For the last three years, some of Africa’s most promising young entrepreneurs have traveled to Atlanta. During this year's trip, fellows of the Young Africa Leadership Initiative, an initiative created by President Obama, got an inside look at what The Coca-Cola Company is doing in Africa and a chance to voice their opinions about what they hope the future will hold.
Oluwaseun Sangoleye’s business card is a little less formal than most. On the left, “Baby Grubz” is spelled out in a rainbow of colors. Special chefs to our adorable little customers. On the right is her name, along with her official title: Mom-in-Chief.
“I started when I had my son,” Sangoleye said. “Then I discovered there was little to no information about baby food.”
When Sangoleye began looking for local organic foods in Nigeria for her son, she was surprised to find almost nothing. All foods for infants were imported, so she began looking for ways to use local staples to create healthy food options. Sangoleye wanted to make a change for her son, and soon he wasn’t the only one at his day care eating her lunches. The other mothers wanted them for their children, too. Now she’s full time at her company, Baby Grubz, the local, organic choice for baby food in Nigeria. Baby Grubz now has 24 registered distributors who deliver to 13 retailers in 14 states.
Sangoleye was one of dozens of young African entrepreneurs visiting Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta this month. The Mandela Washington Fellowship, a partnership established by President Obama with the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), brings 1,000 up-and-coming leaders – or fellows – from across sub-Saharan Africa to receive leadership and entrepreneurial training at universities in the U.S. Two of them, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia State University, are hosting six-week programs to give Sangoleye and others the chance to develop an invaluable network to help grow their businesses and skills when they return home.
At an afternoon event at Coca-Cola headquarters, fellows learned about the company's business and history. They also shared observations about their experience with Coca-Cola in their respective countries. After looking back at the company’s rich heritage, including a history in Africa that began in the 1920s, speakers and fellows discussed The Coca-Cola system’s business in Africa.
Fellows sipped from personalized Coca-Cola bottles and asked questions about the company’s plans for the future, sometimes elaborating on personal experiences.
For Helen Smith Price, president of The Coca-Cola Foundation and vice president of Global Community Affairs at Coca-Cola, the discussion was a testament to the company’s relevance to culture and its desire to engage.
“You can challenge the brand to be the best it can be, and still be enthusiastic about the business and what it means to the sustainability of communities.” Price said. “And the truth is, that is actually better.”
Many fellows gained a deeper understanding of the company’s work in Africa, particularly with regard to the company’s use of its business model to build sustainable solutions for problems like water scarcity.
Aside from being a wealth of opportunity, the YALI fellowship is, for some, a respite from the stresses of professional life. Marieme Diop, who works for the Senegalese government, needs to meet high demands in her career. For Diop, the sacrifice is worth it. She says she wants to have the highest impact in Africa.
Many of the fellows are driven by motivations other than profitability.
“They were just as engaged in discussions about our philanthropy as they were in the business,” Price said. “It is exciting to meet these dynamic young entrepreneurs, who you just know will be the next generation of African business leaders and make a difference in their communities.”