Laura van Geel is the Social Mission Manager at Ben & Jerry’s for The Netherlands, where she is responsible for leading social impact projects and continuing the company’s legacy as a force for good. We spoke to Laura about the partnership between Delitelabs and Ben & Jerry’s, as well as the role businesses play in building a more inclusive society.
Ben & Jerry’s: A legacy of social impact
Founded as a humble ice cream company in Burlington, Vermont, in 1978, Ben & Jerry’s today is a global, socially responsible business.
Laura describes the company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, as “activists at heart,” driven by a desire to make the world a better place. “If you look at where my job comes from, it really comes from a lot of what Ben & Jerry’s stands for and has always stood for,” Laura says. “Impact is really in the DNA of the company and it comes from these two people.”
To date, Ben & Jerry’s has advocated for several social and environmental causes, from its 1% for a Peace initiative in 1988 (redirecting part of the national defense budget to fund peace-promoting activities) to its campaigning for refugees' rights in Europe in 2017 onwards. Today, the company has several Activism Managers like Laura around the world whose job is to drive social impact initiatives within the company and beyond.
Delitelabs has really invested in fostering this inclusive atmosphere to make sure you can take your values and transform them into a business concept or idea.
Learning from ice cream
In partnership with Ben & Jerry’s, the Ice Academy program at Delitelabs offers newcomers in the Netherlands the opportunity to gain practical business and entrepreneurship skills, as well as real-world experience at Ben & Jerry’s or one of its many partners.
“I think the ice cream business is an interesting environment to learn from,” Laura says. “Working with us or with one of our partners – either in the ice cream shop or other places – is a valuable experience. You learn a lot about hospitality and that you can’t be afraid. You need to be very welcoming to our fans and customers. Another thing Delitelabs holds very strongly is that you have to be a bit entrepreneurial. So, there are a lot of soft skills that we share, and we also want to engage the wider community.”
Participants at Delitelabs also gain access to a vast network of alumni, mentors, coaches, and experts, who can offer continuous support long after the program ends. “That network helps you a lot. I have heard such moving stories from people and what it has meant for them personally,” Laura reveals. “Delitelabs has really invested in fostering this inclusive atmosphere to make sure you can take your values and transform them into a business concept or idea. You get access to high-quality teaching and a good network.”
The philosophy of linked prosperity
The origins of Ben & Jerry’s partnership with Delitelabs can be traced back to the civil war in Syria. Laura explains, “We saw a lot of people coming to Europe in need of work experience and we wanted to start an initiative based on what Ben & Jerry’s stands for and what our values are – not just about creating a more inclusive business, but also about entrepreneurship and believing in yourself and carving your own path as an entrepreneur. Based on that, the Ice Academy was developed as a pre-incubation program for newcomers.”
With shared values like inclusion and empowerment, Ben & Jerry’s and Delitelabs are true partners, committed to building more inclusive societies. “It all comes back to what Ben calls ‘linked prosperity,’” Laura shares. “This is the overarching philosophy of our business, which is all about how everything is interconnected. If you give back to the community, you create this upward cycle where everyone’s doing just a little bit better every time. So, we try to express this philosophy in our business.”
Business and heart
As a purpose-driven professional with experience in both non-profit organizations and for-profit organizations like Unilever, Laura is a big believer in using business as a force for good. It’s not always easy but, Laura says, “It’s a very exciting model to be working for. It’s an amazing way to broaden the world because we always need to take into account two perspectives in every decision we make: the social impact perspective and the business impact perspective.”
“It’s this philosophy that Ben always said, which is ‘don’t leave your values at the door,’” Laura adds. “I think that’s very true for a workplace – to be able to take your whole self to work and to take the talents and the mindset that you have and be able to express that and reap the benefits of all the diversity and talent that every one of us brings.”
Laura’s hope for the future is that more and more organizations will adopt these values and become a force for real, positive change.
When it comes to entrepreneurs, she concludes, “The only way we can grow is by stimulating more entrepreneurs to have both a business sense and to stay true to their values. That’s the generation of entrepreneurs that we’re trying to support.”
Don’t leave your values at the door. Are you interested in partnering with Delitelabs to drive positive change in your business and beyond? Get in touch!
Written by Sophie Poulsen