The Coca-Cola Foundation Emphasizes Local Community Support

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Helen Smith Price

Together, The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Foundation have pledged more than $100 million in support of global COVID-19 relief efforts. In Bulgaria alone, The Coca-Cola Foundation supported the United against COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund with a grant of $200,000, helping the country’s most vulnerable individuals—elderly people, the chronically ill, single parents, minorities—as well as frontline workers. The Coca-Cola System in Bulgaria also donated drinks and meals to frontline workers and families in need throughout Bulgaria and has given the Bulgarian Red Cross access to its prime advertising billboard space around the country. Together, donations by The Coca-Cola Foundation and the Coca-Cola System for COVID relief in Bulgaria have exceeded $350,000. In an interview for the ABF newsletter, Ms. Helen Smith Price, president of The Coca-Cola Foundation, talked about The Coca-Cola Foundation’s support of communities around the globe and particularly its coronavirus relief support in Bulgaria.

America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF): Unlike many COVID-19 donations, which are recipient-specific and aim to support healthcare systems and workers in particular, your support for coronavirus relief efforts targets initiatives helping entire communities. What are your guiding principles in determining how to allocate relief funding?

Helen Smith Price (H.S.P.): This year, The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded grants supporting COVID-19 relief efforts in over 100 countries. We recognized early on that a large number of countries would need support and that each country might have specific needs. Our grants included a wide variety of immediate support, including protective personal equipment for hospitals and community volunteers, medical equipment and supplies, psychological support, and food and other necessities for vulnerable community members during the pandemic.  

ABF: How does The Coca-Cola Foundation choose whom to support, and what appealed to you most about the mission and goals of the recipient organization in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Donors’ Forum?

H.S.P.: When you look at Coca-Cola’s business model, it is not just a global company; it is a local business in every one of the 200 countries where it operates. Our model for the Foundation is similar. We operate a global fund that gives locally to communities around the world. The global scope of the Coca-Cola system is a great advantage for us. Our Foundation can reach out to our business colleagues in specific geographies and rely on their expertise and local community knowledge to help the Foundation identify potential grantees. They understand first-hand which organizations are actively working in the local community.

In this specific case, our local Coca-Cola team recommended support for the United against COVID-19 campaign in Bulgaria because it was the first impactful fundraising initiative in the country. It was providing emergency relief to help a wide variety of affected groups, including those who are homeless, chronically ill, or physically or mentally disabled. Additionally, they trusted that the fund would be impactful since it was supported by credible partners including Bulgarian Donors’ Forum, the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the US embassy in Bulgaria, and the local branch of the American Chamber of Commerce. Finally, the Coca-Cola Foundation has experience with community disaster funds like this. This model has worked well in other countries because of the flexibility they offer in responding to local emerging needs.

ABF: What drives your giving philosophy, and how do you normally choose the causes you support?

H.S.P.: The Coca-Cola Company is committed to contributing at least 1 percent of its operating income from the prior year. Each year, it gives back to communities a portion of what it earns. The more it earns, the more it gives back through its philanthropic arm, The Coca-Cola Foundation, and company contributions. Our goal is to make a difference in communities around the globe.

There are so many needs across the globe, and we receive thousands of requests each year to support many worthwhile community programs. Although we cannot support them all, each proposal is evaluated on a one-on-one basis to determine its alignment with the needs of the local community and our funding priorities: protecting the environment, empowering women, and enhancing communities.

ABF: Has COVID-19 changed your giving priorities, and if it has, how?

H.S.P.: COVID-19 is a special challenge for communities all over the globe. We have always assisted communities during times of crisis, and we moved quickly to offer communities support and to assist Coca-Cola employees. Through our global system we were well positioned to respond quickly. Our commitment to our priorities has not changed.

ABF: Are you still evaluating grant proposals, and what are your giving priorities as the crisis evolves?

H.S.P.: We are continuing to evaluate new grants. Our priorities remain the same: protecting the environment, empowering women, and enhancing communities. These categories allow us to be flexible in addressing local community needs. We are beginning to see grant requests that combine a typical area of support with more immediate-term issues caused by COVID-19. For example, we routinely support women’s empowerment programs around the world, and we have now received several requests for programs that help women who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.

ABF: What is the impact Coca-Cola aims to achieve through its giving?

H.S.P.: Our goal is to improve the quality of life in communities around the globe. The Coca-Cola Foundation has given back more than $1 billion to communities worldwide since its inception in 1984.

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