Over a decade ago, I began making the journey from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta to collaborate with The Coca-Cola Company on its landmark water risk assessment and water stewardship plans. Today, Coca-Cola is a leader – perhaps the corporate leader – on addressing water risk and replenishing the water it uses around the world. Public and private partners from around the world seek the company’s expertise and partnership.
On this journey together, we have learned that the most impactful work features diverse partners from many sectors bringing their strengths together. My organization, Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF), helps companies organize and stage “Golden Triangle” (business, government and civil society) collaborations around the world. We work closely with The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF) and The Coca-Cola Company to develop powerful programming in Africa that supports the core drivers of growth on the continent – women, water, well-being and youth engagement. We help identify Golden Triangle partnerships, bringing together stakeholders to unlock challenges to development. And we leverage every dollar Coca-Cola invests to ensure alignment and equal investment in the outcomes. This alignment of multiple sectors also allows us to address multiple priorities that build communities where people can thrive and economies can grow.
One of our favorite Golden Triangle programs is the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) – a 10-year commitment to reach 6 million people in Africa with sustainable clean water access by 2020. Launched in 2010, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and RAIN have worked with more than 140 government, private sector and civil society partners to formulate high-impact projects that have already improved the lives of 2 million people in Africa. Using the Golden Triangle partnership model, we have shaped RAIN to be the largest corporate investment in water in Africa. RAIN’s achievements would not be possible without the support of the Coca-Cola ecosystem and our partners that allow us to scale RAIN’s work across communities in 37 African countries. When finished, RAIN will have leveraged at least $200 million in clean water investment in Africa. In fact, Coca-Cola’s investment in water stewardship and WASH was a catalyst that allowed us to bring in other partners expanding access and furthering the global objective of increasing clean water and sanitation access.
Another leading Golden Triangle program that we are honored to support is Project Last Mile (PLM). PLM is a dynamic coalition that shares Coca-Cola’s supply chain and marketing expertise with African governments and Ministries of Health to bring critical medicines and supplies to the “last mile” – or communities that are beyond the reach of existing supply chains.
PLM harnesses Coca-Cola’s 85 years of experience distributing products to the most remote corners of Africa to make life-saving improvements to the storage, distribution and marketing of critical medical supplies. Through PLM, Coke's investment is leveraging significant donor funding from Golden Triangle partners USAID, The Global Fund, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
So what are some of the lessons learned from successful Golden Triangle partnerships? Our experience shows:
• Collaborate: Collaboration should be a top priority of all Golden Triangle partners. We are all committed to solving development challenges together. Sometimes, in the process, we need to seek some unlikely alliances, and we need to spend the necessary time to make sure all parties are aligned on the desired outcomes. Collaboration means compromise, and Coca-Cola has had to amend some plans to be responsive to other partners’ desired outcomes.
• Be demand responsive: The true power of Golden Triangle partnerships is when they meet the needs of the underprivileged communities we all seek to serve. We engineer our solutions back from the needs of the community and the realities on the ground, not what we think the community lacks.
• Set ambitious targets: Successful businesses require scale. So does high-impact philanthropic investment. With RAIN, for example, we started out with an ambitious target to reach at least 2 million people with sustainable water access. This target meant we had to co-create opportunities with our partners where they would invest alongside RAIN. We prioritize investing in programs where there is existing momentum from proven models and strong interest from co-investors.
• Offer predictable funding: As a donor, one of the smartest things that Coca-Cola has done is to put forth a predictable amount of multi-year funding to help our partners scale effectively. We are transparent on the levels of funding available and expected outcomes.
• Create a big tent: Bring as many Golden Triangle partners together as possible to generate impact. RAIN generated a wave of interest from its first announcement. We designed alliances with donors, governments and all types of sector partners in the water, sanitation and hygiene space. We had to be deliberate to make sure we had the right partners in the tent at the outset and grow from that core.
While we have made progress, we still have work to do. Africa’s challenges are as significant as the opportunity if we get it right. One of the greatest needs is the creation of partnership that directly address capacity building for African institutions. To do this, Coca-Cola will likely need to make even more of its system’s talent available as it has with PLM and for RAIN water quality needs. The people of Coke have built a resilient business in Africa. The countries of Africa would deeply benefit from access to this talent in their Ministries and municipalities to help address key barriers to their development.
These experiential partnerships are game changers and represent the next “wave” of how companies can better engage on the continent. Coca-Cola could also excel in forming alliances of business to address key development challenges in fragile states. We need to continue to amplify our communication of the business value of the Golden Triangle to peer companies to encourage their enhanced investment and partnership in Africa also.
Through Golden Triangle partnerships, Coca-Cola has become a leader in building healthy, strong and sustainable communities across Africa. As the largest private sector employer in Africa, the company has a very unique role to play in Africa because it of its expansive presence and the quality of its people. The company also has unique relationships and skill sets in every African country and communities around the world. After more than a decade, I can say that Coca-Cola leads in its approach to Golden Triangle partnerships and is continually learning and growing from these approaches. The world is a better place for it.
Monica Ellis is CEO of the Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF), a leading not-for-profit foundation that advances sustainability through public-private partnerships. GETF works with leading companies, governments, civil society and philanthropists to support the development of sustainable communities. GETF currently manages RAIN and Project Last Mile in partnership with The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation. Ellis also serves as CEO of Global Water Challenge, a coalition of companies and not-for-profit organizations committed to universal access to clean water and sanitation.