As a college student, I participated in Model United Nations in the iconic United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. With great interest and curiosity, I listened in the audience to an array of speakers addressing the most pressing issues facing the world. I was excited about the future, unsure of my exact path, but knowing that it would be focused on addressing global challenges.

More than 20 years later, I found myself once again in that renowned UN chamber, in front of a crowd of student university leaders and international enthusiasts attending the Global Engagement Summit, now as a speaker sharing my perspective on the many ways one can contribute to global change, including through work with the private sector.

Organized by the United Nations Association of the U.S. (UNA-USA), the Summit convened 1,500 U.S. university students and members of UNA-USA chapters across the country. On my journey from student to speaker, my path had come full circle, but my focus always remained the same: to make global change happen.

Jen Ragland
Jen Ragland sharing insights from The Coca-Cola Company’s integrated approach and contributions to the New World Project and our recently announced World Without Waste Initiative. 

I was especially proud to be there representing The Coca-Cola Company, sharing our sustainability journey and how we are working to make a lasting impact in communities around the world, and in particular, by championing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, and include 17 goals on everything from ending extreme poverty, gender equality, water quality, zero hunger, decent work, and clean and affordable energy. There are specific targets and a call to action to achieve these goals by 2030.

With an expected cost of $3 trillion to achieve the SDGs, it’s clear that strong collaboration will be required across government, civil society and the private sector. At Coca-Cola, we view the SDGs as an important framework to guide such collective action in solving systemic global challenges. We also see an opportunity for business to directly benefit from achieving the SDGs through increased economic opportunity and the creation of millions of new jobs.

Our company is aligned and contributing towards all 17 SDGs, with an especially strong focus in our leadership areas of women (SDG 5), water (SDG 6), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), sustainable consumption (SDG 12), life under water (SDG 14) and partnerships (SDG 17). We have reported on these contributions each year through our sustainability reporting, also sharing how we have used our voice in support of partnerships and actions on the SDGs.

But, it’s more than just alignment and reporting. It's about how the company has integrated the SDGs into our program design through projects such as New World, and new initiatives like World Without Waste.

The New World program is based on our longstanding partnership with the UN Development Program (UNDP) and results from the UN My World Survey, which elevated voices from people around the world on the most critical issues and then fed these insights into the development of the SDGs. Focused in the areas of water access and sanitation and empowerment of women and youth to improve education and job opportunities, New World is now in 19 countries, and has benefitted more than 1.5 million people in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In our World Without Waste initiative, our President and CEO James Quincey highlighted SDGs 12 and 14 as being the most critical to the company’s 2030 goals on collection and recycling, recyclability and recycled material. Although there are actions that we as company must take on packaging, we call out the Global Goals because the issue of waste is bigger than us. It requires a mobilization of resources, know-how and expertise to drive lasting change and progress.

Sustainable Development Goals
The Coca-Cola Company is a private sector champion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) – aligned and contributing towards all 17 SDGS. 

At the end of my panel, I was excited to see that my remarks struck a positive chord with students in the audience, sparking their intellectual curiosity about the many ways business can work to bring about positive impacts for communities – not just because it’s the right thing, but because there’s business value in doing so. A Coca-Cola Scholar in the audience shared her personal connection to our work; she was inspired and proud to be a part of the Coca-Cola family.

On my path from student to speaker, my dedication to addressing global issues has remained steadfast. And today, I am more optimistic than ever that together, we can make global change happen.

Jennifer Ragland is senior director of government and stakeholder relations at The Coca-Cola Company. Her career has spanned the nonprofit, government and private sector, and has been with Coca-Cola for the past seven years.