Coca-Cola Turkey team after completing their first race together at Runtalya.
“How do you start a movement?” That’s the question business unit president, Galya Molinas and her Coca-Cola Turkey, Caucaus a & Central Asia team found themselves pondering a little more than a year and a half ago. A native Turk living and working in Istanbul, Molinas took to heart the alarming statistic that three out of four people in Turkey are considered inactive and leading sedentary lives, according to the research on Physical Activity of Turkish Society by Active Living Association.
Knowing that mobilizing Turkish communities would be a major challenge and long term initiative, Molinas kept coming back to that question of how to start a movement.
The same burning question continued to keep Molinas awake at night until she landed on the answer: to get moving. “It only starts if you can internalize it,” she says. “And so we asked, ‘Can we do it ourselves?’”
Walking the Talk
Determined to demonstrate to the world that Coke and its employees are sincere about being part of the obesity solution, the active lifestyle challenge was on. The team committed to making 2012 the year to “walk the talk.”
Little by little, colleagues started integrating workouts into their daily routines. They set times to meet for runs, sent e-mail reminders and trained together—just 13 colleagues encouraging one another to keep at it.
But for a team of type-A, business-driven personalities, enjoyment was not going to be enough. They needed a goal, something to strive for and achieve. Little did they know that their goal was about to present itself in the form of a phone call. Nazlı Çağlayan, an employee who is responsible for sponsorships and has been part of the movement, says, “It was a great surprise that Öger Tours called my boss and invited us down to participate in our first 10k.”
Öger Tours suggested that in addition to sponsoring and providing Damla Water and Powerade at the Runtalya marathon, the Coke team should consider making the trip to the southern city of Antalya and run the 10K portion of the race. An Öger Tours, logistics and operation manager recalls the conversation well, saying, “Coca-Cola’s support of Runtalya enhanced the prestige of the event and opened many doors for us. Coca-Cola associates’ participation to the marathon is also a source of happiness on our part.”
A total of 40 employees signed up. Sporting Coke-red Nike jerseys, the movement was well underway. The next race on the list: the Bozcaada Half Marathon and 10K in Tenedos.
Sink or Swim
After completing two races together, it wasn’t long before running wasn’t enough. The growing numbers of Coke athletes wanted to cross new boundaries (literally) by conquering the Bosphorus—also known as the Istanbul Strait, the body of water that connects Asia and Europe. Diving headfirst, Molinas’ team of workout companions continued to grow, and in 2012 they swam the 6.5km that spans the world’s first and only intercontinental swimming race.
Reflecting on that time period, Molinas recalls her own transformation and how the ongoing training changed her life. “My activity has gone up significantly,” she says. Molinas trains up to five times a week with two other members of the team. Before she started “walking the talk,” she worked out twice a week without specific goals. Today she’s trained for and completed her first triathlon.
Her advice? “It’s important to have that objective and arrange your schedule around that.”
In November of 2012, with nearly five times as many people as they
started with at Runtalya, 200 Coke employees hit the pavement for the
Intercontinental Istanbul Eurasia Marathon, 15km and 8km competitive run.
Though it had been less than one year, there was no question as to whether they could do it, but would they be able to maintain what they had started? Birge Arisoy, an employee who has been part of the movement since the beginning, says there will be no stopping these athletes. “I never thought the hype that started with Runtalya ’12 would get that big” he says. “We were around 15 people last year, and it was the first marathon/running experience for nearly all of us. Now we have new sports organizations forming almost every day and our team has grown so big that we touch everyone in the organization.”
What started as a grassroots movement has taken hold within the organization. Active-living practices among Coca-Cola Turkey employees continue to grow each day. From running and swimming to basketball, football, table tennis and now sailing—the growing interest in many sports has necessitated they establish a more formal employee initiative called Sports Club.
A group of young leaders head up Sports Club, which has grown to eleven branches in order to cover everyone’s athletic interests. The core team gathers each week to update team leaders on upcoming sports events. They spread their message and their mission in two ways: a bulletin board located in the cafeteria and through Twitter—not through company channels.
In the first quarter of 2013 the Coke gym broke an all-time attendance record that’s holding strong. Up 60% over last year’s attendance, new yoga and Zumba classes are booked full. More than 125 employees regularly use the gym, accounting for 1,500 visits in the first three months of the year. It’s received so much use that Coke renovated the gym to accommodate employees’ growing demand for the space.
With a growing number of colleagues leading by example, Molinas believes more and more associates will become part of the movement. Already in June, several employees joined the 1600 competitors for the Bosphorus Intercontinental Race, with Molinas and ___ Yasemin finishing in the top ten for their age groups. And when Turkey hosted the Alanya Triathlon European Championship for the first time this summer, Coke employees represented again with Molinas finishing first in her age group, followed by sparkling general manager, Sedef Salıngan Sahin, and active healthy living manager, Zisan Ersoz, both taking 2nd in their respective age categories.
In September, more than 65 employees are representing Coca-Cola Turkey in the organization’s first Corporate Games competition and the Eurasia Marathon is once again on the calendar. And just as they hoped, it's no longer limited to employees; spouses and families are joining in.
So, how did they start a movement? Molinas first credits her team and strongly believes anyone with desire has the ability to drive it. “It has all to do with passion and leadership and particularly youngsters,” she says. “There have been times when we tried to do things more formally using the Coca-Cola’s channels and a formal approach does not work in this case. It's all environmental.” A viral approach is critical. While Coke made it easier to register for events through sponsorships and provided jerseys for those people who wanted to participate, the movement had naturalness to it because the employees owned it.
In addition to it being good fun, signature events are key to creating team spirit and building camaraderie, “Here you are creating one big family, that's what it is,”Molinas said. And in doing good—promoting active lifestyles among employees—the movement has ultimately been good for business. Working relationships are stronger, and the young leaders in charge of the Sports Club are building friendships in the company and gaining confidence through the process.
“It has created another sort of bond,” Molina says. “It has enriched what we do beyond work. It has increased the fun."
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