developing and inspiring our people

People - Illovo sugar

how we safeguard, develop and inspire our people

People - Grad girl in china

Robyn Cooper

Agriculture Strategy Support Manager

Illovo Sugar Africa

The Faces of AB Sugar
Robyn Cooper Agriculture Strategy Support Manager Illovo Sugar Africa

Content added November 2019.

Robyn has since left the business and has taken up a new role at SAI Platform. 

Robyn started her career with AB Sugar in 2014 on the then two-year graduate programme. During this time, she had placements with a handful of the group’s international operations in the UK and Africa; engrossing herself in projects, local cultures and ways of working.

She explains how this set her career up and the impact her most memorable career moment has had:

“During my second placement on the graduate programme I was living and working in Malawi – a huge step away from growing up in the UK. In addition to a new country, new team, new language, new projects and new ways of working; I also grew on a personal level too, building up my own resilience and determination to make a difference through every experience that I was offered. Through my time on the programme, I was able to see how interlinked every function across the full value chain is and how we can best interact with external stakeholders. I would attribute the six months in Malawi as one of my most memorable career experience, not to mention the sunsets in the African bush!

“Since my time in Malawi and subsequent placements thereafter, I knew I wanted to return to Africa if I could and was lucky enough to undergo an intra-company transfer to work for Illovo Sugar South Africa at the end of my grad programme in the agriculture team. This involved leading a grower insight project, getting to the core of why farmers grow sugar cane and understanding every step of their decision-making process to do so. One of the outcomes of this project was a mobile grower engagement platform. A portal for growers to see important news, estimate and track deliveries, provide feedback, engage with other local growers and access information from the estate’s extension service team whereby assets such as an educational booklet can be downloaded. Although the insight project originally focused solely on South African growers, the findings revealed a number of similarities across all of Illovo’s six operating countries.

“After two years in the South African business, I moved to Illovo Sugar Africa’s head office to take up a new role as Agriculture Strategy Support Manager. Part of this role is to support the agriculture teams within each of Illovo’s six countries of operation, spending time in country on projects but also supporting from afar too. What I’ve come to learn throughout my time with AB Sugar has been that people should be at the heart of everything that we do. I love that I’m able to engage with a whole range of people; from small-scale growers in rural communities, to large-scale commercial growers, agriculture teams in-country to senior management and everybody in between. This interaction is what excites me and motivates me to get up every day. The range of cultures, experiences and knowledge is invaluable and there is always something worth learning.”

Putting people at the centre

“everyone has something that they can offer you – grasp the opportunity to learn”

“I am constantly inspired by some of our farmers; for being pioneers in their own communities and for their personal drive to succeed. Being able to support them through my job is extremely rewarding. Looking beyond your own personal boundaries and opening your eyes up to the rest of the world is one of the most invaluable things I’ve learnt so far. Being unafraid to try new ways of working too is also important as although I support our teams across six countries, there are many similarities across each region that we can all learn from.

“As millennials, we’re often distracted by what’s next rather than embracing the experience in front of us. I believe we should always take the time to enjoy where we currently are; as it can all change so quickly.”

Notes to editors:

Robyn was also an active member of Illovo’s first Millennial Board – see more here.

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