”

Funds generated from the sale of the collection will go towards the development of additional impact programmes led by Magnum in Côte d’Ivoire. This is in addition to Magnum’s commitment to support the cocoa farming community through its investment of €25M to fund its wider cocoa impact programmes for female empowerment and beyond.

Through its supply chain network, Magnum collaborates with NGOs including CARE International and 100WEEKS, and aims to further its commitments to the cocoa farming communities by expanding the programme. Six hundred women in total will have passed through the programme by the end of the year with a clear upscale plan to offer extensions such as additional training modules.

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