Tedx Change – Localization is Key to Sustainability

Millennium Development Goals

By Jenny Hoang

As two major events, The UN Summit 2010: Millennium Development Goals, 2015 and the Clinton Global Initiative 2010 Annual Meeting, are underway this week, another shorter event occurred the other day, also in New York.

Only 95 minutes long, Tedx Change: The Future We Make, organized by the Gates Foundation, was a great way to kick-off this exciting week of change. If you don’t have the time to watch hours of livestreaming from the CGI or UN Summit events, I highly recommend this smaller time commitment if you’d like a healthy dose of inspiration for your work as a change agent. The best part is you don’t even have to add air miles to your carbon footprint to get it!

Melinda Gates partnered with Tedx Change to create an event for the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The major themes that came out of this talk, which I am certain will also emerge during the CGI and UN events, are:

  • Change is possible, we are making progress
  • Learn lessons from innovations in every sector
  • Commitment to change must come from everyone in the community
  • Women and girls are the social groups that can make major social change happen

While in wholehearted agreement with all of the major themes, I’d like to focus on a single important subtheme that touches all of these themes: localization.

The Coke Business Model
Melinda Gates puts localization in the context of the Coca-Cola business model. In the 1990s in Africa, Coca-Cola learned to “tap into local entrepreneurial talent” and started giving out small loans and training to local people which lead to the creation of microdistribution centers.  The leveraging of local talent is successful for two main reasons:

  1. local people have the ability to reach remote regions that commercial transportation cannot
  2. locals understand the customers and market of that specific community better than a foreigner can

Coke realized the importance of these learnings and decided to invest. There are now 3,000 microdistribution centers employing 15,000 people in Africa, which accounts for 90% of the Coke sales there.

Melinda makes the point that change agents must learn from this innovative model, and employ this same idea to create social change.

Captain Condom in Thailand
Mechai Viravaidya is the Founder and Chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), whose work focuses on family planning and its connection with child mortality rates, poverty and disease. Mechai showcases the importance of localization through family planning initiatives.

Challenges with family planning in Thailand:

  • 80% of the population were in remote villages that were too far to benefit from family planning resources
  • there are a lack of doctors that could prescribe birth control


  • train village shopkeepers to properly educate and dispense birth control and provide condoms

This solution was successful for the same reason the Coke localization model is. It put the tools in the hands of influential community members that could bring solutions to remote areas and who understood the local needs and practices.

By Africans For Africans

Finally, perhaps the most moving talk about the need for localization came from Graça Machel, a renowned international advocate and President of the Foundation for Community Development. Graça gave several examples where individual African countries were able to solve daunting social issues through political clarity and planning.

She ended her talk with an extremely important point. She notes that everyone seems to have a plan for Africa, from the US to Europe. However, what is needed for true success of the MDGs in Africa is a 30 year plan that is “generated by Africans for Africans.”

Her point, as well as those of the other speakers, are well taken. Change cannot happen without the cooperation and collaboration of the local communities in any country. We have long outgrown the myths created by the Heart of Darkness and the “White Man’s Burden.” In order to have true equality and thus, real progress, we must recognize the dignity of every human being and their ability to contribute to uplifting themselves and their own community. This does not come into conflict with our need to come together as a global community, nor our duties as a human race to help and support one another. The point here is that we must invest in communities in order to make them self-reliant, otherwise we will never be a “sustainable” world in any sense of the word.

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