I wrote this post sitting at the gate for my flight in the Beijing airport starting my way home to Atlanta after three weeks on the road. As I thought about the past weeks, I realized I’ve had a full-circle journey.

The month started with a week of holiday with my family on the beach in Florida. Rest and relaxation coupled with enjoying the splendor of the ocean swimming and fishing. With less than a day to turn around and jump on a plane, I traded my bathing suit for a business suit and was off to Korea to the World Water Forum. The Forum is held every three years and is organized by the host country and the World Water Council. Think thousands of people from all over the world – governments, industry, NGOs, communities and academia – meeting over a week to discuss everything about water from policy and conservation to quality, quantity, droughts, floods, infrastructure, technology, research… you name it.

I made several presentations, connected with lots of partners, met new friends and learned a lot. Three things stand out:

  • Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, served as a key panelist in two sessions and actively attended the Forum. Water is a top priority and strategic business imperative for us, and Ahmet sent a strong message to our employees and partners by attending. Big topic, huge event on the world stage, and senior management played an active role.
  • The announcement on our expanded funding commitment for the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN). We have worked with partners and communities across Africa since 2009 to reach 2 million people with safe water access. This announcement raises the stakes as we committed to an additional $35 million to reach an additional 4 million people by 2020.
  • Our ‘Boots to Suits” event with our longtime partner, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), was one of the most fruitful discussions I've had in months. The event brought together people in the field doing the on-the-ground work ("boots") and people in corporations and government setting strategies and programs ("suits") to discuss the ins and outs of successful collaboration. There it really hit home with me that our model of coordination and planning (plus some funding) from head offices ("suits") only has true impact on nature and people when the "boots" execute. Check out our partnership website for lessons learned about corporate-NGO partnerships on water conservation.
When the week ended, I traded my suits for boots as I headed to China.

Boots to Suits

From Korea I flew to Changsha, China, and ultimately made my way to Beijing. Again, the importance of water, as well as women and well-being – our top three sustainability priorities – was reinforced as Bea Perez met us in Changsha for the trip. In addition to being our Chief Sustainability Officer, Bea is also my boss!

As we traveled by car, van, bullet train and by foot through central and northeastern China, we met with key partners and toured several active projects with WWF, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), One Foundation, Women’s Federation, several members of various government ministries, and, most importantly, the people in the communities where these projects are taking place.

I could write a book on all that I learned, but I know Bea plans to blog about the trip, so I'll let her share the details later this week. That said, I’ll leave you with one great example…

I took the photograph above in a tea plantation in Hunan Province. This is one of our key tea suppliers, not only in China but globally. What you see in the photo is a nearly finished wetland being constructed within the tea garden. This is a project with WWF, the government, academia, the supplier and, importantly, the farmers. The wetland will act as a natural filter, helping clean water as it flows through the tea garden, on its way to the Yangtze River.

An amazing month of learning, sharing and collaborating. 

Greg Koch is senior director of global water stewardship at The Coca-Cola Company. Follow him on Twitter @gregjkoch1.