When the idea of EKOCENTER came to life, excitement filled the air at The Coca-Cola Company. “EKOCENTER will provide safe drinking water! It will enable Internet access! It will have storage for vaccines!” chanted enthusiastic thinkers. All great ideas, however we (the ‘we’ sitting in an office in Atlanta, Georgia) had to pause and question whether we truly knew what these rural communities needed. While Coca-Cola has operations in 207 countries, including some of the most remote areas of the world, we had to admit input was needed from the very people we so passionately wanted to help.
So, we began to engage locals in communities in need.
In small towns outside of Mexico City, we visited with over 30 people, who shared their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for life. Martha, a determined, strong, and resolute woman, shared that one of her biggest challenges in life was enabling her three children to progress. Today, one is a doctor, another a veterinarian, and the other a car mechanic. Martha understands the power of education and aspires to open her community to the world through learning and exhibitions.
We also met Olga, who explained that there is little cohesion in her community, even among women, and that their collective willpower, talent, and creativity has yet to be harnessed.
Story after story began to build an EKOCENTER design. We started thinking, “What would Martha want? How about Olga?” That new line of thinking informed us that EKOCENTERs can be similar at their core but must be modular in nature in order to meet local community needs, which vary greatly from town to town, country to country.
And, so that’s what it became.
EKOCENTER is an off-the-grid, modularly designed kiosk, which has been transformed from a 20-foot shipping container into an open-air hub of community activity, to provide safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education, wireless communication, power and other functionality to jump-start entrepreneurship opportunities and community development.
While each EKOCENTER arrives with a Slingshot water purification unit, power source and commercial space, once optimally developed, a fully equipped EKOCENTER unit could serve as a retail outlet that provides a wide variety of utility, services and/or commercial products tailored to a community’s needs.
Offerings can be increased to include social facilities and entertaining…think flat screen TVs or DVD players that connect community members to other parts of the world and communicate educational information. Power generation enables mobile and Internet access, two more critical connectivity components. Cooling and heating capabilities could make vaccinations storage a reality. The possibilities could be, well, life changing.
With community participation and support essential to the success of EKOCENTER, we envision the community center being operated by local entrepreneurs, especially women like Martha and Olga, supporting our 5by20 program to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs across our value chain by 2020.
After visiting rural communities and being inspired by local people who would benefit from an EKOCENTER, we aim and hope for EKOCENTER to be a window to a world of opportunity, one that unites people around physical, social/emotional, community and financial/economic well-being—ultimately encouraging a culture of happiness, health and togetherness.