Exclusive interview with Dorcas Onyango: Head of Sustainability for Coca-Cola Southern & East Africa. On 14 May, the Coca-Cola Community Water Roundtable, a side-event during African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa, will gather critical inputs from leaders in the water sector. 

Dorcas Onyango

Why is water important to Coca-Cola in Africa?

  • The Coca-Cola Company has been operating in Africa for more than 90 years. (Ref 1) The first Coca-Cola sold on the continent was in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Today we are present in every country across Africa and have over 100 bottling plants and about 3,000 distribution centres on the continent. We are one of the largest private employers, providing jobs for more than 70,000 people. (Ref 2) We bring people brands that they love, and that can be found in the all four corners of the continent. That is why we are an intricate part of Africa’s social fabric.
  • For Coca-Cola, water is at the heart of our business.In addition to being our primary ingredient, water is central to our manufacturing process and necessary to grow the agricultural ingredients on which we rely.
  • Access to safe water remains a major challenge in many of the communities in which we operate and we have made it a priority to improve reliable accessibility to safe water for millions of Africans.
  • We plan to continue to:
    – Improve our overall water-use efficiency
    – Partner with governments, NGOs and communities to assess, understand and chart effective, long-term water stress solutions
    – Replenish the water we use back to communities and nature.

How do you manage water in your operations?

  • Water security is central to Coca-Cola’s water stewardship strategy. Through TCCF and Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), Coca-Cola partners with water utilities and other local authorities. Part of our strategy is designed to manage water risks identified through water risk assessments:
    • Each of our bottling facilities is required to conduct a Source Water Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) to assess environmental risks and determine any potential impact of our water use on communities.
    • Once we have an SVA, we develop a Source Water Protection Plan (SWPP) which outlines measures to mitigate against identified risks. The SWPP is developed and implemented in collaboration with communities, local governments, and civil society organizations to ensure that we are taking critical stakeholders’ perspectives into account. (Ref 3)
  • Beyond these processes, we actively seek to create shared opportunity by investing in the development of the communities in which we operate.

Tell us more about the Coca-Cola company’s global water strategy?

  • Many of the projects we support are in collaboration with local communities and governments and other recognised third-party partners. We align our actions to the priorities of local and national governments.
  • Partners enable us to access development expertise and support that complements our strengths. Examples include: World Wildlife Fund (WWF); USAID; The Nature Conservancy; Water for People; Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP); Global Water Challenge; UN-HABITAT; and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  • By 2020, we aim to safely return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to what we use in our finished beverages.
  • We are currently in the process of rebuilding our water strategy, with a 2030 vision. We are doing so through a robust consultative process with sector thought-leaders and stakeholders working at the frontline to address the global water crisis.
  • Our 2030 global water strategy is geared towards addressing this growing water crisis, while continuing to sustainably grow our business. This requires bold actions both internally, to improve our water-use efficiency and sourcing, and externally, to contribute to water security for all, particularly in the face of climate change.

What in your view are the main challenges to providing safe water supplies to all Africans?

  • One of the biggest challenges across the globe, including Africa, is access to clean and safe water. This has frustrated poverty reduction efforts and hindered economic prosperity. For instance, sub-Saharan Africa loses 5% of its GDP per year because of water-related challenges.
  • To achieve SDG 6 (“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”) there is a need for increased government accountability and prioritisation of integrated water resource management.
  • In addition, there is a major funding gap to be bridged to ensure safe water access for all. Major infrastructure must be built, and governments must present bankable projects to regional/international financial institutions, (e.g. World Bank, African Development Bank).
  • Finally, we need increased national, regional and international coordination between governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and NGOs. We need to harmonise efforts and ensure investments are effective and deliver the intended outcomes.

Any specific case study or success story you can share?

  • The RAIN programme is our clean water access programme for communities in Africa which was launched by the Coca-Cola Foundation in 2009. Our goal is to improve access to clean water for 6 million people in Africa by the end of 2020.
  • To date, we have benefited 3 million people across Africa and, economically empowered 23,000 youth and women and replenished nearly 9 billion litres of water to communities and nature annually.
  • RAIN is one of the largest private public partnership focusing on water in Africa. Through collaborative action with over 140 partners, RAIN is in over 2,750 communities across 41 African countries.
  • In Ghana, Malawi and Mali, the RAIN-supported CARE Water Smart Agricultural project is empowering women small-holder farmers through improved agricultural practices. At least 40,000 women will benefit from increased production and improved food and water security for themselves and their families.
  • Here in South Africa, we have partnered with The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, to remove invasive alien plants in critical watersheds and improve management of water resources, including one of the four watersheds that support Cape Town. The projects will also create economic opportunities and skills transfer for local communities.

What does water stewardship mean to Coca-Cola?

  • We strive to lead by example by maximising our water use efficiency while emphasising sustainable water management practices. Because water is at the heart of our business, we look at it from an ecological, social, and economic perspective: in addition to being our primary ingredient, water is central to our manufacturing processes and necessary to grow the agricultural ingredients on which we rely; safe, accessible water is also essential to the health of communities in which we operate; it is critical to ecosystems and indispensable for economic prosperity.
  • We focus our water stewardship efforts on areas where we can have the greatest impact including: a) improving our overall water-use efficiency; b) managing wastewater and stormwater discharge at our plants; c) working with governments, NGOs and communities to assess, understand and chart effective, long-term water stress solutions and implement SWPPs; and d) replenishing the water we use back to communities and nature. (Ref 4).
  • Through our Water & Development Alliance with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and our Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), we have demonstrated that the private sector can (and must) make a meaningful contribution to address Africa’s water challenges. As we speak, we have positively impacted 3 million lives through diverse water-based interventions and we are on track to achieve our objective of reaching 6 million people by the end of 2020. The programme runs in 41 out of the 55 African countries. Nearly 9 billion litres of water are returned to communities and nature annually. Though significant, we know it is not enough to ensure safe access for all. We know we will not be able to do it alone and most importantly, not without governments in the driver’s seat. That is why we put a strong emphasis on partnerships and work with over 140 partners to create Africa’s largest private-public partnership for water.

