Rien van Ekris - Global Change & Collaboration Director Danone

“One Planet. One Health.”

Co-creating new Futures with
100,000+ Employees at Danone!

With the future ahead, there is a lot to think about. For example; how do we handle when situations on the work floor change? 2030 will come sooner than we think, so it’s time to take action.

Danone is a huge organization with more than 100,000 employees in over 55 countries. With a gigantic and complex organization like this, it is important to think ahead, to engage employees, to listen and gather feedback and opinions. These employees have a pivotal role to play within the company and local communities. With this in mind, Danone held a survey under all her employees around the globe. We spoke with Rien van Ekris, HR director at Danone about this survey and his vision on the future of work. Our interview with Rien became very special and passionate as we could feel his passion for Danone, the planet and its people.

'At Danone, we believe that the health of people and that of the planet are interdependent and we want to nourish and protect both.' Flowing from our “One Planet. One Health” vision, we have defined the Danone 2030 Goals. A set of nine long-term goals – aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations* – to embrace a food revolution while creating sustainable value for our shareholders and ecosystem as a whole.’

In this interview you read more about engaging 100,000 employees, artificial intelligence, the workforce and lifelong learning.

“We collected 360,000 verbatims in 35 languages”

What are you most proud of and what do you think is special about this approach?

‘Our more than 100,000 Danoners are the driving force to create new futures and successfully transform our company. As a founding act to bring our 2030 goals to life, an innovative governance model was created - ‘One Person, One Voice, One Share’. A framework that put’s Danone’s 100,000 Danoners at the center of shaping the company’s future.’

It provides all our employees with opportunities to actively participate in defining roadmaps to bring the 2030 goals to life. In simple terms, Danoners will have access to an internal platform providing sharing and learning resources. They will be asked a number of very practical questions and consulted to discuss their local business in order to co-build our company's strategic agenda.

When and how did Danone start engaging the employees?

‘This annual strategic routine started for the first time in 2018, when every Danoner was invited to participate to a worldwide digital consultation to share their views – as a Danoner, as a consumer, and as a citizen, on what is urgent to achieve at local and global levels.’

‘Prior to their participation in this consultation, a learning platform was set up and put at the disposal of all Danoners with extensive sharing and learning resources related to the company vision and goals. This platform helps Danoners to better understand our local and global Danone 2030 goals and learn about our One Planet. One Health topics.’

How was the response?

‘More than 75,000 Danoners at production sites and the offices made their voices heard.

We collected 360,000 verbatims in 35 languages and around 35,000 employees volunteered to analyze the consultation result and insights. This will shape our Danone 2030 Goals milestones and enable us to continue improving as one company with one vision.

Was there any kind of incentive?

‘Yes there was a very symbolic one. During the 2019 shareholders’ meeting, every Danoner was granted one Danone share combined with an annual, amplified incentive scheme, as a tangible sign of Danoners’ ownership of our future. In the words of Bertrand Austruy, Executive Vice President Human Resources: “Our pioneering ‘One Person, One voice, One Share’ program begins with the belief that each employee has a pivotal role to play. Together, we can be a catalyst for change’.

“We need to make sure we stay agile and are able to adapt”

How will the use of Artificial Intelligence influence the future of the workplace?

As artificial intelligence advances, and the use will increase continuously, it is predicted that widespread automation of tasks is inevitable. Humans will however continue to play a vital role – but one that will be different from today and which requires lifelong learning. ‘We can start preparing ourselves to be ‘Future Fit’. Let’s be positive and embrace the future ahead of us.

This gives room to a lot of great opportunities. We need to make sure we stay agile and are able to adapt. We will have to consider how to equip our people with Future Fit skills that cannot be easily automated, such as critical thinking, agility and emotional intelligence, as well as human qualities like creativity, empathy and self-awareness’.

“Will robots be able to replicate the touch of appreciation or the kind sentiments expressed by a fellow colleague?”
“CAMPUS X, our new learning platform can be described as a sort of Netflix for learning”

Is lifelong learning related to the 9 goals Danone set for 2030?

‘At Danone, we believe that the development of the company is closely linked to our employees’ development and it is indeed an essential aspect of one of our 9 Danone’s 2030 goals, “Entrust Danone’s People to create new futures”.

Our ambition is to inspire and empower each Danoner to lead their own development. CAMPUS X, our new learning platform, is enabling this. Campus X can be described as a sort of Netflix for learning. It is a digital learning platform that gives access to a full range of internal and external resources to help upskill on company-wide topics, on functions and brings the opportunity to personalize training powered by Artificial Intelligence.’

Everyone will at some point have to spend time either re-skilling (learning new skills for a new position) or upskilling (learning current tasks more deeply). Upskilling and reskilling are also vitally important for our business success. It means that each of us should put in the effort toward making learning a lifetime priority.

An upskilling effort involves identifying the skills that will be most valuable in the future, the businesses that will need them, the people who need work and could plausibly gain those skills, and the training and technology-enabled learning that could help them and then putting all these elements together.

Aren’t you afraid that AI will replace humans and this will result in less employment in the future?

‘What you state is a dominant theme that pervades much of our daily lives. I’m fascinated by the interaction - and the emotion and human connection that comes with that - in the workplace. This links in quite nicely with what we discussed already. While the workplace will change incredibly within the next 10 to 15 years, there are some elements of human emotions that artificial intelligent will not be able to replicate. I speak primarily of collaborative environments and that of emotional ability.’

What kind of emotions are fundamental for interaction?

‘For example Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think, explains in her book how to develop environments where people can thrive. There are a few components that are fundamental to the creation of the so called thinking environment. One of them being appreciation. The giving and receiving of appreciation to others is not something that we as humans are particularly good at. Moreover the research tells us that we often avoid it.

However, with the giving of appreciation being one of the main elements to a collaborative and thinking environment, this very human skill will be even more important in the AI era that is to come. Will robots be able to replicate the touch of appreciation or the kind sentiments expressed by a fellow colleague? I am not sure yet.’

“Engage people and use their voices”

Can you give us an insight into how Danone looks at the future?

‘At Danone we do business with and through people and we share four values – Humanism, Openness, Proximity and Enthusiasm – that underlie our unique company culture and identity.

These values guide the way that we work, live together and interact with our different stakeholders. To be Future Fit, we recently revised our leadership behaviors: Agile, Human Centric, Accountable and Decisive, Inclusive and Collaborative and Courageous with Empathy. These will enable us now to collectively transform and be future ready to meet challenges we already face and continue to face in the Future.

They will enable us to accelerate our business transformation with stronger impact and unleash new business opportunities. For self, for the team and for the company.' Value and Purpose driven work and leadership provide the best guidance when you are not sure of what the future will bring.

The United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals

*The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.


  • Have a clear and appealing purpose
  • Engage people and use their voices
  • Humans will be needed in the workplace, but skills will change drastically
  • Nobody knows how the future of work will look like. The best recipe for sustainability and employability in the future is adaptability and agility and therefor learning