Making a Real Change with Silvia Cruz-Vargas of Social Impact at PepsiCo Foundation

We speak with the Director of Social Impact at PepsiCo, Silvia Cruz-Vargas, about making a change: 

Silvia, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role at the PepsiCo Foundation?
I am Silvia Cruz-Vargas, I am the Director Social Impact at the PepsiCo Foundation. PepsiCo Foundation is the philanthropic arm of our food and beverages company PepsiCo. The Foundation was founded in 1962 and invests in the basic elements of a sustainable food system. Which means that we fund programs and partners that help alleviate hunger, provide access to safe water to communities in need, promote circular economy and advance women empowerment – with a special focus on empowering women economically.

Could you tell us about the initiatives that the PepsiCo Foundation is supporting in Pakistan?
The purpose of the visit is to work with the local PepsiCo team on important strategic initiatives in the areas of Youth skills development and employment, Women empowerment, Water and Nutrition. In youth unemployment, we are working with an education non-profit Amal Academy; an education non-profit on a fantastic leadership program, which seeks to equip university graduates with employability skills. So far, 1000 young men and women have graduated from the program. 70 percent of the graduates received job offers within three months of completing the program. Separately, in the area of access to safe water, we work globally as a corporation in an effort to provide
25 million people with access to clean safe water by 2025. In Pakistan we have launched the ‘access to safe water” program in partnership with Water Aid which aims to benefit over 150,000 beneficiaries over the course of the next three years. In the area of nutrition, we are working with United Nations World Food Program on the provision of
nutritious meals for schools going children. Last but not the least, we are looking to launch a country specific program in 2020 which will help advance circular economy practices in the ways we recycle, reinvent and reduce plastics.
Do you have any specific programs in Pakistan that are geared towards females?
Absolutely we are mindful of having women as integral part of all our initiatives. Take the PepsiCo and Amal Academy collaboration on Youth for example, 35 percent of the graduates this year are
women and we hope to take that number 50 percent in 2020. Separately, as part of our “access to safe water” program with WaterAid we are providing comprehensive education on the topic of hygiene and sanitation to women in the communities that we work in.

Were you able to see any of the PepsiCo sustainability programs in action on this trip?
Yes, I had the pleasure of interaction with the fellows enrolled in the PepsiCo – Amal Youth leadership Program. I attended one of the training sessions the day I landed in Lahore. It was heartwarming to see the passion of the students and how attentive they were towards the training. They really seemed to understand the importance of professional skills – like time management, team work, public speaking. They were articulate in expressing their views on the program and their hopes and dreams on the future. It was an honor and privilege for me to be able to share my learning in life with them, for these young people really are the future leadership of this country.

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You have been PepsiCo for a long time – what has been your motivation?
They say that time files when you’re having a good time. I think that summarizes how I feel about my time at PepsiCo, I have a job that I absolutely love. I have stayed with the company because of PepsiCo’s focus on purpose and our commitment to our sustainability agenda, which is all about how we give back to society and how we try to do the best job possible internally but also create a positive impact eternally. I can that is a difficult combination to find elsewhere, which is why I deeply enjoy the work I do and value with the utmost responsibility the purpose of the PepsiCo Foundation.

What does it take for a woman to have a successful career? Do you have advice for our readers?
I think a spirit of flexibility and being open to different opportunities and challenges is important. Having the confidence to raise your hand and share your point of view but at the same time having the courage to ask questions when you don’t have all the answers. I think it’s also important to have strong mentors and learn from examples, because there are other leaders who have walked your journey before. We have to be aware that there is always room for improvement and life may not necessarily always be an easy journey. But at the end of the journey, you’ll find maturity and the wisdom to help you overcome challenges you were not able to overcome before. It is also incredibly important to be authentic and being yourself!
Finally, were you able to do any site seeing in Lahore? And what are your major takeaways
from this trip?
My major takeaway from this trip is that it is always important to understand the local context. If you want to scale your initiatives, it’s important to understand the perspective of partners within and outside the organization. It’s difficult to make a bid impact if you’re working in isolation that’s why we strongly believe in working with the government and non -profit sector to bring sustainability to our initiatives. On site seeing, I managed to have a tour of the Lahore Fort which is a absolutely gorgeous cultural landscape, I was entranced by the fantastic architecture. I also enjoyed a dinner with the stunning view of the Badshahi Mosque, as one tour guide said to me, today is your birthday because you’ve finally seen Lahore!

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