From devastating earthquake damage in Haiti to persistent rural poverty in East Africa, modern global challenges involve all sectors of society. So too must the solutions.
I started my career with The Coca-Cola Company in 1978, and we’ve always tried to do our part to help solve the challenges of our time. During my eight years as Chairman and CEO, I often described how the most effective solutions in dealing with global socio-economic and environmental issues came from meaningful collaborations across the Golden Triangle of business, government, and civil society.
Our enduring commitment to this approach is one reason we’ve been so pleased to partner with TechnoServe, which actually pioneered such cross-sector collaborations. Indeed, a half-century ago, TechnoServe’s engagement with the private sector to solve development challenges was profoundly innovative, even revolutionary.
Today, I’m pleased to say that this way of thinking has become much more widespread, with companies like ours routinely working with government and civil society to share our expertise, expand our reach, and do far more lasting good together than any one group could on its own.
I’ll never forget how such a partnership made a real difference in the wake of a devastating earthquake in 2010. The people of Haiti endured tremendous hardship, as the storm damaged homes, businesses, and farms. The Coca-Cola Company worked with TechnoServe, the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID, and the Haitian government to create lasting economic opportunities for thousands of Haitian farmers and their families.
This project, called Haiti Hope, provided training to help mango farmers improve the quantity and quality of their harvests. We assisted farmers in forming producer business groups to aggregate the crops, negotiate direct sales with major buyers, and export mangoes to premium markets at higher prices. To ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector, Haiti Hope also helped mango farmers access loans, allowing them to plant more than 60,000 new trees. All told, the program created new opportunities for 25,000 mango growers.
One such grower was Nadege Gabriel, a young mother struggling to make a living from her small grove of Francique mangoes. Despite the high, desirable quality of this variety, Nadege was selling her mangoes to middlemen at low prices. Through Haiti Hope, she learned how to care for her trees, harvest the fruit, and pack them in ways that improved the size, quality, and value of her harvests. The program also helped Nadege and other local farmers form a business group to sell directly to large buyers. Nadege was elected treasurer and now provides farming lessons to other members.
As Nadege explains, “Our mangoes have importance in our community. We are learning how to manage our mango trees as valuable assets.” Ultimately, her mango income nearly doubled, allowing her to imagine a brighter, more prosperous future for her family and children.
Halfway around the world, we used a similar approach to improve fruit farmer incomes and value chains in East Africa, where we worked with TechnoServe on Project Nurture, an award-winning initiative that doubled the average income of more than 50,000 smallholder farmers, more than a third of them women.
Indeed, I believe our shared commitment to women’s empowerment is another reason for the success of our work with TechnoServe. Studies show that women entrepreneurs reinvest in their families more than 90 cents of every dollar earned, more than double the rate of men.
Globally, more and more such businesswomen are powering distribution networks, including Coca-Cola’s, and running millions of retail outlets. In much of the world, however, women still lack equal access to training, credit, land, and business cooperatives. Indeed, if women had the same access to business and employment opportunities as their brothers and husbands, they would add an estimated $28 trillion to global economic output annually.
The shared values of Coca-Cola and TechnoServe have translated into years of shared history and success.
To help more women access business opportunities, Coca-Cola launched 5by20 – our commitment to provide five million women entrepreneurs with training, mentoring, and micro-credits by 2020. In Colombia, TechnoServe and the Coca-Cola Foundation made sure that training in coffee growing was open to women. And TechnoServe has helped us identify the number of female farmers in our juice supply chain and create strategies to improve the livelihoods of as many as 750,000 women in the years to come.
We’re doing all this not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it is good for business. Companies and nonprofits are stronger when they recruit and promote women, and communities are stronger when they empower and elevate them.
The shared values of Coca-Cola and TechnoServe have translated into years of shared history and success. We can now look back on a long road traveled together. Through many challenges and setbacks, we’ve pressed on in a journey marked by happier lives, changed communities, and brighter futures.
And we’re not done. On the contrary, our shared journey is really just beginning. There are tremendous opportunities ahead, and we look forward to leading in this area and building on the momentum of our past and current efforts for many years to come.
Muhtar Kent will be an honoree at TechnoServe’s 50th anniversary gala on October 10, 2018. Join us in celebrating our shared vision to elevate economic opportunity and end poverty around the world.