Arguably the Most Delicious Way to Change Lives Liz Miller, Senior Marketing Manager at Divine Chocolate

Liz Miller is the Senior Marketing Manager at Divine Chocolate, a global social enterprise with HQs in Washington, D.C. & London. Not only is Divine Chocolate delicious, but it is also co-owned by the 85,000 farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo, a cooperative in Ghana that supplies the cocoa for each bar of Divine. Liz also volunteers with the Ellevate Network, an organization whose mission is to help women advance in the workplace, both for themselves and the greater good. She serves on the DC Chapter Leadership team as the Marketing Lead.

Photo by Christina Noel

What initially inspired you to make a difference and what career path did you follow?

I was raised in a family rooted in the value that service to others was an extremely important part of how one approached life. My parents helped me feel connected to this idea, and I began exploring ways to help in my own way. For example, when I was about 7 years old, my mom was leading a meeting at her church one evening, and in a streak of boredom I began wandering around. I noticed some of the flyers on the bulletin board and started adding in my own messages: “Please help the poor people” and “Bring food to the hungry people.”

As you’re growing up it’s challenging to know what to do with those frustrating feelings of injustice, but I am so grateful to have lived in an environment where I was encouraged to find ways to take action and give others a voice– through volunteering, supporting local community groups, and creating my own projects to empower and support others.

It wasn’t clear to me in college what I actually wanted to “do” with my life, but what I did know is that I wanted to continue serving others.

As a political science major with a focus on global politics and international relations, I was most drawn to learning about the systems of power which influenced people’s everyday lives, particularly those people with the least amount of power.

To cap off my college career, I spent my six credit hours on a study-abroad trip to Ghana. I chose to go to Ghana because I felt it was important to visit a non-Western country. After returning from the trip, pursuing a career in international work became my mission. I applied and was accepted to a Master’s program in International Human Rights.

But, I decided to defer my admission by a year in order to get some work experience; going directly from undergrad to grad school didn’t feel like the right thing for me. So, I worked for over a year at a local leadership development organization and was also heavily involved as a volunteer at a domestic violence agency. At the domestic violence agency, I was a hotline volunteer, and I also spearheaded a local initiative called “Hope Notes” which gave people in the community an opportunity to write empowering, supportive notes to survivors staying in the shelter and attending the agency’s programs. Working within the context of domestic violence, my passion for women’s rights and empowerment was cemented.

From the time I started graduate school and on, I spent nearly 5 years in various marketing, communications & development roles in the nonprofit sector with a focus on global philanthropy, refugee services, leadership development, and women’s empowerment initiatives.

When I was searching for a new opportunity in 2014 and found an opening at Divine Chocolate, I was extremely reluctant to apply, but not because I felt unqualified. It was because Divine was a for-profit company, and I always envisioned working in the nonprofit sector. The job was specifically about marketing consumer products, something I also never envisioned doing. Yet, the mission of the company matched my values, and I considered the new, creative ways I could challenge myself as an opportunity for growth. Not to mention — having in-country experience in Ghana (a key part of Divine’s operations) and experience in marketing & communications meant my cover letter could basically write itself.

I am so glad I took that leap of faith. I’ve struggled in normal ways – adjusting to a new field, a new industry, and a completely new way of doing business – but with immense gratitude to the people I work with and my own values-led ambition, I have found my place at Divine and my voice as a leader.

Members of Kuapa Kokoo Co-op, Photo by Divine Chocolate

Tell me a bit about how your work is helping make a positive impact?

As the Senior Marketing Manager at a small social enterprise, I wear a range of hats.

My primary role is fairly straightforward: I think of ways to get people to know about Divine Chocolate and create strategies that will inspire them to buy it. I serve as the chief brand ambassador and oversee brand management, digital communications, advertising, trade marketing, partnerships, and events. These are, of course, the types of things most consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies like Divine Chocolate need to do in order to remain in business.

