Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Don Larson | Founder & CEO, Sunshine Nut Company, Mozambique 

Case Study Outline

  1. → Don Larson Video (above)
  2. → Learning Objectives
  3. → Main Category of Action
  4. → Don’s Story
  5. → Summary of Case
  6. → Interview with Don Larson
  7. → Introduction to Mozambique
  8.      – Demographics and Economy
  9.      – Religious Demographics
  10.      – Conflict and Violence related to Religion
  11. → More About the Sunshine Nut Company
  12.      – Problem Company Addresses
  13.      – What the Company Did
  14.      – What’s Left to Do
  15. → Discussion Questions
  16. → Media and Added Resources

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Learning Objectives

Don Larson, founder and CEO of Sunshine Nut Company in Mozambique, works across faith and cultural lines to revive the country’s cashew business. The secret of his success in what he calls a “reverse tithe” – giving 90% of the profits back to investment in Mozambique and developing a fair-trade supply chain rather than expatriating the profits.

The learning objectives for this case study include:

  1. 1. Faith and faith principles can be applied for business and social success.
  2. 2. Company leaders often can be successful by working with integrity within the legal and social parameters in countries where they operate.
  3. 3. Concern for the quality of an employee’s life and suppliers’ lives outside of work leads to business growth and a more stable society.
  4. 4. When a business presents a practical and positive solution to a social problem, the government will be willing to step in and help in tangible ways.

Main category of Action

Core business

Championing interfaith understanding and peace through a company’s core business operations, including internal procedures, human resources hiring practices, training, product/service development, sourcing policies, supply chains, as well as the development of products and services that promote interfaith understanding and peace.

Don’s Story

Don Larson knew his way up the corporate ladder. As an executive for Hershey’s, he was well- regarded as a “turnaround man” — someone who would take on a struggling area of the company for a year or more, get it into shape and move on, each time advancing further up the rungs.

He could, he said, have all the toys he wanted. But he didn’t want them. “The more income I made, the more dissatisfied I was. At the top of my career I felt like God wanted me to surrender.”

One day, Larson, a nondenominational evangelical, got a hotel room and got on his knees to pray. “I said, ‘Lord, I have had the greatest first half of my life. The second half of my life I give to you.’”

For two years, Larson, now 52, tried to discern what the next step would be. He went to seminary. He volunteered at the school where his wife was a teacher. He dabbled in a lot of things. And always, he prayed.

“It became very clear from my prayer that God wanted me to build food factories in Third World nations to build lasting economic transformation,” he said.

So in 2011, he and his wife, Terri, and the youngest of their three children moved to Mozambique to found the Sunshine Nut Co. Mozambique was not an obvious choice — on a business trip there for Hershey’s, Larson and his family were robbed at gunpoint and their car was stolen. But he never forgot the terrible poverty of the African nation, where war and economic upheaval have created a collapsed economy and 1.6 million orphans.

Today, Sunshine has 50 employees — some of them war orphans — and contracts with entire families and communities to shell cashews. The goal is not a substandard product people in more developed nations buy to feel good about themselves, but a “superior product — the best cashew,” Larson said.

In what Larson calls “the Sunshine approach,” 90 percent of profits are invested back into Mozambique. Thirty percent goes to the families who shell the cashews — many of them Muslims — and another 30 percent goes into planting new cashew crops — devastated by Mozambique’s recent civil war — near local villages. Another 30 percent goes to a project the Larsons started to create new families by pairing war widows with war orphans.

“The social component of giving is not enough,” Larson said. “There has to be a transformational component of providing dignity and purpose. I think that is God’s heart — to provide people with a way to live their lives with joy and happiness.”

In working to provide joy and happiness for others, Larson has found it for himself.

“I know this is my purpose. I know this is what I was created to do,” he said. “I think that is the meaning of life — to do something you feel God is calling you to do. Do that and everything else falls into place.”

Summary of Case

While it used to be a worldwide leader in cashew production, Mozambique is now one of the world’s poorest nations. Banking policies and civil war led to extreme poverty across religious and cultural lines, leaving many widowed mothers and over 1.6 million orphans throughout the country.

