BSR Conference 2012: Fast Forward / October 23-26 / New York

Investing in Women is Smart Business

Leadership in Action Session / October 25, 2012


  • Charlotte Oades, Global Director, Women's Economic Empowerment, The Coca-Cola Company
  • Jane Wales, President and CEO, World Affairs Council and Global Philanthropy Forum, Vice President of Philanthropy and Society, Aspen Institute (Moderator)


  • The 5 BY 20 program seeks to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across Coca-Cola’s value chain by 2020, using a locally relevant combination of business training, access to financial resources, and the support of peer networks.
  • Partnerships among business, government, and civil society are a key part of the success of 5 BY 20, as is integration of women entrepreneurs into Coca-Cola’s local business planning.
  • The program is starting with pilots in Brazil, India, the Philippines, and South Africa; Coca-Cola emphasizes piloting 5 BY 20 programs in each country before scaling them to ensure that the program is providing the right resources to women entrepreneurs and achieving measurable impact.

Memorable Quotes

“It’s a dream role for me. I have the privilege of getting up every single day and thinking about how I’m going to empower women.” —Charlotte Oades, The Coca-Cola Company

“We know that women, as future consumers, account for US$20 trillion of consumer expenditure. People talk about the emerging economies of China or India. Women, as a market opportunity, represent more [opportunity] than China, India, and the United States combined.” —Charlotte Oades, The Coca-Cola Company

“We really want to make the case that investing in women is great business because we think it’s a smart thing to do and [because] we want to encourage and inspire more investment, by everyone, in women in business.” —Charlotte Oades, The Coca-Cola Company


The session kicked off with a video summarizing 5 BY 20, The Coca-Cola Company’s commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020. The video showcased women whose lives had been improved by the program through training, loans, and the support of peer networks.

Wales began the dialogue by asking about the origins of 5 BY 20; Oades described how Coca-Cola first created a 16-member Women’s Leadership Council to recruit, support, and retain women in senior leadership positions. Company staff then started to think about how Coca-Cola could empower women outside of the company’s four walls, and 5 BY 20 was born. According to Oades, 5 BY 20 seeks to empower women at all levels of Coca-Cola’s value chain, including farmers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, recyclers, and even artisans making handcrafted items out of recycled materials.

Coca-Cola launched the program with a focus on four countries: Brazil, India, the Philippines, and South Africa. 5 BY 20 focuses on providing business skills training, access to financial resources, and peer support and mentorship networks, which, according to Oades, address barriers that women entrepreneurs face globally. In addition, because the 5 BY 20 initiative is integrated into Coca-Cola’s value chain, the company also provides its beneficiaries access to markets.

Oades then summarized the business case for 5 BY 20, indicating that “women disproportionally reinvest whatever they earn” into their families and their communities. She also cited the important economic role that women play, indicating that, at least for Coca-Cola’s business, women make 70 percent of household purchasing decisions. Lastly, Oades mentioned the importance of investing in local communities; Coca-Cola produces and hires locally, despite being a global brand.

Subsequently Oades highlighted specific 5 BY 20 programs in Brazil, India, and the Philippines. In Brazil, Coca-Cola provides business education in favelas through its Coletivo (Portuguese for “collective”) program; Oades told the story of one female entrepreneur, Regina, who built a business turning plastic bottles into handicrafts and now employs eight people. In the Philippines, Coca-Cola has just completed a pilot program to train owners of sari-sari (or variety) stores, 86 percent of which are run by women. The company is now expanding the program to six provinces, reaching 10,000 women by the end of the year. Finally, in India Coca-Cola provides mobile training buses used to educate mango farmers about agricultural best practices, especially in very rural areas.

Oades stressed the importance of partnership, highlighting the “golden triangle” of business, civil society, and government, with each bringing unique expertise to solving social issues. She also emphasized the importance of integrating women entrepreneurs into the growth plans managed by Coca-Cola’s local business leads. She described several of Coca-Cola’s philanthropic programs, such as providing access to water and sanitation, but differentiated these from 5 BY 20, which relies on integration with the company’s core business. Oades also reinforced the importance of piloting programs to smooth out any unexpected problems before scaling them.

The question-and-answer period focused on three main topics: measuring impact, overcoming skepticism about the value of investing in women, and the impact of technology. Oades highlighted three ways that Coca-Cola measures the impact of 5 BY 20: transparently reporting the number of women reached, tracking a subset of program beneficiaries over time, and using third-party validation. Regarding the value of investing in women, Oades cited strong executive support for women’s initiatives within Coca-Cola, which helped the company create women’s leadership development programs at all levels internally. Lastly, regarding technology, Oades mentioned the use of solar technology within 5 BY 20 and the importance of social media in sharing the stories of women impacted by the program.

Thank You, Sponsors

Executive Sponsors

Cisco Hitachi PwC Target UL Responsible Sourcing

Associate Sponsors

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Supporting Sponsors

Adobe AT&T ExxonMobil Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.

Participating Sponsors

American Express Baker & McKenzie LLP Best Buy BNY Mellon Ford Hyatt Hotels Corporation The Walt Disney Company UPS Vale

Contributing Sponsors

Chevron icix Levi Strauss & Co.

Convening Media

Bloomberg Business Week Weber Shandwick

Marketing and Media

3BL Media BEF Caixin Media Corporate Knights Globescan GreenBiz Group Inc. Hemlock Responsible-Investor Sina Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Tomorrow Partners