5 by 20 Women 2 604

Entrepreneurship for Rural Women, Brought to You by Coca‑Cola


Women living in rural areas of Africa and India are getting a boost into entrepreneurship by Coca‑Cola's Muhtar Kent teaming up with inventor Dean Kamen to distribute clean water distillers. 

At the Women in the World Conference, chairman and CEO of the Coca‑Cola Company Muhtar Kent committed to the distribution of the distiller, called Slingshot, to African women in rural areas. The Slingshot can produce clean water from any fetid source for about one penny per gallon.

Women will become the small business entrepreneurs and operators who will be able to sell the water to villagers. The bonus is that the distiller also produces electricity that can be used to power cell phones and lights, another revenue stream for the budding entrepreneurs. This program is part of the commitment Coca‑Cola made to UN Women in 2011 when Kent announced the 5 BY 20 Initiative. This program aims to lift into business 5 million women-run small businesses by 2020. To date, they have launched programs in 12 countries and have reached 300,000 women. 

I was first introduced to the Slingshot at Singularity University, where Dean Kamen presented the distiller model he had been working on for almost 14 years. He presented the results of a pilot test run in Calcutta, India, that demonstrated the utility and simple operating system that could be implemented by people with no education or previous experience enabling them to become entrepreneurs. The simplicity of the distiller that can generate clean water from almost any refuse or combustible material really impressed me.

The Slingshot is one of more than 440 patents and devices invented by the prolific Kamen. As successful as he is at inventing medical and clean energy devices, one of his proudest initiatives is FIRST, the remarkable robot competition in which junior high and high school kids compete to build robots, all using the same basic box of supplied tools. In 2012, 350,000 kids competed.

This Slingshot distribution program is remarkable proof that corporations can drive innovation, contribute to the communities they serve and activate double bottom line results. Undoubtedly, Kent sees this initiative in the best interest of his company for it is likely he is counting on these women to become distributors of other products from Coke in the future. I am a strong believer in sustainable social entrepreneurship, and this program is meant to be just that. It will be sustainable as it lifts new consumers from rural areas in Africa and India into budding consumers. It's just great business.

Kay Koplovitz is the founder of USA Network and chairman and CEO of Koplovitz & Co. LLC. Follow her on Twitter @KayKoplovitz.

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