Coca-Cola’s for-profit 5 By 20 initiative aims to support 5 million women entrepreneurs worldwide by 2020. To that end, the program promotes women’s entrepreneurship within every aspect of Coca-Cola’s business. Why? Lift the economic fortunes of women and boost the bottom line. "Not only are women responsible for 70% of household purchases--they control more than $20 trillion of spending globally--but they are absolute pillars of our business and community," says global director Charlotte Oades. Fast Company interviewed Oades about the origins of 5 By 20 and what to expect from the program going forward.
How did the idea for 5 By 20 come about?
I was a founding member of [the Coca-Cola Company's] Women’s Leadership Council, which is a group of 16 women around the world. We focus on what we can do to develop women recruits and retain women inside the four walls of our business. We said, Wouldn’t it be great to do something that could help develop women outside the four walls of our business? What would that look like?
So, that was the start of the idea. But it was also built on the fact that there were global millennium goals, development goals. We hadpreviously made a commitment to develop micro-distribution centers in Africa as part of a request from the UN, and when we started to develop it, we saw that women were very good at that work.
Where did 5 By 20 first launch?
We started with four markets in 2011: the Philippines,India, Brazil, and South Africa.
Can you share something that you’ve learned so far?
In India, women are often running a small shop from a room in their home without access to electricity. We offer a solar-powered cooler, so now not only can she sell cold beverages but she can run a solar lantern. She can open her shop for longer. It means that her children can study at night. It means that she’s earning more money and can put them through school.
What we’re trying to learn, based on the circumstances of any one woman in a given market, is how can we make sure that we can overcome the access challenges she has. In this instance, electricity has a ripple effect that not only increases the business but also provides a better life for the family. The beauty of focusing on women is that they are tremendous force multipliers. Whatever income they earn, they disproportionately reinvest in the education and health of their children.
Is this multiplier effect a reason that 5 By 20 is a part of Coca-Cola’s core business?
We understand that our business is local. We might be a global company and have an incredibly strong global brand, but at the end of the day it’s a local business. We operate locally, we recruit locally, we buy things locally. Everything that we do is connected to the local community. We understand that you cannot have a successful and thriving business unless you have a thriving community.
That said, when we understand that one of our primary consumers is women, and the shoppers are women, then the whole thing starts to fit together. What could be better than marrying the right thing to do from a development point of view and the right thing to do for the business? It’s just a win-win.
Photographs by Mike McGregor
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2012 issue of Fast Company.