But — the reason why my work is helping make a positive impact is because I am not satisfied with simply marketing a product, making money, and maintaining the status quo. The chocolate industry is valued at $100 billion worldwide. But, the cocoa farmers who grow the essential ingredient that makes chocolate chocolate typically only earn about $2 per day. At Divine, we’re challenging the terms of world trade and advocating that farmers should be sustainably remunerated as suppliers. In my role, I advocate for farmers (especially women farmers), and I lead efforts to empower chocolate lovers worldwide so they too can make this world a better place for all through their everyday choices

The chocolate industry is valued at $100 billion worldwide. But, the cocoa farmers who grow the essential ingredient that makes chocolate chocolate typically only earn about $2 per day. At Divine, we’re challenging the terms of world trade and advocating that farmers should be sustainably remunerated as suppliers. In my role, I advocate for farmers (especially women farmers), and I lead efforts to empower chocolate lovers worldwide so they too can make this world a better place for all through their everyday choices

Comfort Kumeah, Kuapa Kokoo farmer
Photo by Olivier Asselin, courtesy of Divine Chocolate

Divine Chocolate is a company driven by its mission. Our mission is to grow a successful farmer-owned chocolate company using the amazing power of chocolate to delight and engage, while also bringing people together to create dignified trading relations, thereby empowering producers and consumers globally. By creating a supply chain that shares value more equitably, we believe ours is an example of a viable model for how to secure the sustainable future of cocoa and cocoa farming.

I believe that sustainability in the cocoa industry is a human rights issue. Sustainability is about ensuring the future of cocoa, and it’s about using environmental resources in a responsible way, but at the root of it all, it’s about ensuring the future of cocoa farmers and their livelihoods. I believe a rights-based approach gives us the best opportunity to create gender equality, promote climate justice, and eliminate poverty worldwide.

Photo by Divine Chocolate

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?

  1. Having a deep sense of empathy for others is the foundation for much of the good I do in life, but it’s also what can bring me down. This is particularly true as someone who also suffers from chronic depression, which I was diagnosed with in college. With these two things combined, many parts about life can feel overwhelming. There have been many, many days that I have felt incredibly hopeless about the state of the world and my seemingly tiny role in it.
  2. Not being a morning person. Seriously, the 9-5 time frame just does not work for everyone. I’m glad that businesses are shifting toward more flexible working environments that focus on quality of work rather than when work is completed.
  3. Being an introvert. I wish I had the ability to read Susan Cain’s book Quiet much, much sooner than I did because it has been immensely useful in understanding what it means to be an introvert, why it’s not a bad thing, and how I can excel using my strengths as an introvert. This is particularly true in the marketing field, where it often feels like only the loudest voice is heard. And, as I continue to grow into my role as the public face of Divine (which I enjoy), it has taken a lot of self-reflection to recognize that it’s okay to be the most effective and strategic version of me, rather than compare myself to others.           
  4. Related: Working in an open office, especially as an introvert. This has been one of the most unexpectedly challenging parts of my work life. I strive to be flexible and adaptable in most circumstances, but constant noise, distraction, and no privacy has taken a huge toll on my mental health and wellbeing.
  5. Finally: burnout. Nobody would argue that having a deep sense of connection to your work was a bad thing, but it has its healthy and unhealthy sides. As someone who cares deeply about so much and is also ambitious and driven, I have at times neglected my own needs and wellbeing. The rational me knows that this is not a sustainable way to live life, but the passionate me is always demanding more from myself.

What advice do you have for aspiring Arc Benders?

First, find a workplace that supports your growth.  I started in this role at Divine 4 years ago as marketing associate. It was an entry level position. Even though I had marketing roles in the past, it made sense for me to come in into a new field & a new industry at that level. It was through some good guidance from my supervisor (she was more of a sales person), she helped me understand the parts of the job I didn’t know so well. She helped me understand how to move forward to learn and grow. I’ve had challenging experiences in the past and I needed to leave a toxic environment.  When I was looking for my next job, I asked whether this is a place ‘where taking initiative is encouraged.’ They were thrilled to have that at Divine and I quickly realized that it was a place where I could grow and develop my skills. For the last few years, I’ve been learning every single day and I’m grateful for the way people supported me and wanted to see me thrive. They let me take calculated risks and really grow. Before you start with a company, do your research up front and ask the right questions. Also, if possible, try to meet with a team member to see what it’s like.

