Coke’s come up with yet another formula, but this time it’s doing away with an old one. Don’t worry, it’s not Coke Three or Coke Absolute Zero, but the Coca-Cola Global Community Connections. The company is reconfiguring its philanthropic activities and doing away with its corporate external affairs department. From my perspective, the news is good. I’ve felt for some time that Coca-Cola was more of a marketing company than anything else, even operating at a detriment to society (think developing nations) for profits and market share. Rumor even has it that in one developing country, Coca-Cola “hijacked” a local water source to supply its plant leaving the area’s population with no access to clean water. Say it ain’t so!
Coke’s new Global Community Connections department will focus on three nonprofit areas: water cleanliness and supply, recycling with an emphasis on sustainable packaging and fitness. I’m impressed. The company’s old areas of focus were education and diversity. Important issues, to be sure, but not particularly aligned with the issues related to the company’s business. According to Ingrid Saunders Jones, the former external affairs head and longtime charitable face of Coca-Cola, “Whereas, Corporate External Affairs had a primary focus in North America, GCC will leverage the Company’s corporate and local resources, on a global scale, to support the six operating groups”. Global reach for a global corporation. I like where this is headed, especially because for so long, companies gave in the countries with the power to fight back while violating moral and ethical standards abroad, in poor nations with no infrastructure but very cheap labor. Hopefully Coca-Cola’s move is the beginning of a new trend.
Dennis Young, Georgia State University’s director of the nonprofit studies program, said Coca-Cola’s philanthropic reorganization follows what other large public companies have done — closely aligning their nonprofit work with the for-profit company’s main business.
“Companies have found it really works,” he said. “They’re thinking about that whole area less as gift-giving and more like a partnership. It’s an effective corporate strategy.”
This quote is the key. Companies need to start thinking of themselves as part of a process and not an occasional attendant when the situation calls for it. Companies can no longer just peak their figurative heads into a society to see what’s up, and donate some money to abate fears or to fund a pet cause.
Coca-Cola’s new initiative will take through 2008 to implement, but the result should be more a concentrated and effective use of charitable dollars. This new strategy should be net positive for the company and the planet. Of course the effort is nowhere near what’s needed from a global corporate citizen but it’s a start. I hope this type of effort will help get us to a new form of capitalism the world can not survive without. Giving fits inherently into the category of “give a man a fish and he can eat for a day”. Financing for-profit social entrepreneurship, and aligning these ventures with a company’s core business, is the only way to raise bar across the global. Only then will we have taught a man to fish, hopefully only figuratively for the planet’s sake.