Last month, Clarisse Fageolles, Sustainability Manager at Coca-Cola France, took a holiday in India. While there, she took some time out from her vacation to visit Dohlpur in northern India to see one of Coca-Cola's water conservation projects in action. She met Rajiv Gupta, Senior Manager of Anandana, The Coca-Cola India Foundation, who showed her the importance of this project, which is typical of the many we support in local communities around the world. We caught up with them afterwards to share their reflections from Western Europe and Eastern India.

Clarisse, tell us why you visited this project during your holiday in India?

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In my role, I'm very focused on Coca-Cola's commitments to operate in a responsible way and water is obviously an important part of that. I've been managing the water replenishment programme in Camargue, southern France, since 2014, in partnership with World Wildlife Fund France. In my frequent meetings with NGOs and stakeholders, water is often a hot topic of discussion, with questions about how Coca-Cola manages its water resources, especially in water-stressed areas, like India for instance. As I am very passionate about Indian culture and have frequently travelled there, I decided it was a good time to visit a water replenishment programme during my recent holiday there, to help me deeply understand what our company is doing in the field. I asked Carlos Pagoaga at The Coca-Cola Foundation to put me in touch with the right person in India, and that's how I found Rajiv.

Rajiv, why is this project in Dholpur important and is it typical of the important work the  Anandana Foundation is doing in India?

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The motivating factor of all our projects is to change the existing socio-economic paradigm of poverty and stress. This project on water conservation in Dholpur is important because water is important for survival. Dholpur is a very dry region with ravines and scanty rainfall, disrupting everyday livelihoods here. The construction of water conservation structures, such as check dams, farm ponds, percolation pits, and recharge wells, not only helps capture rain water, it also raises the water table. All of this assists in substantially improving the standard of living of people. With water now being available, there's plenty of it for agriculture and sustaining livelihoods

Clarisse, what was it like to see the work we're doing in a completely different part of the world? Did it change your perspective?

Even if I knew about the great work The Coca-Cola Foundation was doing in India to help communities with water access, being on the ground and meeting with the local community, completely changed my perspective, and my perception. One thing I learnt for example: India has no problem of water scarcity, but rather a lack of water availability throughout a year (except for some very dry regions). That means holding onto water — retaining it — is particularly important for farmers, enabling them to have more than one harvest a year, and develop a fruitful local economy. I was also impressed by the high rate of replenishment: Coca-Cola India replenishes 200% of its water use, restored to nature.

Rajiv, did you find it useful to compare experiences in India and Europe with Clarisse?

Certainly, it's useful. It was also useful to find so many similarities. The big part of any project's success is the community involvement and participation from day one. That's what we've always kept in mind while executing any project. When, therefore, Anandana talks of water, we do not just mean the amount of water recharged through check dams or other water structures but, more importantly, what that water does for the community in terms of changes in lifestyles: additional incomes through better crops, plantations, prevention of soil erosion, and improvement in agricultural practices. 

Clarisse, what was the most impressive/memorable moment or experience during your visit?

Before arriving on the site (80 kms from Agra, the Taj Mahal city), we drove through a village. I was impressed by the kindness and the smiling faces of the people there. I did not feel like I was bothering them. I felt the farmers and the local NGO were happy to show the result of the construction, and that gave me a lot of joy.

Rajiv, is Anandana making good progress on water replenishment in India? Have you got any advice for our teams here in Europe?

The work speaks for itself. And thankfully now the community speaks for Anandana too. I feel there's already a lot of good work being done by our teams in Europe. My advice would be to keep going at it with perseverance and determination. In sustainability, results are slow to come by, but when they do, you'll know you've made a perceptible difference. 

Clarisse, would you advise colleagues to visit our projects around the world, if they can? Did it add a new dimension to your holiday?

Holiday is a synonym for pleasure and freedom, right? So I will not give any advice. My personal pleasure was to discover more about this great country and also to give sense to my visit. For those who share this value, I would recommend tapping into the huge network of Coke employees all around the world, when it's possible. It's a great way to create opportunities and share perspectives in a more personal, informal and authentic way. I really want to thank Rajiv for his time and for organising the visit, in a place which was far away from his office in Delhi. I sincerely hope I can return this kindness in the future.

Want to know more about the Dholpur project?

The project is in the village of Tontari, in Dholpur District, Rajasthan. The Lupin Human Welfare Foundation worked with Anandana, The Coca-Cola India Foundation, to construct a huge check dam in the form of a reservoir, so as to replenish ground water.

Initiative:

  • Construction of a masonry check dam on the Bamani River.
  • Measuring 6.5 km in length, the dam creates a reservoir that can store approx. 1 billion litres of water.
  • The work also revitalized open dug wells and borewells.
  • The work has increased the ground water level by approx. 3 metres.
  • Over 11,000 people across 5 villages have benefitted