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Ashley Vanderpoel helps women in developing countries through Coca-Cola's 5by20 program.
Ashley Vanderpoel helps women in developing countries through Coca-Cola's 5by20 program.

MBA Graduate Ashley Vanderpoel and The Coca-Cola Company are Making a Difference through the 5by20 Program

Elizabeth lives in one of the poorest sections of Naivasha, Kenya. The mother of three operates a thriving business operating a water kiosk and selling vegetables and charcoal to her neighbors. She is a participant in The Coca-Cola Company's 5by20 program, which aims to empower five million female entrepreneurs by the year 2020.

"Not only is she able to provide for her family, but she's providing clean water for the community," says Ashley Vanderpoel, a 2007 Scheller College MBA graduate who works in the Global Sustainability Marketing Group at Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters. She is responsible for the company’s global social media activities supporting its hundreds of sustainability initiatives, a role that places her at the intersection of new technology, marketing, and company causes.

Elizabeth’s kiosk is one of many in the area where local residents can obtain water, thanks to Coca-Cola’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and The Coca-Cola Foundation that helps provides safe, clean water to impoverished communities. Elizabeth manages one of the kiosks — which she helped build — and constructed her vegetable stand beside it.

The Coca-Cola Company launched the 5by20 program in 2010 to demonstrate its strong commitment to women's empowerment by addressing the most common barriers facing women who are trying to succeed in the marketplace, according to Vanderpoel.

Empowerment through economic enfranchisement abets equality, she adds, noting that women represent a significant and largely underutilized economic resource for their communities. Given that a sizable portion of their income is spent locally on the health and education of their children, the community as a whole receives economic benefits as well.

The program is focused on helping women throughout the world who are part of Coca-Cola's value chain.

"We work with partners to implement programs that help women who touch the company in some way," she explains. "This includes farmers, retailers, distributors, recyclers, and artisans. We provide basic business skills training classes where women learn how to balance their books and access financial services such as how to apply for a loan," she continues. "They also learn how to create and sustain a network of peers and mentors."

Vanderpoel cites the example of Phiona of Uganda, who attended the 5by20 classes to help grow her beverage distribution center. She employs a number of other women and is active in helping others who want to follow her example.

Vanderpoel's role in the 5by20 program is to share the stories of women like Elizabeth and Phiona with a wide audience in  the more than 200 countries around the world where Coca-Cola is sold. She has plenty of stories to share.

"For instance, we have a number of artisans around the world who have started businesses by crafting and selling products actually made out of our products," she says. "There are women in the Philippines who are making really innovative bracelets and purses out of the pull tops from Coke cans. There's a woman in Brazil who has invented a way to cut up our two-liter plastic bottles and weave them into purses and bags. There are women in Mexico who use Coca-Cola labels, overruns from our bottlers, that they weave into iPad covers and purses."

The 5by20 program is serious about its mission to empower women through entrepreneurship, Vanderpoel emphasizes, and through a strict auditing process tracks its graduates to ensure the program is having a positive impact.

It also has had an impact on Vanderpoel, who last year traveled to Kenya and visited with Elizabeth.

"Elizabeth invited us to her home — a two-bedroom house with no electricity — and she couldn't have been more wonderful and gracious," she recalls. "She doesn't have a lot of material things, but she's very happy with running her business and proud to not only be able to provide for her kids, but also to help her local community. It was a refreshing perspective."

Vanderpoel said that the trip also prompted an appreciation for some of the things Westerners take for granted, like being able to turn on the tap and get clean water, or to send their kids to school without regard to their gender.

"The experience also made me value my job and the opportunity I have to work for a company that has the resources and commitment to work with local governments and NGO partners to support programs like this."

To learn more about 5by20 and the stories of women like Elizabeth and Phiona, visit and join the conversation using #5by20.


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