Coca-Cola as a medical supplies deliverer? One of its community programs, Project Last Mile, at first sounds odd as the company is one of the world’s most recognized brands, with its red and white logos emblazoned everywhere from mega-city centers to the tiniest rural outposts. Coke’s 100+ year history of prominence is as impressive as it is exasperating to its critics. And its reputation and stature in the marketplace allow it to attract some of the best talent.
But some of that talent wants more than a line on a CV to complement that MBA diploma. More employees, especially newer ones joining the workforce, want to work for an organization that takes sustainability and social responsibility seriously.
To that end, Project Last Mile leverages the company’s vast distribution network to increase and improve the delivery of medical supplies to 10 African countries by 2019.
The project has already started in Ghana and Tanzania. Partnering with national and local governments, the initiative takes advantage of Cola-Cola’s prowess in supply chain, distribution and marketing. Other organizations, including Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute, Accenture and Global Environment and Technology foundation, work with Coke and government officials to procure and distribute medicines to rural areas. But this is more than just about handing out meds. Professionals working on the project advise local health workers on how to forecast future demands for medicines and vaccines. Workers also learn how to maintain cold chain equipment property for the particular medical supplies.
According to a local Tanzania health official, Last Mile has resulted in the increased availability of medicines by as much as 30 percent since the program launched in 2010. Over 5,500 health clinics in total have benefited to date.
The next country in the project’s crosshairs is Mozambique, announced when Coca-Cola agreed to expand Project Last Mile at the cost of US$21 million.
This project is another example of how companies can embark on a corporate social responsibility platform using tools already at their disposal. Rather than cut a check to a charity or try to rally the corporate troops for a volunteer day, Project Last Mile allows employees to do community work while incorporating the skills they need for their day-to-day jobs. Other companies have launched similar initiatives. Ford Motor Co. has used its vehicles and technology to assist in the delivery of health care services in India. Cisco has contributed its video communications technologies to Jordan’s government in order to link urban medical specialists to patients in distant rural areas.
Coca-Cola’s investment in rural African health care will not silence its critics who are wary of the company’s, and that of its competitors’, impacts on issues related to water consumption and of course, on nutrition. But programs such as Project Last Mile offer far more benefit than posing as a purveyor of “healthy living”—and can help improve the company’s branding and reputation.
Image credit: Coca-Cola Press Center