People often ask, “How is Coca-Cola able to get products to the most remote locations of the earth, but public sector systems struggle to get essential medicines and equipment to the same locations?” This is a fair and critical question, but it is not the only one worth asking. What we should be asking is, “How can we learn from and adapt Coca-Cola’s model to support distribution of life-saving treatment to individuals in need around the globe?” The answer to that question is Project Last Mile.

As a student of global health and social entrepreneurship, Project Last Mile has been a source of awe and intrigue since the moment I learned of its existence. As the perfect blend of all my passions, I dreamt of the opportunity to work on this special project. In Spring 2014, I was offered the chance to live out this dream as an intern with The Coca-Cola Company. I left Washington DC to spend five weeks with Coca-Cola Kwanza (CCK), a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Tanzania, and the Medical Stores Department (MSD), the government entity responsible for procuring, warehousing and distributing medical supplies to public health facilities, in the heart of it all – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

My first week on the job was a whirlwind of new insights, in-the-moment Swahili lessons and introductions to people I would soon befriend and admire. I quickly learned that the initiative I became part of was not merely a high-level arrangement between entities, but a true partnership based on trust and a mutual commitment to helping the people of Tanzania.

I spent my days traveling between the Medical Stores Department and the bottling plant, meeting with champions on both sides to discuss opportunities to further this unique relationship. I had the privilege of working across departments, serving as a link between teams and working with MSD and CCK to turn ideas into reality. I learned a tremendous amount about the inner-workings of the Coca-Cola bottling operations, including effective performance management techniques, product distribution strategies and how to visualize data for effective decision making. I worked with committed individuals from both partners to analyze these operations and think critically about how they could be applied to the country’s public health context. The work content was fascinating, but what inspired me most was observing such a unique partnership strengthen and evolve each day.     

It is often difficult to see the impact of good work on a daily basis. For the five weeks I focused on Project Last Mile, I was able to witness this impact in real-time. Within both organizations, individuals were committed to working together and learning from each other. MSD staff were welcomed at CCK training sessions and CCK staff shared lessons learned in everything from demand forecasting to basic excel tips. I was able to observe bonds being formed between people in different professional worlds, all grounded in the common goal of improving the lives of Tanzanians. It was a truly rewarding experience to be part of such an important partnership and I look forward to following its progress as the project expands. 

About the Author

Alexandra Scott

Alexandra Scott is pursuing an education in International Health. She is enrolled in the Master’s of Global Human Development and is a Global Social Enterprise Fellow at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Scott recently finished her summer internship with The Coca-Cola Company who is an internship partner of Georgetown University’s Global Human Development program. Within The Coca-Cola Company, she helped advance the work of Project Last Mile in Tanzania.