When women are empowered, societies see more investments in education and health, less malnutrition, and more sustainable economic growth.
Over the past decade, The Coca-Cola Company has centered the enabling of women’s economic empowerment at the core of its sustainability imperative. The beverage company recently announced it exceeded its goal to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020. As of the end of 2020, the program enabled the economic empowerment of more than 6 million women in 100 countries and territories.
Established on the margins of the 2010 United Nations General Assembly, The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 program set out to address the inequalities and barriers women face to achieving economic empowerment by focusing on women’s connection to their value chain, including farmers producing ingredients for their beverages, retailers and distributors or artisans and recycling cooperative members, among others. In 2013, the company expanded the scope of 5by20 to allow for independent contributions by The Coca-Cola Foundation and other partners to increase access to business skills training, financial services mentorship and support networks. It’s also invested in water infrastructure worldwide because studies show that the time women save by not having to search for clean water is often dedicated to new or increased economic activity. As a result, women have been able to bring their business ideas to life, and support themselves and their families, while giving back to their communities.
“We are proud of having surpassed the landmark milestone of enabling the economic empowerment of more than 6 million women entrepreneurs — one that demonstrates how the private sector can partner with government and civil society to support women and make a difference,” Bea Perez, chief communications, sustainability and strategic partnerships officer at The Coca-Cola Company, said in a statement.
Here are six women from the program and their stories:
Women are often underrepresented in business and can feel especially discouraged to participate in male-dominated industries, making it more difficult to be financially independent and escape poverty. In Europe, only a third of women believe they are qualified to start a business. Confidence is a key factor in ensuring a women’s success and lack of confidence leads them often to receive less financing than men.
Mercedes, who lives near Toledo, Spain, did not let intimidation push her out of the field she wanted to enter. Mercedes’ children have painful degenerative hand diseases and they inspired her to develop a natural, sustainable heat pack that delivers comfort.
After participating in Coca-Cola's GIRA program — designed to improve women’s employability or develop a food-related business — Mercedes felt ready to follow through with her scheme in 2017. She founded MerceNatura, using olive pits to create thermal products, and continues to motivate other women to realize their projects.
“I’d like to help many women to believe they are valid, even though they were told they were not at some point in their lives,” Mercedes said.
Growing up in California, Angie understood the value of homeownership at a young age and saw a future for herself in real estate. Early pregnancy can often limit girls’ employment opportunities, but becoming a mother at 16 did not stop her from pursuing the career she always imagined.
“Women around the world need to be supported and empowered so that they too can find the courage within themselves,” Angie said.
Angie started a sewing business out of her garage at the age of 25 but attending the 5by20 Adelante program in 2013 inspired her to finally start her own real estate firm. The Adelante Movement encourages Latinx women to become more engaged in economics and society by providing workshops and digital tools. As a 5by20 Adelante partner, Angie has been able to grow her business exponentially.
Meanwhile, for Daiana, a 24-year-old woman from Brazil, attending 5by20’s Latin American youth program Coletivo Youth equipped her with the skills to work her way up from an apprentice at McDonald’s to being mentored at Coca-Cola Brazil.
A legal assistant at Coca-Cola since 2020, Daiana is now also the first person in her family to continue her education past high school and is working her way through law school.
“The message I have for women is: Never give up! Never believe that you are not capable! And fight every day for your dreams and goals,” Daiana said.
Many young girls around the world are forced to put their dreams and goals on hold, and Gülsen was one of them. Gülsen moved to Mersin, Turkey, in the 1970s and left primary school to help run her father’s grocery store. It wasn’t until after she had three children that Gülsen convinced her husband to let her finish her primary education. When her children eventually left the house for university, Gülsen received the additional training and education necessary to start her own business and launched the restaurant Gülsen's Kitchen in the city of Elazığ in 2011.
After attending the Habitat Association’s My Sister Program funded by Coca-Cola, Gülsen said she gained more confidence and built more visibility for her restaurant. In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Elazığ in January 2020, Gülsen's Kitchen helped distribute food to those in need.
When natural disasters shook business owner Carmelita’s community in the Philippines, Coca-Cola’s Sari-Sari Store Training and Access to Resources (STAR) Program helped her continue to run her business. After Typhoon Pablo hit the country in 2012, Carmelita ran out of inventory and her debt increased. STAR provides small neighborhood store owners with a network and skills to grow their business and provided Carmelita with guidance on how to take control of her finances. She learned better bookkeeping methods and price-setting, which doubled her earnings and allowed her to support her children’s education.
“Women, first and foremost, need to be resourceful, because we are not just ‘women, we are mothers, community leaders and heads of families,’” Carmelita said. “We need to know how we can uplift ourselves.”
Women are often the most vulnerable during crises and they have been hit the hardest by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nosisa was raised by a single mother in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is not a stranger to economic hardship. Her entrepreneurial spirit was born when she had to learn how to budget for transportation to get to school and saved the extra money to sell snacks on the side. She always held steady jobs in adulthood but had bigger ambitions. Through the Coca-Cola Beverage South Africa Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) she was able to start her own business.
Nosisa opened her shop Skhaftini Corner where she sells daily items to her community in March 2020 and joined Coca-Cola’s Bizniz in a Box convenience store network. Support from Coca-Cola allowed Nosisa to keep her shop open during lockdowns and continue to serve her township during the pandemic.
“One can either have a choice of thinking inside the box or outside the box,” Nosisa said. “What I've learned is that one should actually destroy the box and live throughout life knowing that there's just no limits.”
Although The Coca-Cola Company, working with partners achieved its 5by20 goal, the company says it will continue to support women entrepreneurs by reaching more women in underprivileged populations globally.