“I'd like to build the world a home and furnish it with love.” With those hopeful words began one of the most iconic ads in history: Coca-Cola’s 1971 television spot featuring a crowd of hilltop hippies singing “I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)”. 

Almost half a century on, the ambition and optimism of Coke’s cute commercial remain in demand. Forget a home furnished with love – large parts of the planet still lack basic goods and services like power and clean water. In fact, 1.2 billion people don’t have a reliable source of electricity and one in 10 still lack access to safe drinking water.

Interestingly, one company seeking to address these issues is Coca-Cola. The soft-drinks giant has teamed up with public and private sector organisations (including a German company called SOLARKIOSK) to launch Ekocenters – a social enterprise that provides developing communities with general stores selling basic necessities such as clean water, solar power and wireless communication.

Coca-Cola describes kiosks as “modular community markets”, and sees them as a way to protect and empower rural communities, while also encouraging entrepreneurial activities. Each Ekocenter is run by a local woman, and is intended to be a hub of activity by providing a place of commerce as well as a range of goods and services to help businesses and communities thrive, including safe water and clean power.

In this respect, the stores reflect three of Coca-Cola’s sustainability priorities: well-being, women and water. The hope is that by functioning as community centres that provide both entrepreneurial opportunities and a place for vocational skills training and communal activities, the Ekocenters can kickstart social and economic development.

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Consider also the ways that the social enterprise helps address some of the UN’s sustainable development goals. To improve health and well-being, the Ekocenters provide medical equipment and supplies to healthcare facilities, and support malaria prevention programmes by providing drugs and communication on behaviour change.

The centres also help create jobs and and spur economic growth by giving local entrepreneurs resources, space and motivation. And they boost gender equality, in particular, by providing jobs and income to women in these communities.

Finally, too, the Ekocenters give more communities access to affordable and clean energy, through solar power and solar lamps, and to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Key to the social enterprise’s success, Coke reckons, is its decision to work with business, government and civil society, and to leverage their collective thinking, experience and resources. Its partners include blue-chip companies like Dell and Microsoft, NGOs such as MedShare and Global Water Challenge, and government bodies in the various countries in which it has opened more than 100 Ekocenters to date (they include Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Vietnam).

As collective bodies go, they are a far cry from the hilltop singers of 1971. But when it comes to making the world a better place, then unlike the iconic TV ad, it could well be the real thing.

This innovation is part of the Global Opportunity Explorer – a platform which offers direct access to leading sustainable innovations around the world. The Explorer is a joint project of Sustainia, DNV GL and the UN Global Compact. Rooted in over five years of research involving 17,000 business leaders and 17 expert panels, it guides you through hundreds of solutions and market opportunities which address the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Discover more on goexplorer.org, and follow the latest news @sustainia and #GOexplorer.

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