ATLANTA – Global businesses and nonprofits must work together to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges and help the weak and vulnerable.  

That's the message James Quincey, president and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, delivered today in a keynote address at Rotary International’s convention at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta.

On a stage that this week hosted Bill Gates, Ambassador Andrew Young, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, actor Ashton Kutcher, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Quincey argued that business and nonprofits such as Rotary have a unique power to strengthen communities and improve humanitarian efforts in an era of rapid transformation, disruption and uncertainty.

“Today, the headlines are filled with a continuous barrage of challenges that impact everyone in this room and the broader sectors of society,” Quincey said. “Challenges dealing with our environment. With human rights and suffering. With conflict and war. With education, rule of law, health care – the list goes on.”

'We have so much common ground. Rotarians have always cared deeply about the things that shape their cities and their nations.'

“One thing is clear: no one company, or nation, or organisation can solve these issues alone. More than ever, it’s going to require our collective cooperation, action and accountability,” Quincey said Tuesday in front of more than 23,000 Rotarians.

To affect real change, businesses such as Coca-Cola need to clearly understand the needs of the people they serve, Quincey said. They also need a structure and culture that allow them to act quickly and effectively. And global business and civic organisations such as Rotary need to find the areas where their unique capabilities and goals intersect.

Quincey said Rotary’s commitment to providing clean water, serving mothers and children, supporting education and fighting disease such as polio provides a roadmap for progress.

“We have so much common ground,” he said. “Rotarians have always cared deeply about the things that shape their cities and their nations.”

From an endowment proposed in 1917 in Atlanta, the Rotary Foundation has grown from the first contribution of $26.50 to distribute more than $3 billion to humanitarian programs around the world. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola – first sold at Jacobs’ Pharmacy in Atlanta in 1886 – now operates in more than 200 countries.

Ensuring that the company has the “social license to operate in every community we serve” is critical, Quincey said. Coca-Cola’s “virtuous cycle of growth” begins with consumer-centred brands, supported by a pervasive global distribution system. The support of people who love the brands because of the enduring social, economic and environmental value they create leads to continued investment in sales, infrastructure, marketing, people development, innovation and sustainable business practices.

“When we do this, and do it right, we not only better serve our stakeholders and communities but we create a stronger, more efficient and productive business as well,” Quincey said. “We operate in virtually every community across more than 200 countries. Without healthy and sustainable communities, we don’t have a healthy and sustainable business.”

As the company has grown, it has also kept its focus on its hometown of Atlanta, Quincey said.

“Atlanta matters to our company,” he said. “Our secret formula was invented here, more than 131 years ago. Atlanta is where we first established our roots before growing into a truly global business. Atlanta is our home. It’s a source of much of our creativity.”

The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Foundation have invested more than $160 million into Atlanta over the past decade. In 2016, the company and foundation contributed more than $14 million across approximately 100 organisations in the Atlanta area: approximately 20 percent of their total contributions globally. Coca-Cola employees have contributed tens of thousands of volunteer hours in Atlanta over the past decade. Today, more than 40 employees serve on the governing boards of approximately 60 Atlanta non-profit organisations.

Quincey referenced a recent Atlanta initiative that leveraged the power of partnership. Last year, The Coca-Cola Foundation – along with the Chick-Fil-A Foundation, and the City of Atlanta – pledged to support a new vocational training program at City of Refuge, an organisation serving underserved communities. 

Read More: “Atlanta Goes Better With Coke”

Water, Women and Community Wellbeing

Quincey said Coca-Cola’s goal is to align its business interests with the interests of the communities where it operates, and to make a difference in areas where the company is most qualified, credible and capable. The company is focused on creating “shared value” in three critical areas – water, women and community wellbeing.

In 2007, Coca-Cola made a public commitment to become water-neutral by the year 2020 – returning to nature and communities every liter used in beverages and their production. The company met this goal in 2015, five years ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, the 5X20 initiative strives to economically empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020. Working with a number of partners around the world,
Coca-Cola has reached 1.7 million women entrepreneurs with business training, mentoring and improved access to capital.

'More and more companies are finding that we have something more valuable than cash to offer for the good of the public. And that’s our expertise. Our know-how. Our unique and specific strengths.'

Coca-Cola’s commitment to community well-being includes support for areas such as education, HIV/AIDS prevention, access to clean water, and distribution of medical supplies and other essentials. Through Project Last Mile, for example, Coca-Cola uses its logistics, supply chain and marketing expertise to help African government agencies more efficiently deliver vital drugs, medicines and medical supplies. The program recently expanded to Liberia and Swaziland.

“More and more companies are finding that we have something more valuable than cash to offer for the good of the public,” Quincey said. “And that’s our expertise. Our know-how. Our unique and specific strengths.”

Business and civic partnerships that are rooted in a clear vision, a bias for action, and a relentless drive for accountability are the new model for success, Quincey said.

“Of course, speaking to Rotarians about this is, I know, speaking to the proverbial choir. In so many ways, you are already leaders in bringing people together and partnering with others to build stronger communities,” Quincey said. “I urge you to continue to get uncomfortable as you look for the real problems you can confront in your communities. Use your credibility to push others to step up and do more. And never accept that things have to be the way they are.”