“From an early age, I knew I wanted my profession to be a calling of purpose,” says Jane Hale Hopkins, president-elect of the Coca‑Cola Scholars Foundation. “I went to a liberal arts college where training of the heart, as well as training of the mind, was preached and prioritized.”
Hopkins, who will succeed J. Mark Davis later this year, joined the Coca‑Cola Scholars Foundation in 2001 as a finance manager. She’d spent time in New York City after college working on a master’s in public administration from NYU and co-founding a nonprofit called Serve It Up, a community service-minded network of young professionals. The Lexington, Kentucky native was eyeing a return to her native South when she launched a job search in the pre-social media, pre-smartphone era.
“I remember going to the New York Public Library every Sunday afternoon to get on a computer and access the weekly job blast from the Southeastern Council of Foundations,” she recalls. “There were always jobs in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, but eventually one came up at a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta.”
Davis was especially impressed with Hopkins’ involvement with Serve it Up, which aligned with the mission of the Coca‑Cola Scholars Foundation. They met in New York on Nov. 7, 2000, the night of the infamous Bush/Gore presidential election.
“I remember being really excited after the interview, then coming home and sitting up all night watching the results come in on TV,” she said.
She had the job a few weeks later and, over the last 17 years, she has worked to develop an influential community of socially conscious and service-minded Coca‑Cola Scholar leaders who share a passion for making a difference. Now, she’s poised to take over the reins in a milestone year as the Foundation celebrates its 30th class.
We spoke with Hopkins ahead of the third-annual Coca‑Cola Scholars Leadership Summit in Atlanta to learn more about her vision for the future of the Foundation.
Hopkins (second from left) with Coca‑Cola Scholars at Harvard University.
This is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. Winning the Coca‑Cola Program scholarship is an opportunity of a lifetime for a high school senior. From there, it's also finding and identifying equally incredible opportunities throughout your lifetime like this one. We're at a really special place in the history of the Foundation. We've been doing this for 30 years and have stayed true to our mission to reward future leaders in the communities where we do business with a four-year college scholarship. But what Mark started was this idea of building a community. The scholarship is really important, of course, but it's also the ongoing engagement we provide. Coke Scholars are all extraordinary individuals. But together as a network, they become a really powerful catalyst for positive change. That's why we not only identify the brightest minds in the country, but take steps to nurture those relationships over the years. And now, 30 years in, we have a network of 6,000 Scholars.
We’re embarking on a journey from a transactional organization to a transformational organization. We're thinking really intentionally about how we want to continue to show up in these leaders’ lives. We're developing a roadmap for how Scholars engage with the Foundation to ensure we’re meeting them where they are throughout their lives. We want to clearly articulate what Scholars can expect to get and what they can expect to give back.
When we bring Scholars to Atlanta every April for Scholars Weekend, we do a full Leadership Development Institute. We teach four key values of leadership: self-awareness, empathy, inspiration, and vision. The idea is to teach them a leadership framework from the inside out, so they're reflecting on themselves or understanding themselves. We bring in 30 Scholar alumni to teach the curriculum. It becomes a check-in for them – to ensure the values that were important to them as high school seniors and that helped them win the scholarship continue to show up as they evolve. We want to continue to be a reminder of those values as they leave college and embark on their careers and start families.
We also will spend time identifying strategic partners around the country and world to help us advance our mission. Finally, we want to intertwine Coca‑Cola Scholars more closely with our brands in ways our company and bottlers can pick up on easily.
A competitive advantage for us is the sense of family. At Coca‑Cola, the people truly make the magic. And I think we've been able to extend that magic to our community of Scholars. Mark always says, “We want to be part of their lives as long as they’ll have us.”
For some scholarship programs, retention or graduation rates are the primary measures of success. For us, we select 150 of the brightest minds in the country. They graduate. So from there, you start thinking about how to define network strength and influence. And I'm not sure that we've totally figured out how to do that yet. We got some really good data from an impact survey we did about a year ago. For example, over 80 percent of the Scholars we surveyed said the Scholars community is one of the top three professional networks they belong to. Engagement is another key metric for us. We want to keep as many Scholars connected to the community long after they graduate.
My goal with everyone is to connect each person on our team with their purpose and help make others better even when I’m not around. I'm not an overly hands-on leader... I’m very trusting. We have a great team committed to the values we’ve instituted within the Leadership Development Institute. Personally, I'm always on a quest to learn more about myself and continually reinvent myself and show up as a better version in my life. That's really important to me. I'm an avid reader and journaler, and I’m very disciplined in my athletic endeavors. I run and practice Pilates and hot yoga – which all helps keep the snakes out of my head.
The goal is to bring Scholars together in a way that inspires them to bring positive change to their communities. We’re expecting around 450 Scholars this weekend. We’ll have a mix of outside speakers and Scholars, and several breakout sessions. Anytime we put this many Scholars in a room, we like to say magic happens. All of our lives are elevated. So it's a chance for them to learn from each other, hear about what others are doing in their communities, and hopefully leave inspired to take action.