Coca-Cola is one of the world's best-known beverages giant. Here one of its senior executives reveals how the multinational is embracing the Clean India mission as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR). There are some startling statistics that should disturb all of us; a United Nations report highlights that India accounts for 90 per cent of South Asians and 59 per cent of the global population that practices open defecation. These numbers, by themselves, make the government's Swachh Bharat mission inspiring in many ways. Swachh Bharat is not just about eliminating open defecation but about changing behaviours, creating awareness about sanitation, and more importantly helping people get the dignity they deserve. A lot rides on the Clean India mission as it is bound to have far-reaching and sustainable impacts besides improving the way our country is perceived. Open defecation exposes people, especially children and pregnant women to infections. Unhygienic living conditions result in poor health and has a direct implication on people's productivity. It is also one of the major causes of malnutrition that results in high child mortality and stunting in our country. Lack of access to toilets forces women and girls to step out at night, putting their personal safety at risk. Many of these aspects hamper the economic performance and prosperity of the country. According to the World Bank, poor sanitation costs India more than $53 billion a year or over 6 per cent of its GDP.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has the potential to be a game-changer and corporate India recognises this fact. India Inc. is stepping in to play a significant role to turn this mission into a success. India's expanse and diversity adds a layer of complexity to a programme of this scale. It is therefore important to understand that neither the government nor private players can make a lasting impact by working in isolation. This is precisely why we at Coca-Cola believe that the 'golden triangle' of government, civil society and communities should establish a synergic relationship. Sustainability is at the very core of our business. Our sustainability framework of 'Me, We, World' defines the essence of our shared vision for how we can catalyse, collaborate and create social value to make a positive difference in our communities as well as the lives of our consumers. Sustainable community wellbeing is accomplished not only through charities but through capability and infrastructure building along with the behavioral changes. This takes time. Children are the bedrock of a thriving society and they shape the future of the nation. Investing in children, therefore, is essentially investing in the future of the country. Very often, children drop out of government schools simply due to the lack of a conducive environment. Studies suggest that lack of basic amenities like toilets, access to safe drinking water and basic infrastructure keeps children away from schools. This problem is even more pronounced in the case of young girls. Lack of separate toilets for girls in rural schools not just makes the girls insecure but creates apathy amongst the parents as they find it unsafe and therefore discourage girls from continuing their schools. Educating and empowering women and girls are known to have multiplier effects. The World Bank suggests that educated women are more likely to be healthier, actively participate in the workforce, earn more and provide better healthcare and education to their families. This growth is passed on across generations and helps develop entire communities. One of the fundamental prerequisites of economic growth is to get girls back to schools and ensuring that they can make the most of that opportunity. To work around this problem, in January 2011, Coca-Cola India and NDTV launched the ′Support My School′ (SMS) public service campaign in association with UN-Habitat, Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and other partners. A public private partnership aimed to empower underprivileged sections of society by providing the necessary water and sanitation facilities along with the required basic infrastructure in the school, ′Support My School′ has been instrumental in bringing back public attention to the state of affairs in rural schools across India. Over the years, the programme has gained momentum and has been supported by several corporate and developmental sector partners such as Plan India, Worldvision India and SRF Foundation among others. The campaign so far has resulted in transforming over 600 (and counting) schools across India into schools with clean drinking water, separate toilets for boys and girls along with basic infrastructure like playgrounds, sports facilities. They have also been encouraged to implement rainwater harvesting. The initiative has had a positive impact on the lives of approximately 200,000 children with several schools even witnessing a rise not just in enrolment figures but also in the children's attendance data. These schools also serve as models to the neighboring communities in triggering the necessary behavioral changes. It is heartening to see the engagement and support from other stakeholders such as the panchayat, District Education Officers, local elected officials, teachers, parents as well as community members. The numbers speak for themselves but what is gratifying is that the campaign has been able to create phenomenal interest in highlighting the urgent need for more initiatives that will improve the condition of schools across the country and enable children to lead better lives. Sanitation is not dirty business. It is a critical utility service and one that calls for a well-rounded approach with technological interventions. The challenge is humungous but we together can play our part in triggering a ripple effect of change, just one step at a time.