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Building community and business in emerging markets

Is it possible to “do good’ and “do good business” at the same time?

That’s the question Miriam McLemore (BSBA ’85) helped The Coca-Cola Company respond to as CIO of Coca-Cola’s corporate functions and consumer technologies.

McLemore shared how The Coca-Cola Company answered “yes” by building and empowering communities through social enterprise when she spoke at the Global Business Center’s 2017 Emerging Markets Day at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

In 2014 Coca-Cola started the EKOCENTER program, a social venture focused on water, women in business and well-being. The modular community marketplace is run by a local woman entrepreneur that also provides safe water, solar power and internet access.

“It looks like a pop-up store or general store,” says McLemore, “and it provides us with the opportunity to join our core business with our desire to make a difference in the world.”

The EKOCENTER brings together people and community partners – NGOs, local governments and private sector organizations. One partner is SOLARKIOSK, a company that brings solar power to the marketplaces. McLemore quotes the African saying “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with others” to exemplify the power of working together.

As a brand that grew up in communities through its franchise model, Coca-Cola hopes to give back to and enrich the communities where its products are sold. Many EKOCENTERS are built near soccer fields, businesses and schools, and Coca-Cola hopes to make them more of a community center than just a place where people buy a drink or charge their phone.

There are now 177 EKOCENTERS across the world, and Coca-Cola hopes to continue building the program in emerging markets. Now, the question is how to market and advertise the centers without straying too far from the brand or alienating the community.

People are often wary about corporate social ventures, says McLemore. “When it comes to social responsibility, you can sound very self-serving. There are many more skeptics about big corporations.”
“Obviously, we’re no strangers to mass marketing, but we need to continue to improve awareness of the program in an appropriate way,” she says.

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with others”

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