Editor's Note: On May 6, 2015, Nobel Prize winners in Peace and Economics awarded Zahi Khouri the Oslo Business for Peace Award, an award given annually to individuals and organizations creating economic value that in turn generates value for society. As founder of the Palestinian National Beverage Company, Zahi Khouri and his team hold the Coca-Cola franchise, employing hundreds of Palestinians and investing millions in Palestinian communities. The Coca-Cola Company celebrates this honor and invites Zahi Khouri to share his optimism, grit and reflection with Coca-Cola Journey readers.

I’m humbled to be among the five Oslo Business for Peace Award recipients this year. It’s inspiring and rewarding to know that others recognize the impact that business can make to improve the local communities in which we operate. On behalf of the more than 400 Palestinian employees of the National Beverage Company, and the thousands of Palestinians who have participated in the programs that we have supported with local NGOs and organizations, I am proud to accept this prestigious honor.

As a refugee, I recall asking the telephone operator to connect me to my family in Jerusalem. The operators could never find Palestine in their list of countries. When I returned to Palestine in 1991, (which my family fled 43 years earlier), to establish the foundations for the new Palestinian economy, one of my proudest achievements was convincing The Coca-Cola Company to open a bottling company in Palestine. To date, the Palestinian National Beverage Company (NBC) remains the largest non-Arab equity investment in Palestine. I figured if The Coca-Cola Company recognized Palestine, the world would soon follow.

In many ways, my story embodies what Coca-Cola does around the world – bringing people together, strengthening local economies and investing in sustainable communities. In 1998 when I founded the National Beverage Company (NBC), I hoped, but never imagined, that we would have grown so quickly. By 2006, we had three bottling plants and seven distribution centers that not only employ 400 committed associates, but also support an additional 4,000 Palestinian families by providing them with jobs across our supply and distribution systems.

We see no limits to our attempts to build an enhanced and fast growing community in Palestine. In 2014, we moved into new modern offices with an expanded central warehouse in Ramallah in the West Bank. And we are particularly proud that our facility houses the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottle on the roof.   

Business For Peace

In 2015, we’re opening a new Coca-Cola bottling plant in Gaza, representing a USD 20 million investment and our optimistic belief in the thriving economy that we can create in Gaza and throughout Palestine.  Our new Gaza facility will create 120 new direct jobs and more than 1,200 indirect jobs for Palestinians.

Setting the ground for such continued economic growth allows us to make meaningful continuous investments in people and communities. Such investments range from supporting after-school football programs with nutrition and life-skills training, to providing computer access to more than 20,000 children in rural villages, to inspiring young entrepreneurs and connecting them to meaningful skills building programs with seed investment. 

The energy, creativity and untapped potential that I see every day in Palestine motivates me to do more for our future. Just this year, I co-founded Ibtikar “Innovation” Fund, a multi-million dollar fund to invest in young Palestinian tech startups. I was inspired after meeting many young people with incredible ideas that can serve our region and our world. I know what it’s like to have big ideas in the face of bigger obstacles and I wanted to help these young men and women succeed.

All of us have our own stories and face our own challenges, but I’ve always tried to seek solutions. As part of the Coca-Cola family, the work we do in Palestine becomes part of a larger picture, building sustainable communities and economies across more than 200 countries and territories. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but we can do so much more. The young entrepreneurs I support remind me of the future we’re building now, and the innovative minds and strong hands that will inherit our efforts. I always say that diamonds are created under pressure, and as a result, we Palestinians shine as brightly as any.

Zahi Khouri is chairman of the Palestinian National Bottling Company.

Read more about the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Award, watch the webcast and learn more about The Coca-Cola Company’s Palestinian business in this video.