Coca-Cola, like many other businesses, recognises that our business growth journey in emerging economies will only be sustainable if the benefits of growth reach all members of society, especially those who traditionally have been marginalised, including women and young people.  As a business, we believe that there is no better investment than women, both to spur our own business success and to foster broad-based economic growth and sustainable development.

At a business level, women in our value chain make a vital contribution to our success.  By investing in their success we invest in ours.

There is also a compelling development case.  Women often demonstrate greater propensity to save and re-invest in the long-term success of their businesses, increasing job opportunities and generating more stable incomes for themselves and their workforce.  Studies also show that women are much more likely to reinvest their income on food, education and healthcare for their children and families.

In many of the communities we operate in, we know that the barriers to women succeeding in business can be particularly acute, including a lack of access to education, business skills, finance and peer group mentors.  So in 2010, we launched 5by20, the Coca-Cola Company’s global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020.

Through 5by20, we contribute by providing women entrepreneurs in our value chain with access to financing, business skills development and mentoring.

We can’t do this alone. For us, collaborating with NGO partners, government and civil society are essential to sustaining and scaling 5by20.

Through partnership, we benefit from complementary expertise and can create opportunities for women entrepreneurs to increase their business and vocational skills, widen their revenue streams, achieve economies of scale and improve operational efficiencies and financial management..

Funding partners, primarily organisations like IFC, enable us to scale up action to address financing gaps facing women, by bringing together commercial lenders, IFC and Coca-Cola system partners. Our partnership with IFC’s “Banking on Women” initiative illustrates the opportunity. In Nigeria, this partnership has brought together Access Bank, IFC and the Nigerian Bottling company.    Under the terms of the initiative, Access Bank is able to provide loans, with reduced collateral requirements and more favourable terms due to reduced customer acquisition costs, and  by leveraging IFC’s $100 million risk sharing facility, which both underwrites the risk of lending and funds business skills training.   The bottler recruits customers, provides customer intelligence and credit histories, and partners with Access Bank to help enforce payments.  This approach offers significant opportunities to scale and is financially self-sustaining.

To sustain and scale this initiative, our focus continues to be on integrating 5by20 in to our core business, and on partnering with organisations, who share the same level of ambition, to create a supportive ecosystem that allows women to achieve their full potential.

Susan Mboya is Group Director, Women’s Economic Empowerment, Eurasia and Africa Group, The Coca-Cola Company

This post was originally shared on the Business Fights Poverty blog here. To learn more about 5by20, please visit 5by20.com. Click here to view a complete summary and to hear the audio from the panel.