Don Larson, a former Vice President at The Hershey Company and founder and CEO of the Sunshine Nut Company, is working to revive Mozambique’s economy and reverse the trend in broken families. Inspired by his faith and the belief that companies can have a profound impact,

Don is working with people of all faiths to transform lives by helping provide jobs for over 50,000 people and by donating 90% of his profits to support orphans, empower farmers, and strengthen the local infrastructure, helping to bring interfaith understanding and peace.

Interview with Don Larson

The following interview by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation was done during the inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, which were held in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

The awards recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace. The Awards are a partnership initiative of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), and the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform, with collaboration from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. The next awards will be given in Seoul, Korea, ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics.

Note: Interview begins at 0:38 marker.

Introduction to Mozambique

Demographics and Economy

Mozambique has a population of 23.4 million with a per capita GDP of US$1,242. The country’s life expectancy is 51 years, and the literacy rate is at 56.1%. Nearly half of the population (44%) is 14 years old and younger, with only 1% of the population over the age of 75. Young adults account for 27% of the population between the ages of 15-29, and 15% of the population are between the ages of 30-44.*

Mozambique’s GDP is estimated at US$8.1 billion. The nation’s major industries include: aluminum (processing only); natural gas; hydro power, prawns and fish (45%); timber, sugar and copra (14%); cashew nuts (9%); cotton (2%) and agriculture, which employs 83% of the population.*

Mozambique’s major trading partners include: (exports) Spain, South Africa, USA, Belgium, Italy; (imports) South Africa, Australia, Portugal.*

* CIA Factbook

Religious Demographics

According to Pew Research, nearly two-in-three Mozambique’s people identify as Christian (56.7%), according to the Pew Research Center. Muslims account for 18% of the population, while 17.8% of the population are religiously unaffiliated. 7.4% of the population follow various folk religions, and, respectively, less than 1% of the population are Buddhists, Hindus and Jews.


The median age for all faiths in Mozambique is 18 years old, according to Pew Research. The Muslim fertility rate is at 4.8 children per woman (Total Fertility Rate “TFR”), while the Christian fertility rate is at 4.5. It is projected that by 2030, there will be 20.8 million Christians in Mozambique, and 5.83 million Muslims. 6.08 million people in Mozambique will identify as unaffiliated in 2030. By comparison, currently there are 13.26 million Christians and 4.2 million Muslims residing in the nation.

Conflict and Violence Related to Religion

Almost five centuries as a Portuguese colony came to a close with independence in 1975. Large-scale emigration, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country’s development until the mid-1990s. The ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) party formally abandoned Marxism in 1989, and a new constitution the following year provided for multiparty elections and a free market economy.*

A UN-negotiated peace agreement between FRELIMO and rebel Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) forces ended the fighting in 1992. In December 2004, Mozambique underwent a delicate transition as Joaquim CHISSANO stepped down after 18 years in office. His elected successor, Armando GUEBUZA, served two terms and then passed executive power to Philipe NYUSI in October 2014. RENAMO’s residual armed forces engaged in a low-level insurgency from 2012 to 2014.*

While religion has not been a primary catalyst for the many conflicts that Mozambique has undergone, it did play an important peacemaking role in the UN-negotiated peace agreement in 1992. Bishop Gonçalves, with the involvement of the Community of Sant’Egidio, mediated between the two military factions to make a peaceful settlement (Georgetown Univ.).

There had not been a division between Christian and Muslim groups. This peace has held to the present day except between 2012-2014, but that was resolved.

As shown in the Pew Research chart below, the global median score for social hostilities involving religion is 2.4 on a 10-point scale, where 10 is high. Mozambique’s rating is 1.7, meaning it has moderate social hostilities involving religion. The global median score for governmental restrictions on religious freedom is 3.1. Mozambique has low governmental restrictions on religious freedom with a score of 1.9.