I also think it’s really important to build a level of trust at your workplace in order to truly be effective. For me, it’s my ability and willingness to work on relationships, which has helped me get to where I’m at now. I’m not constantly being questioned and I’m able to have strategic conversations with my supervisor.

For me, it’s my ability and willingness to work on relationships, which has helped me get to where I’m at now. I’m not constantly being questioned and I’m able to have strategic conversations with my supervisor.

Another thing to consider is it’s really important to find your own leadership style. When I think about women empowerment and elevating women’s voices, I’m a huge advocate. My approach to building a teams is not to be the boss, but to act in a role where I remove barriers for my team and help them succeed.  I want to help my team members become the best versions of themselves that they can be.

“If you’re going to be trying to enact change, it’s never going to be one person doing all of it.”

So, to become a better leader, I think a lot about how I find good role models. Who are the people I’m looking up to? I think it’s important to find the role models that embody the traits you’d like to have. I’ve been lucky to have women in my own family that are community leaders & public speakers that I find really inspiring.  When I need to understand ‘how do I say this?’ or ‘how do I ask for a raise,’ they can give me great advice.

If you can find someone to connect with in your field or industry, find those resources. I highly recommend looking into the Ellevate Network as a resource; I volunteer on the leadership team for the DC Chapter, and there are chapters across the country and globe. Everyone at Ellevate is truly committed to supporting other women, and I see it in action every time I attend an event.

Are there any women that are public figures that you do look up to?

Recently, I have been following this woman on twitter that I really appreciate for speaking out. Her name is Simran Sethi. She’s big into promoting issues around food, chocolate, and cocoa.  She is saying the things that need to be said in my industry – especially in terms of advocating for farmers… For example she has said, ‘you will not and cannot have sustainable cocoa if farmers do not earn a livable income.’

While a bit stereotypical, my number one role model in the industry is our own CEO. She has been working at Divine for 19 years out of the 20 it has existed. She is really, really phenomenal in so many ways. In the world of social entrepreneurship, you can’t be ok with the status quo. You actually have to ask questions; you have to be a challenger. You have to think critically about everything that comes at you. She is really good at asking the right questions and she’s not afraid of conflict and pointing out concerns.  In doing so, she helps move the conversation forward. We don’t need to be running in place. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy meeting people who aren’t in the cocoa industry because they’ll ask a question that I haven’t even thought of. Her ability to do that from day 1 has been the reason why a social enterprise like Divine has been able to make it in such a competitive landscape

Is there any other advice you’d like to share?

I think one final word of advice would be to learn to be ok with being uncomfortable. It’s ok to not know everything and it’s ok to not have the answers. Last year, one of my favorite things that we did at Divine was hosting one of the cocoa farmers, named Mercy, from Ghana in DC and in Austin for a multi-event, multi-city ‘farmer visit’ with multiple stakeholders involved. We gave Mercy the opportunity to speak on behalf of the collaborative, share what it’s like to be a chocolate farmer, and to literally ‘have a voice.’

While I have planned many events, this was something that was something totally different in many regards. It was a 10-day event and I was responsible for coordinating so many people in so many different sectors. We had a round table about gender equity and women’s empowerment – trying to find the right people, who can facilitate, etc was extremely challenging.

Mercy Zaah, a Kuapa Kokoo member, speaking at a Washington, D.C. event in 2017 
Photo by Meghan LaPrairie Photography, courtesy of Divine Chocolate.

There were so many times during that planning I felt like ‘I have no idea what I’m doing!?’ I remember very clearly that I had to remind myself that it’s ok that I’m going to have to wing it. Part of what helped me get to the point of being ok with it, is it was a project I felt so deeply connected to from  values-standpoint. Giving Mercy the opportunity to have the best platform & audience was a mission that meant so much to me. I was willing doing the best possible work I could do to really help her succeed.

It all went really well and I pulled it off. So many people were inspired by her and I was grateful to be the behind the scenes person to make it all happen, while showing Divine as an authentic, values-driven company.