Immediately after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, plans for an interracial celebratory dinner in still-segregated Atlanta were not initially supported by the city's business elite. 

It was the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company in 1964, Mr. J. Paul Austin, who confronted the city’s business leaders directly, saying “it is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Co. does not need Atlanta. You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs The Coca-Cola Co.” 

Within two hours of that meeting, every ticket to the dinner was sold. 

To this day, The Coca-Cola Company enjoys both significant loyalty and overwhelming market share support from the African-American community, both here in Atlanta and across the nation. Smartly and strategically exporting its values and business mantra, the company is today both the market share leader clear across Africa, and the African continent’s largest employer, too. 

Recognizing the need to refresh and reaffirm these values for successive generations, The Coca-Cola system has committed $1 million dollars to Operation HOPE to provide financial education to women and girls living in the southeastern United States. The award will fund the expansion and delivery of our nationally-acclaimed financial literacy, career training and entrepreneurship programs.

Operation HOPE believes that financial literacy is the new civil rights issue for a generation; we call it “Silver Rights.” Simply put, our mission is to empower underserved communities by promoting financial inclusion and financial literacy, leading to long-term financial dignity for all.

Women, girls and our youth represent a mostly untapped growth and aspirational engine for the nation. With support from Coca-Cola, Operation HOPE aims to provide financial education to women and girls living in the United States, focusing primarily on those in the Southeast Region. These funds will help more than 192K women and girls increase their financial knowledge, help women develop their computer literacy and spur the creation of 500 new businesses.

For the girls today, our message is simple—if you can’t get a job after college, then consider creating your own. With the support of Coca- Cola, Operation HOPE will be providing the necessary tools, including the HOPE Business In A Box Academies – a program for underserved students in grades  4 through 12, in economically-challenged local public schools. Through The Coca-Cola Co.’s generosity, HOPE will teach these girls a course in financial literacy (the global language of money), a course in dignity (values) and a course in entrepreneurship.

HOPE will present participants with 25 business ideas that they can start for $500 or less and then host two  events each school year in their school auditorium (think "Shark Tank for Kids"), where young people pitch their idea in front of a panel of judges. For those that win, we  fund the business up to $500, open a first-ever bank account for them, assign a business role model, and then watch all the endorphins engage on the right (creative and emotional) side of their brain, as they finally connect education with aspirations. The lights come on, and they never go off after that. Winners are also taught to open bank accounts, are assigned a business role model, and receive ongoing mentoring. Gallup and the Gallup-HOPE Index then measures what success looks like for each student and each school.

For adults, we will continue driving credit scores to 700 with our HOPE 700 Credit Score Communities, operating within our expanding network of HOPE Inside locations. As I continue to say, "Nothing changes your life more, than God or love, than moving your credit score 120 points!" And this is precisely what we are doing for clients inside of our HOPE Inside locations, which operate inside bank branches, police departments, community colleges, hotels, grocery stores, and a range of other high traffic locals. When we do this, something else happens over time. Check cashers, payday lenders and rent to own stores turn into credit unions and banks, liquor stores become convenience stores, and so on, until we’ve turned an underserved market into an emerging market.

Since 1992, Operation HOPE has empowered more than 2.6 million individuals worldwide. Through our work, we aim to turn check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners and minimum wage workers into living wage consumers.

With a big, bold, audacious and inclusive dream, and a powerful collaboration like this one between Operation HOPE and the Coca-Cola Company, we just might save many women from generational poverty.

But this is nothing new for The Coca-Cola Company. For more than 100 years, the company has not just been making great products. It's been making a difference, too.