What is your vision for water management on the continent?

  • A reliable availability of clean and safe water for society and for business.
  • Through our community water work on the continent over the past decade, we have developed a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented through water. We need to look at the whole picture and work together towards integrated water resource management – upstream and downstream, at all levels (e.g., community, industry, service provider, policy).
  • We believe the continent can achieve SDG 6 and ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030; however, we need to put our heads together and take bold collective actions. The time is now!

What has surprised you in the course of your journey in water sustainability etc.?

  • While water stress and challenges continue to grow, the world actually has enough fresh water to meet growing demands if it is correctly managed and respected.
  • Water sustainability is actually very complex. Water security is linked to both energy and food security: also known as the water, energy and food security nexus. As the demand for all three resources continues to grow, this nexus is key to ensuring sustainable, economic and environmental development.
  • From a different angle, it is also rewarding to know that you are part of a team and a company that has sustainability at its core, with a commitment to addressing socio-economic challenges where it operates. It is heart-warming to venture beyond the office walls and witness the impact of our community projects on the ground. My work appreciation increases when I see the positive impact of our projects on small-holder farmers first hand. As a result of sustainable agriculture training provided through our projects, these farmers now have increased economic opportunities.

The Coca-Cola company is hosting a water roundtable as a side event during African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa – can you give us a preview of what this will entail, who is invited to this etc.

  • Our approach to water stewardship includes a commitment to engage with diverse stakeholders since our programmes, performance and water issues impact all users.
  • Stakeholder engagement takes place in a variety of formal and informal setting across the entire global Coca-Cola system, informing our decision making and helping us to continuously improve and make progress toward our 2030 goals.
  • Through the Coca-Cola Community Water Roundtable, a side-event during the 2019 African Utility Week, we hope to gather critical inputs from leaders in the water sector on emerging risks, scalable interventions and best practices, and partnership opportunities.
  • This roundtable is part of the consultative process we are undertaking to produce a robust and effective 2030 global water strategy with local insights. Over the past couple of months, we have organised similar sessions in different markets across the globe. Our goal is to solicit insights on best practices and hear practical experiences from water sector stakeholders to inform our water strategy.
  • Contributions from partners in NGOs, governments, technical experts, environmental and advocacy groups will also be used to find ways to measurably improve the lives of millions of Africans through access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

What will be your message at the event?

  • Water is a valuable natural resource whose management requires all our commitment and collective actions.
  • Potentially, we would like to identify scalable interventions or shared investment opportunities.

Anything you would like to add?

  • Meeting our 2020 goal of replenishing the water we use doesn’t mean we will consider our replenishing work complete.We plan to continue to:
    –  Improve our overall water-use efficiency
    –  Partner with governments, NGOs and communities to assess, understand and chart effective, long-term water stress solutions
  • “Our goal is to do business the right way, not just the easy way.”
  • I would like to thank our partners who have played a critical role in our journey to date and invite other stakeholders across the sector to join us in building a water secure Africa for all, for generations to come. We are excited for the next chapter!

1. https://www.coca-colaafrica.com/stories/the-coca-cola-company-turns-90-in-africa
2. https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/21/africa/coca-cola-africa-mpa-feat/index.html
3. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/mitigating-water-risk-for-communities-and-for-our-system
4. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/about-water-stewardship

Dorcas Onyango is Head of Sustainability for Coca-Cola Southern & East Africa Business Unit. In this role, she will leverage Coca-Cola’s value chain to generate shared value for the business and communities in need. Prior to her current role and as the Director for Programmes and Partnerships within The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF), she led complex multi-geography community upliftment projects. On behalf of Coca-Cola she stewarded the efforts of Coca-Cola and its partners from civil society and government to implement water, health and youth empowerment projects as well as 5by20, a global initiative by the Coca-Cola Company to empower 5 million women by 2020 through inclusive business strategies. She is implementing Coca-Cola’s signature Water Sanitation and Hygiene programme, RAIN and was instrumental in the scaling up of Project Last Mile. She is skilled in strategic planning, project management, strategic communications and stakeholder engagement management. Dorcas has over 15 years working experience in Development, Marketing, Advertising and Corporate Communications, Sustainability and Change Management functions.

Dorcas is passionate about development especially water, education and, women & youth empowerment. Her vision is an Africa where young people are realising their potential irrespective of their circumstances. Therefore, serves on The Board of Akili Dada, an award-winning leadership incubator working to increase African women’s access to decision-making and, is actively involved in promoting development in the community where she comes from in Western Kenya.

Dorcas is pursuing an MBA at the Africa Leadership University which awarded her the 2019 Chairman’s Scholar, a position that celebrates leadership in the private or public sector by recognising African business leaders with a track record of leading both in the workplace and the community. She is also a graduate from University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing option). She studied Advertising and Marketing Communications Management at the Red and Yellow School, Cape Town, South Africa and, holds a certificate in Business Sustainability Management from Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, part of the University of Cambridge.