Media

Prebiotic drinks label crowned Glasgow winner of Virgin Media Business Voom Pitch competition

Scottish Business News Network (SBNN) 

Drink Baotic, a dairy free, high fibre, prebiotic drink made from community wild-harvested African Baobab super fruits, has been crowned the Glasgow winner of the Virgin Media Business Voom Pitch competition. Co-founder Isatou Njai collects £5,000 for the business and will also get to meet Sir Richard Branson. Read More…

Baotic – the unique smoothie with a social mission

Loch Lomond Food and drink

Glasgow-based start-up, Hippo and Hedgehog, will be bringing their Baotic health drink to the festival this weekend. As the name suggests, the drink utilises the fruit of the baobab tree, native to Africa. The baobab fruit is known as a super fruit and has been used for millennia for its unique taste and health benefits. Read More…

 


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Running for Dear Life

Aug 2016

Original Source: RBS Outside In Magazine (page 12) http://outsidein.rbs.com/

 

When Paul Blackler sets off on another 10k run, he’s not just thinking about his target finish time. His mind is also on an African community that couldn’t be closer to his heart.

It’s eight years since Paul Blackler sat in a remote village hospital in The Gambia, watching his brother, Martin, twitching in a drug-induced sleep. The episode was to have a profound effect on Paul’s life. While Martin made a full recovery from his bout of food poisoning, one fellow patient wasn’t so lucky. Kadijatou, the five-year-old girl in the bed next to Paul, was brought in with dehydration and malnutrition. Despite the efforts of staff, she never made it home.

“I felt very strongly that a young child passing away from those causes was criminal, and I still do,” says Paul, who works as a Methods and Assurance Consultant.

Strong connection

The experience cemented his connection with The Gambia, where he originally went as a VSO volunteer to help build government IT capacity. Since then, Paul has returned many times – initiating and supporting development projects to reduce poverty and improve nutrition. Based around the village of Mansajang, the projects range from digging a water well, to setting up a vegetable garden run by a cooperative of local women. Paul works alongside villagers, landowners, charities and government. “I position it almost as a start-up approach – providing seed money to establish a project, demonstrate some success and attract larger funders,” he explains.

The Gambia in brief

The Gambia is Africa’s smallest country, with a population of 1.8 million It ranks 175 out of 188 countries for human development UN research shows over 57 per cent of Gambians live below the poverty line Life expectancy is 60, compared with 81 in the UK.

Testing times

Achieving change is tough in a country where infrastructure is patchy, the climate can be fierce and the politics are complicated by tribal divisions. Paul recalls one visit where he was striving to progress a well project. When machinery arrived from the capital, Banjul, a critical drill bit was missing. “I had to travel to Banjul to chase that up – which at the time was a 12-hour journey,” he says. “One of my flip-flops had broken and I remember running down the street with no shoes, bruised and battered from the journey, desperate to get to the supplier before it closed for the day.” And there’s no let up when Paul returns to the UK. His commitment to the region means he balances his job, in Service Optimisation, with intense fundraising activity to support the Mansajang projects.

Gruelling goal

Currently, his running addiction is serving the cause. Paul has set himself the gruelling goal of completing 100 10k runs during 2016, aiming to raise £2,500 in total. Family, friends and colleagues offer strong support – they joined him in a ‘virtual fun run’ during his latest trip to Mansajang earlier this summer. Even this brought challenges: “While I was out there, I got a blister on my foot,” says Paul. “It would normally be a tiny problem, but due to the heat it worsened and I ended up on antibiotics, and signed off running for a while.” The memory of little Kadijatou and his passion for the cause fuel Paul’s determination through all the obstacles.

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Driving force

“There have been times when I’ve wanted to give up,” he admits. “The demand for projects is sometimes overwhelming. It’s an emotional investment – you live the highs and lows alongside the community – but in the end it’s really rewarding. “What drives me are my experiences and the impact that I know we’re having on the ground. “I also try to focus on the people I work with. A lot of investment goes into things like fencing and infrastructure, but it’s the innovative, creative, resilient mindset of the people that creates success.”

Strong bonds

Inevitably, Paul has formed strong bonds with the villagers – local families now compete to put him up during his visits. And recently, one of those bonds has blossomed into love. Isatou Njai, one of the Mansajang residents, has become Paul’s partner, and has now joined him in the UK, where she is studying for a business degree. “We met through a family I stayed with, and immediately formed an extremely close friendship,” Paul says. “That carried on even while I went to work in China and wasn’t able to be in The Gambia so often. And eventually we decided that we could make a relationship work.”

Gambia in a glass

Ever tasted baobab? It’s not a fruit widely available outside the countries where it grows – but Paul Blackler and his partner Isatou Njai are aiming to change that. “We both share a passion for baobab and its health properties, and have dreamt of launching a baobab drink in the UK since 2008,” says Paul. After Isatou gave a successful pitch to Entrepreneurial Spark – the start-up support scheme which the bank is partnering with to support UK-based entrepreneurs – Drink Baotic will soon be bringing a tang of The Gambia to UK consumers. A percentage of profits from the venture will go to the community work in Mansajang.

Follow Paul’s running challenge and support him at megameterrun.wordpress.com and consider a donation at www.justgiving.com/megameterrun

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Original Source: RBS Outside In Magazine (page 12) http://outsidein.rbs.com/Content/pdfs/outsidein_aug.pdf 

Aug 2016