Supporting Sustainable Development in Africa

Coca-Cola recently celebrated its 90th anniversary in Africa and remains as committed as ever to building a strong local business that supports the communities it serves.  Coinciding with the European Development Days 2019, Dorcas Onyango, Sustainability Director for Southern and Eastern Africa, outlines the importance of doing business the right way, not just the easy way in supporting sustainable development.

How much progress in sustainable development is being made?  Where do challenges remain?

Over the past decade, Africa has made huge economic and social strides forward.  We’re seeing many important foundations such as education and healthcare much more accessible.  Since 2000 the number of children enrolled in primary schools has increased from 60 million to more than 150 million. We’ve also seen substantial declines in maternal and child death.  These are just two of many encouraging signs, however despite this progress, several stubborn, persistent barriers remain.  More than 300 million people in Africa do not have access to clean water, and there are not enough jobs for Africa’s growing youth population.  Similarly, climate and extreme weather challenges are negatively impacting Africa’s critical agriculture industry and creating humanitarian crisis through floods and droughts.  A key challenge in addressing the above issues at the scale and complexity in which they exist is a lack of adequate resources. 

How does Coca-Cola in Africa support the local communities where it is present?

We have always known that our business can only ever be as strong as the communities we serve. That’s why supporting communities is at the heart of our approach.  We talk about the importance of doing business the right way, not just the easy way and that means focusing on achieving real results at a local level.  We want to make an impact on individual lives, in communities and across the entire continent, and we believe our footprint in Africa gives a unique platform to do so.  We try and take a hyper-local focus on programs while following a global series of priorities in waste, water and women’s empowerment.

Waste is a great example of taking a global ambition and driving through local impact.  We are working towards a vision of World Without Waste – including collecting and recycling a bottle for each one we sell by 2030.  Locally we are focusing our efforts on stimulating investment in recycling industries to drive a circular economy.  In South Africa we have a successful model underway – last year we collected more PET plastic bottles than we produced (113%). We’ve taken those learnings and are now investing 38 million over 3 years to establish similar recycling industries in other countries.  Addressing one issue can create a virtuous circle.  This investment will not only help reduce our waste challenge, but also create 19,000 income generating opportunities.  Partnership is essential, and that’s why we work with public sector, NGOs and industry to make lasting change.

Which initiatives have proved most impactful?

Several of our programs are on-track to meet 2020 goals.  I think water stewardship is a good example of a program that is delivering on a clear strategy.  Water is our primary ingredient and we know how important it is that we are responsible in its use.  Our focus for water stewardship is three-fold: improving our water-use efficiency, working to establish effective-long-term water stress solutions, and replenishing the water we use back to communities and nature.  Last year we safely replenished 155% of the water we use in our beverages to nature and communities.  It’s a huge number but only possible through strong local programs that work. Our Replenish Africa Initiative will improve access to safe drinking water for 6 million Africans by 2020, and that is through partnerships and programs we have been advancing for a decade. 

Yet, we need to keep our own house in order too, and act to improve our internal water efficiency.  For example, by scrutinizing our manufacturing process and leveraging technology, our bottling operations in Cape Town now use 50% less water compared to 11 years ago.

Where will your focus lie over the coming years?

To make a long-term difference, you need long-term commitment.  We’re remaining focused on water, waste and women’s empowerment. We believe we are uniquely placed to help create shared opportunity in these areas, and equally recognize that issues this complex aren’t easily fixed.

We see this within women’s empowerment.  Nine years ago, we set a goal to empower 5 million women worldwide by 2020, which we call 5by20. At the time, we recognized the opportunity that equality and empowerment for women could have in benefitting individual lives and ensuring a positive ripple effect across communities.  Women invest a sizable portion of their income on health and education of their children and in their local economies, creating economic impact. We’ve seen the program exponentially grow in scale and impact each year.  More than 3.2 million women have now participated in the program, and last year saw us reach more than 800,000 women.  We’re following our strategy, but we are also looking at youth empowerment as we see this as a really important area to address moving forward. We’re increasingly exploring how our water, women and waste initiatives can also reach youth audiences.

What are the ingredients for success? 

It’s crucial we work towards solutions that benefit everyone.  In our programs, we apply a few foundational principles which we repeatedly see make a difference.

  1. Partnership is key, and we are firm believers that they create scale, impact and allow learning from unique sector strengths and expertise. 
  2. Focus on economic drivers as well as societal issues. While RAIN is primarily focused on water replenishment, it has also helped economically empower 23,000 women and youth.
  3. Apply business expertise to external challenges. Project Last Mile applies Coca-Cola’s distribution expertise to help improve delivery of life-saving medical supplies to remote communities.
  4. Innovate to solve complex challenges.  We’re creating new models, such as Water Funds that use financing mechanisms to protect and preserve watersheds. Pioneered by The Nature Conservancy, these funds help replenish 9 billion liters of water through RAIN alone
  5. Think outside our fence. We know that supporting communities is crucial, but also recognize we must constantly improve how we operate, and so use less water and energy or increase recycled materials.

Why are public-private partnerships so important in advancing development goals?

Many of these challenges are simply too complex and great to be solved in isolation. We continue to see the success of ‘golden triangle’ partnerships that bring together organizations from public and private sectors as well as civil society.  Whenever we see cross-sector partnerships, we see the greatest shared value being created.

For example, Project Last Mile applies the Coca-Cola system’s logistic, supply chain and marketing expertise to help strengthen health systems across Africa and enable health ministries to more efficiently deliver services and supplies. In 2017, a partnership was created with the Eswatini Ministry of Health and The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to leverage The Coca-Cola Company’s marketing expertise to create demand for HIV prevention, specifically among young women and girls. Tapping into the Coca-Cola system, Project Last Mile was able to enlist best-in-class leadership, marketing research and creative talent to develop an innovative campaign with the Health Promotion Unit in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and to up-skill local talent to implement and sustain the strategy. Prior to launching, the Ministry of Health also undertook community sensitization sessions with leaders in the community to share the campaign

What are you hoping to learn from the European Development Days this year?

We’re on a constant cycle of learning.  Having been present at European Development Days and Friends of Europe Development Policy Forum for the last couple of years, we recognize how valuable these forums are in sharing ideas, experiences and inspiring new solutions to some of the most critical challenges we face.