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360 Degree Perspective

The Coke 5by20 program was first announced at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2010.

Back in 2010 when Coca-Cola announced their plan to economically empower 5 million women through entrepreneurship by 2020, I thought they were overly ambitious.  Having observed up close how difficult it was for Jita to train the women in their system and bring them to a subsistence living and after studying Avon, the grandmother of all “entrepreneurship networks,” I had a healthy appreciation for the challenges involved and 5 million seemed like a very big number indeed.

I remember vividly the day that my student, Mary, emailed me the notice that Coke had joined the women’s entrepreneurship arena.  I was teaching in Italy (Cosmetics and fragrance marketing at the University of Padua!  So fun!)  We both were intrigued and really wanted to see if we could get in there to know more. But we also thought they were crazy to think they could hit 5 million in such a short time.

Well, we were thinking too narrowly.  We just thought this program was going to be teaching women to be entrepreneurs in workshops or having them sell Coke in kiosks. And we thought it was only Africa.  But the scope, as it turns out, was much, much wider.

The 5by20 program promises to economically empower women by working throughout Coca-Cola’s global value chain. This value chain has several components.  One is indeed the small retail shops where women might sell Coke along with other things, like baked goods or candies.  Another is the distributors who, in turn, sell Coke to those shops.  But, in the other direction, Coca-Cola is focused on benefiting the women who supply them with sugar, citrus, tea, and other ingredients.  And, importantly, they are working with women who recycle and repurpose their packaging for reselling, thus helping the environment as well.

So, for instance, the videos on their website include a poor Indian shopkeeper, whose business draws customers, in part because she has light in her small shop at night–powered by the solar source that keeps the Cokes cool.  Yet there is also the story of Rosemary Njeri, a major distributor in Nairobi, with images where she “power lunches” (or at least “power sodas”) with  her female business associates (check out the line dance at the end).

Finally, the most moving is Zilda Barreto, who lived in a slum in Rio before she joined a collective that recycled Coke bottles.  Now watch this thing before you groan:  you hear this lady’s story while you watch her collect bottles, but hang on until you see where she lives now and listen to her new sense of mission.  It is powerful stuff.

The Coca-Cola 5by20 program is, therefore, a 360 degree effort to engage and empower women in the value chain.  However, it is also embedded in a larger program designed to encourage gender diversity throughout Coca-Cola itself.  This kind of scope is unusual in multinational corporations.  The willingness to call attention to gender within the organization and within the home country, as well as to engage in more philanthropic efforts aimed to benefit poor women, is rare, courageous, and deserving of notice.

It’s a big deal to give someone the means to earn a living.  And some things that seem little–a bit of light–can be very meaningful when you live in scarcity.  But a sense of purpose is important to all of us, around the world, rich and poor, male and female.  That 360 degree view is what we need.

I am pleased to say that Charlotte Oades, who heads up the 5by20 program, will be speaking at the Power Shift Forum on Monday, May 20, in a session we call “All Around” to reflect this fully-rounded perspective.

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