2013 alumni start Aspuna Group, with social impact


Three students who completed the Executive MBA programme at Cambridge Judge Business School have started a commodities trading house that focuses on Africa and social responsibility.


Maria-Yassin Jah, Luis Prazeres and a third EMBA alumnus are using their commodities backgrounds and the network they grew at Cambridge Judge to create their own business, Aspuna Group, with social responsibility at its heart.

“There are aspects about our industry that we don’t think are done the right way. Every commodity trading company will be involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, but operations and social responsibility are often managed as separate entities. This is because CSR has often been added much later in the life of the firm,” Maria says. “We thought that this isn’t the right way to do it if you’re really committed to social responsibility.”

"Aspuna Group will not have a social responsibility department because it is embedded in our DNA. We check everything we do against our values and everyone who comes on board will have to subscribe to these values and act them out in everything they do."

Aspuna has started their first project in The Gambia. They are working with the Gambian government and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation to establish local farming cooperatives who will supply them with Cassava (also known as Tapioca). The crop will then be processed into starch and flour in an Aspuna-built and owned factory. Maria says: “Our operations model will be based on having physical assets because [they] add value to the exported product and also create employment.” Aspuna will then sell the processed starch locally as a food staple and to international pharmaceutical and food companies.

"There are some pockets in the country where people are malnourished [and] the region that we are starting in is a priority region."

Their factory is now being built and will employ around 20 people in January 2016. Aspuna is working with the National Women’s Bureau to identify women farmers and to train them on aspects of the processing line; the Group aims to have the line solely managed by women. In a traditional farming society where Gambian women carry their children on their backs to work the fields, the factory will provide a nursery.

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