Africa offers a great payoff for Coca-Cola. The brand known for its sometimes cheesy, sometimes inspirational tag lines, taps into the past and the present pulse of the continent. Its ‘we are one Kumbaya’ images resonate with the African ethos of Ubuntu.
So too does the narrative that anything is possible, which is captured by the Coke Side of Life advertisement campaign. Both messages are consistent with the image makeover Africa is enjoying, off the back of its status as the world’s second-fastest growing region.
For a company that probably receives more bad press than Walmart, especially for its less-than-savory business practices, it is important for Coca-Cola to be seen getting it right on the continent.
Dr. Susan Mboya Kidero, recently appointed to head up the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, which is part of the company’s philanthropic arm, is a perfect fit for Coke.
Not only is she a cheerleader for the multinational, she is an ardent believer in uplifting communities. Careful to avoid the negative reputation that often accompanies corporates operating in developing countries, Kidero neatly sidesteps the limitations of charity in a world where philanthropy is under pressure to be more than just a handout.
“I live and breathe sustainability. Whatever I do, it needs to live. I don’t like the word charity,” she explains.
Kidero joined Coca-Cola in 2008, after 14 years at consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble in the United States. Initially she was appointed as the general manager of Coca-Cola South Africa, a top-10 market for the company, which brings in more than $800 million in annual revenue. During her tenure, Kidero managed to increase growth, which had been in decline, and saw Coke participate successfully as a corporate partner in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
If her childhood nostalgia about carefully crafted Coke branding is anything to go by, it makes sense that Kidero ended up working for the world’s most recognizable brand. It also helps that, unlike many parents, Kidero’s mother did not tell her that the fizzy drink would make her fat or cause her teeth to fall out.
“I didn’t have a negative perception. I actually grew up associating it with fun. We didn’t have (Coke) every day, and so when we did, it was generally because company was coming over and we were all going to have a lot of fun,” says Kidero, smiling.
“We once asked (at a workshop): what is your favorite memory of Coke, or any of our products? And I said: for me, it is when we were growing up, Coke came in glass and it would clink. And whenever we would hear that we would think, oh we are going to have a fun day today! That sound is still a very positive sound.”
As an executive of the multinational, Kidero takes her role as brand ambassador to heart. She says heading up the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation is a logical extension of being involved in women’s empowerment, as both are about improving lives. Kidero’s phil-anthropy is also not small change. She, like her company, operates in the big league.
Besides leading the foundation’s philanthropic activities in Africa, Kidero also spearheads the company’s initiative to economically empower five million women worldwide by 2020. Known as the 5BY20 program, it provides finance to women who want to start a business linked to Coke, such as retailing or recycling. So far Kidero has raised more than $116 million in funding for the initiative.
She also guided Coca-Cola in forging a $100 million partnership with the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, to provide women entrepreneurs in Eurasia and Africa with easier access to finance.
At the foundation, Kidero’s port-folio is not limited to entrepreneurship; she also focuses on water, health and education, the most pressing needs of African communities.
Back in the day, Coke stuck to conventional charity-based philanthropy. But as non-governmental organiz-ations began pushing for more sustainable ways of assisting the poor, big companies like Coke could not afford to be caught napping. The multi-national caught on quickly, and so did its corporate responsibility programs.
“We said: we need a more focused way of doing this. Our best way of doing this is by empowering the community. How do we do this? Whatever we do, the initiative becomes the res-ponsibility of the community.
“So the foundation came about bec-ause we were trying to consolidate all the different parties that were doing charity work. We said: if we bring all of that together, we will be even more powerful. The biggest thing was putting a strategy in place that was going to be sustainable,” she explains.
Kidero believes philanthropy is vital for Coca-Cola because the company cannot thrive if the communities in which it operates do not thrive. She says Coke chooses projects to invest in based on their relevance for both its overall business and for the community concerned.
In 2013, the foundation spent just under $11 million on projects – 63% went to water, 33% to health and 4% to youth development. Kidero says it is planning to spend a similar amount in 2014.
Providing water access and preserving reservoirs consume the bulk of funding for Coke’s projects. Its goal is to replenish every drop of water it uses during the manufacturing process. This of course is because the company has been at the center of several disputes with environmental groups over conserving scarce resources.
The company is often criticized for its high water consumption in regions where water is scarce. In 2006, campaign group War on Want accused Coca-Cola of drinking India dry. Farmers in Ragasthan were unable to irrigate their fields after the company built a bottling plant in the area. Also in India, a Coke plant in Kerala was forced to close down after it allegedly contaminated local water supplies.
In 2008, the multinational set targets to improve its water efficiency by 20%. In 2011, it used 293.3 billion lit-ers of water to make 135 billion liters of product, giving it a water-use ratio of 2.16 liters per liter of product.
In Africa, where the lack of clean drinking water is a real concern, the company has been involved in 42 projects in 27 countries to reduce, rec-
ycle and replenish water supplies.
The Replenish Africa Initiative (Rain) is backed by a $30 million commitment from the Coca-Cola Company and other donors. It aims to provide more than two million people in Africa with access to drinking water by 2015. Kidero is planning to bring additional partners on board so that Rain becomes a $60 million initiative.
On the health front, malaria and HIV are a big focus for the foundation.
“In (South Africa’s) Eastern Cape, we are working with (NGO) Africare on a soup-to-nuts complete HIV prevention and treatment program. What we are trying to do there is create a model where we can actually show that over time we (reduce HIV)… We can then take it to government found-ations and say, ‘this model works, it has been validated’,” Kidero says.
The foundation also pumps money into education on the continent through initiatives that improve teachers’ skills.
Over and above her professional responsibilities, Kidero has her own fund. The Zawadi Africa Educational Fund provides young African women from disadvantaged backgrounds with scholarships to Ivy League universities. To date it has awarded 230 scholarships, valued at more than $45 million.
“I believe Africa is special, even with all our challenges. Africa has given me my identity. Africa has given me my confidence. I have a huge extended family; that is how we are in Africa… Africa is in full Technicolor. If you go elsewhere, it is muted.”