* CIA Factbook


More About the Sunshine Nut Company

Problem Company Addresses

At independence in 1975, Mozambique was one of the world’s poorest countries. Socialist policies, economic mismanagement, and a brutal civil war from 1977 to 1992 further impoverished the country. In 1987, the government embarked on a series of macroeconomic reforms designed to stabilize the economy. These steps, combined with donor assistance and with political stability since the multi-party elections in 1994, propelled the country’s GDP from $4 billion in 1993, following the war, to about $34 billion in 2015. Fiscal reforms, including the introduction of a value-added tax and reform of the customs service, have improved the government’s revenue collection abilities.*

Despite these gains, more than half the population remains below the poverty line. Subsistence agriculture continues to employ the vast majority of the country’s work force. Citizens rioted in September 2010 after fuel, water, electricity, and bread price increases were announced. In an attempt to lessen the negative impact on the population, the government implemented subsidies, decreased taxes and tariffs, and instituted other fiscal measures.*

Because the community and government had a lot of suspicion regarding new innovations and change, especially from a foreigner, Don Larsen practiced extreme patience in convincing the Mozambique government and community of the benefit of the cashew production. Part of the challenge was finding employees because many citizens of employable age grew up as orphans without any education. Another struggle was dealing with lengthy governmental red tape to get the facilities built. Furthermore, he had to deal with natural disasters that can wipe out the cashew trees. Mozambique used to be one of the lading cashew nut producers. Finally, he himself was threatened with death on one of his first stays in Mozambique, as gun point, and his cars were stolen. However, this only strengthened his resolve to return to the country and employ former orphans of all faiths, some of whom have excelled beyond all expectation and are now managers at the company.

* CIA Factbook

What the Company Did

Don Larson quit his corporate life in America working as an executive for some of the country’s top companies, including Hershey, to pursue a calling of transforming the lives of the poor and orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa across faith lines. Don Larson and his family sold all of their possessions in 2011 and moved to Mozambique, Africa where they have lived the last 5 years.

He formed Sunshine Nut Company in the USA and Sunshine Nut Limitada in Mozambique. In the last 18 months, Sunshine Nut Company cashews are now on the shelves of nearly 2,000 of the best retailers in the USA (Whole Foods, Giant, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Martins, Raley’s, Harmons, Mother’s Markets, Natural Grocers, and many more).

He developed a business model called the Sunshine Approach which has a quadruple bottom line – financial, environmental, social, and transformational. The companies using this business model will be based on developing world class food products in these sub-Saharan African countries for the benefit of the entire value chain.

The purpose is to develop a market for the smallholder farmer communities. The factories will employ mainly young men and women who were abandoned or orphaned in their youth. 90% of the company’s distributed profits (a reverse tithe) will go to the poor and orphaned of the country – 30% to orphan care, 30% to transformative projects for the farming communities, and 30% as a growth component to open up other food companies using this same philanthropic business model.

What’s Left to Do?

By employing 50 people there is a ripple effect to 10,000 families who grow and shell the cashews before they are roasted. Reach out is needed to the potential farmers and educate them on the benefits of the industry. Developing the supply chain of farmers is an ongoing need because many of the cashew trees were not near where farmers lived. Don has encouraged the planting of cashew trees near communities, taking away the need to travel seasonally, which means that they cannot hold two jobs at the same time. Currently, the trees need to grow to maturity, but while they grow the farmers need to hold two jobs. Communities also need to have good water sources to support the new trees. Another humanitarian aim Don has taken in is to pair widows with orphans as this creates a stable family structure which will hopefully lead to a future stability of the economy. Also, its important to maintain good relations with the government since when the government saw the benefit of the cashew industry, they jumped into action to support Don Larson’s efforts, including the country’s president traveling internationally with Don to promote investment in Mozambique.

Discussion Questions

  1. 1. What role did faith play in Don Larson’s Sunshine Nut business?
  2. 2. Is the way Don’s faith inspired him transferable to other business situations?
  3. 3. How can business people not motivated by faith learn from Don?
  4. 4. Can faith and faith principles be applied for business and social success?
  5. 5. Can company leaders be successful by working with integrity within the legal and social parameters in countries where they operate?
  6. 6. Can concern for the quality of an employee’s life and suppliers’ lives outside of work lead to business growth and a more stable society?
  7. 7. When a business presents a practical and positive solution to a social problem, is there evidence that the government will be willing to step in and help in tangible ways?

Media and Added Resources

This case study was prepared by Melissa Grim, J.D., M.T.S., a senior research fellow with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and Brian Grim, Ph.D., president of the foundation. It is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.