Photo: TechnoServe. Sam Koole, chairman of the Kainja Mango Farmers Association, Uganda.

The Power Of Partnership And The Complexity Of Creating Meaningful Change

By Fred Njogu, The Coca-Cola Company

The Power Of Partnership And The Complexity Of Creating Meaningful Change

It started with people and the idea that we, at Coca-Cola, could marry our business interests and expertise to make our products available, acceptable and affordable with the ever growing potential of African agriculture. It seems like a simple transaction for farmers to grow, buy and sell food. However, the reality is a complex one that requires comprehensive partnerships at multiple levels and a clear understanding of the desired end-game.

We have seen through our own experiences – time and again – that our business in any market is only as healthy and sustainable as the community in which we operate. There is a clear one-to-one regression in terms of healthy, sustainable businesses and healthy, sustainable communities.

And, that’s why Project Nurture – our partnership with TechnoServe and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – has been a great learning experience that benefits not only the Project and our partners, but all of Coca-Cola’s work to engage farmers in a way that provides sustainable, long-term economic opportunity.

Project Nurture, like most programs or initiatives, required financial support, but this was the most straightforward element of the project. The more complex and challenging aspect was the need to develop a cross-sector and a cross-functional team to ensure success. This created complexity, not only within the Company, but for our partners. For our partners looking in, Coca-Cola is a large organization with many moving parts, starting with the functional and franchise system at the Business Unit level, the Corporate office, specialty units such as R&D and the Global Juice Center – all are internal stakeholders in the project. Who should partners engage? When? What were the communication protocols? Were all these groups necessary? In short, yes. This was the team responsible for Coca-Cola implementation – developing new products, identifying and certifying ingredient suppliers, managing supplier contracts, ensuring product quality tests, conducting consumer marketing and working with our bottling partners to manufacture, distribute and sell it.

The partnership took the time to build trust and establish protocols for managing this complexity. It also takes effort and organization to keep all these units aligned and focused on the common goal. This complexity, however, resulted in an unexpected benefit. By seeding the program across various functional groups it helps establish program “ambassadors” throughout the organization. These “ambassadors” ensure the ongoing system engagement at the working-level as well as help to ensure ongoing support at the leadership level. They also serve as “ambassadors” for civil society, NGO, government and foundation partnerships.

While Project Nurture has been successful – more than 51,000 famers have been trained in just three years – the full power of impact lies within the ability to scale and replicate. The Project Nurture model demonstrates that profitable business activity can create economic opportunity for farmers. This model serves as a strong internal case study and has been the impetus for development of additional partnership programs at Coca-Cola that address societal challenges but also offer a strong business opportunity. Partnerships like these allow the best of each organization’s approach to improve the way challenges are addressed. Together, we accomplish more and create more opportunities than we could possibly do alone.

Editor’s Note:

This is a part of a 3-part series with The Coca-Cola Company, TechnoServe and Harvard Kennedy School’s CSR Initiative.

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