Last month, I went to Vietnam for the first time to discuss how EKOCENTER can potentially be meaningful for the country of Vietnam, its people, and our business there.

We opened with a great session with our local team led by our local team, particularly those from Public Affairs and Sustainability. The conversation that first day was really about understanding the local context so that we might better address the local wants and needs and, on the flipside, sharing the nuts and bolts of EKOCENTER from how it works to what role it could play.

We have always called EKOCENTER a social enterprise. And it’s important to realize that there are two words in that phrase… Social and enterprise. And therefore society — both the people and their government — and enterprise both need to benefit from what we’re trying to do. Not surprisingly, all three parties have their own wants and needs, and we spent the following three days finding the best way to deliver the best solution for all. 

For our field visit, the local team took us on a drive towards the coastal area about two hours outside Ho Chi Minh City. The EKOCENTER proposition is particularly interesting in this area from a purification perspective — the water in this coastal community is brackish and, therefore, heavily salinated — as well as an entrepreneurial perspective. The community’s economy revolves, in large part, around the Saigonites that weekend there, and, as a result, it’s an economy that fosters a diverse array of services but is not necessarily robust enough to support everyone. Though the economy supports the community relatively well and many prosper, there are still others that are left behind.

As we thought about what EKOCENTER could bring to this community and the people that needed help most, we started by looking at the basics. But the government actually takes very good care of their people when it comes to utilities, with nearly everyone on the power and water grids, so it wasn’t infrastructure they needed. However, due to the recontamination that often happens as the water is transported to the different hamlets by motorbike, we saw a clear need for the water purification technology.

We had to dig deeper to discover the bigger role EKOCENTER could play. We essentially found ourselves in a community where the basics are really well taken care of, yet there are still people in need. But in need of what exactly? We discovered that the people there desired greater economic success, yet they lacked the knowledge and empowerment to make it a reality. 

We began to formulate an offering that would give the people of this Vietnamese community more opportunity — from a health perspective, an economic perspective, and a social perspective; that would allow their government to better reach and help citizens in the remotest parts of the country; and that would demonstrate the importance we place on helping economies and countries grow.

The team discussed the water purification and solar power capabilities, a baseline for all our EKOCENTERs. A range of additional features were also discussed that would focus on the well-being of the community — from a market to a cyber café, from basic language classes to basic business classes, from vaccines to games — addressing physical, societal, economical, and environmental well-being. We believe that better educated people become better employees, therefore, become more helpful in the future prosperity of their country and economy.

Our teams left excited and eager to make this proposition a reality as soon as possible, with a vision that the people of this small community can start helping themselves with a little tailwind from us.  

Derk Hendriksen

Derk Hendriksen

It was a great trip again, one that got me home just in time for Valentine's Day to make me realize how similar we are to the people we are trying to help: it’s all about our loved ones!

Derk Hendriksen is head of the EKOCENTER project at The Coca-Cola Company.