Two-way learning with a focus on operational challenges and developing partnerships to bring the commercial and public sectors and civil society together can generate long term benefits.

I recently completed a four day visit to the bustling and busy city of Accra in the company of the Accenture Development Partners (ADP) team implementing the Last Mile Project with Coca Cola, and Ghana Health Services (GHS).

I participated in a workshop and series of meetings at GHS and Coca-Cola and I was particularly impressed by Livingston, a biomedical engineer from the Volta Region GHS engineering team who told me about the lessons he had learned from the pilot project he had just completed with Coca-Cola and ADP to introduce preventive maintenance in five Districts. “The District managers are very happy that we fixed and cleaned their vaccine fridges. When they work we can reach more children with immunizations.”

Coca-Cola is one of the most powerful and universal commercial brands. In even the most remote regions of the globe, Coke signs adorn village shops and markets. Take a look at any Coke advertisement; it projects their product by association with key human aspirations of happiness and health for family and friends.

Coca-Cola is also synonymous with best in class supply chains and commercial business practices that ensure they are meeting client needs. One of their operational approaches is to ensure “RED compliance” – that they achieve the "Right Execution Daily" with their standard operating procedures which is very pervasively displayed in their offices in the form of performance metrics by area and individual staff member.

This client centered operational approach is something Ghana Health Services (GHS) can learn from. Coincidentally, GHS also has an operational approach called “RED”, that Coca-Cola can also learn from. In this case GHS is seeking to “Reach Every District” including those in the North of the country and in remote island areas in Volta Region where poor infrastructure, weak local economies  and geographic challenges actually mean that Coke is yet to reach every village.

This recognition that there is an opportunity for two way learning between the public and private sector is the focus of a new project we are working on with Coke and GHS. This approach builds upon a number of earlier discussions with Coca-Cola and work done by Professor Prashant Yadav of the University of Michigan. In an article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. He concluded that while there is much to be borrowed from Coca Cola’s supply chain, there is much that is impossible to replicate. He found that a major difference between the Coca-Cola value chain and the public health supply chain is that there is no financial value added to incentivize performance. Another key lesson is that the more specific the operational ask, the easier it is to translate from Coca-Cola to GHS. By drilling down and focusing on specific functions in Coca-Cola’s supply chain operations, we have been able to find real synergies with similar operations managed by GHS.

Want more on this story? Click here to read the rest of the post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's site, Impatient Optimists.

David Sarley is a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is managing collaboration with Coca-Cola, GHS and ADP.