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5by20: Coca-Cola Broadens Horizons for Women

By:  James O'Brien Nov 9, 2012

Alice Kariuki is turning her mango farm in Kenya into a pathway to empowerment. Kariuki grows mangoes, sells the fruit to local exporters and reinvests her profits into her farm, family and community.

“I used to depend on my husband fully," Kariuki says. "But now … I can buy clothes for my children. I won’t call myself the boss, but I control the money. I feel great.”

And with a little help from The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 initiative, Kariuki’s business is improving. Launched in 2010, 5by20 is the company’s global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women in their value chain by the year 2020. For women like Kariuki, that commitment is having a big impact on their businesses.

A Farmer’s Story

For years, Alice Kariuki struggled to successfully harvest fruit from her modest plot of 10 mango trees. Ridden with insects, the fruit would spoil before she could pick it, so she concentrated instead on her cows and chickens and all but gave up on her mangoes.

In 2010 she was approached by Project Nurture, an effort aimed to empower more than 50,000 small-scale fruit farmers in Kenya and Uganda. Approximately 30 percent of these farmers are women. 

On a continent where 70 percent of the poor are engaged in farming as their sole source of income, Project Nurture recognized that Africa’s economy and its broader future hinge on its success in agriculture. Project Nurture provides farmers with training in areas such as productivity and disease control. Additionally, it connects farmers with pesticide producers and provides access to a market to sell their products.

For Kariuki, that meant her mangoes no longer went to waste, and companies like The Coca-Cola Company could purchase the juice for their beverages. The hands-on education Kariuki received has been invaluable.

"They started training us on how to take care of our mango orchards," she says in the recent PBS documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. "How to spray. How to add manure. How to manage the farm so that we can get rid of the pests, the diseases."

From understanding what a healthy mango should look like to knowing how to keep the fruit from prematurely falling from the trees, Kariuki became an expert in a whole new agricultural field. Consequently, a new chapter opened in her family's life. 

“I think if there were more women in the mango business, or in the farm business, they’d be able to raise healthy families," Kariuki says. "When a woman is empowered, the whole family is empowered.”

That's key to a healthy region, says Sheryl WuDunn, who wrote Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide with her husband, Nicholas Kristof.

“It’s not just enough to say that gender equality is a moral challenge and we have to fix it," WuDunn says of the business culture in Africa. "You also have to recognize that the economy plays a huge role, and economic empowerment plays a huge role."

And when it comes to the results of that economic empowerment, WuDunn says it stands to affect a region much larger than a single family or a single farm. An entire continent can turn on a multitude of these small-scale changes.

That’s an idea that the 5by20 initiative is banking on.

Making Progress

When 5by20 launched in late 2010, Coca-Cola’s chairman and CEO, Muhtar Kent, outlined his commitment to the continent of Africa and to empowering 5 million women worldwide within the company’s value chain. “We need to increase awareness that better societies can be created as a result of empowering women,” Kent says.

By providing access to business skills training, financial services and mentoring, and through key partnerships with other organizations, 5by20 has enabled the economic empowerment of more than 130,000 women like Alice Kariuki.

Stories like hers can be heard and seen all over the globe, from Agra, India, where Preeti Gupta is using a Coca-Cola-provided solar-power cooler to boost the income of her small shop and provide health care for her children, to Manado, Indonesia, where Maya Ibraham has created revenue-generating facilities that recycle bottles and help support some 2,000 families in her area.

These women share stories of hope, courage and resilience, and their success is proof that progress is being made.

“Women entrepreneurs around the world are faced with numerous barriers to success,” says Charlotte Oades, global director of women’s economic empowerment at Coca-Cola. “We believe providing access to training, finance and support networks are the best ways to help women overcome barriers, unlock their untapped potential and build their business in a sustainable way.”

To learn more about 5by20 and view videos about Kariuki, Gupta, Ibraham and others, visit 5by20.com.