Feeling strange and afraid is the emotion of the locals when they first saw the Ekocenter model. After 5 years of deployment in Vietnam, Coca-Cola has turned the strange feelings into those of familiarity, expanded its network to 12 centers by the end of 2019 and writting many human-interest stories.

In many remote areas, clean water, the Internet, or women empowerment have long been a luxury, and the financial concern makes people ineligible to gain access to such things. On that basis, Ekocenter was established to support people under difficult circumstances to approach a more progressive life, and to change the perception that is deeply embedded in people’s subconscious regarding the role of women in the family and society.

“Fruitful results” coming from humane ideas

In 2015, in the middle of Linh Trung ward (Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City) "sprouted" a center that provided free clean water, solar power, Internet services, necessities, and daily community activities. This news was spread among people living around the center, who mainly came out of curiousity without thinking about using the facilities or visiting the place often.

From where people come to see and experience purchasing a few necessities, this location has become a familiar address for many "loyal" customers. Ekocenter is also the place where every morning, the elderly gather to play badminton or exercise. Meanwhile, the local women can have a socializing space, creating more joy in life, instead of being around the housework.

Especially, since the center opened until now, the nearby residents seemed to be more attached to the lively conversations about the social issues that are of interest. The center was like a door opening to the world when equipped with the Internet and computers for people to look up information for daily work or news.

And so, people in Linh Trung were no longer unfamiliar with Ekocenter - the global initiative of Coca-Cola to bring practical values that contribute to improving the quality of life. Starting from that center, Ekocenter expanded, covering many provinces and cities with difficulties in Vietnam.

As a retired veteran, Mr. Vuong Dinh Thang spent his time on cattle-breeding and farming to create more happiness during his retirement. Working around with a few vegetable plots and chickens in a small alley in Cua Lo town (Nghe An) brought him a lot of fun, but it also made a veteran like him separated from knowledge on the Internet or social information. On the day of Ekocenter's arrival, Mr. Thang only heard vaguely about this through the announcement of the local medical center and the Youth Union -- he still had no idea about this community support center.

Before, the free medial examination group had a few visits a year to this countryside; however, it was the first time Mr. Thang saw such a permanent office providing clean water and health checks for people. “Not only offering free medical examination and treatment, the center also changes the mind of the people here so that they know how to take care of their health and have proper prevention instead of only coming for health check after catching the disease. The program is very popular among the locals, about 80% of people in Nghi Hai ward participated,” said Mr. Thang after a free examination at the community support center.

Unlike Mr. Thang, Ms. Dang Thi Duong decided to start up a business once again when she turned 60. At the age that most people would be happy with just doing housework and having fun with their children, her decision surprised her family and neighbors. More than just economic goals, she wanted to help the women in the area to do business, be able to control their lives, and create values for society.

Ms. Duong chose Thanh Toan tile bridge village (Hue) to begin her new journey on services and tourism. “This community tourist destination of Hue city has been selected by Asia Community as one of the three typical community tourism villages of Vietnam in 2016. However, tourists often do not stay here long due to the limitation in tourism services,” said Ms. Duong on the great potential of accommodation services development, when there is high demand but limited supply of infrastructure and services.

It is not easy especially for women to pursue such big goals but starting at the age of sixty. She had to research, learn everything and re-disseminate to the cooperative, who did not know much about modern tourism. Fortunately, during the start-up period, she learned about Ekocenter and was introduced to the social enterprise model that was making remarkable progress, creating positive and stable values ​​for people. At Ekocenter in Hue, besides trading necessities and developing tourism in traditional craft villages, she was also provided with other infrastructures to improve people’s quality of life as well as offering facilities such as computers, the Internet, coffee, and clean drinking water. The center also supported her in staff training, opening business classes, and online training programs. It was the decision to establish a social enterprise that solved the problem of reconciliation between the economy and sustainable development for the locality.

According to Ms. Duong, this will be a place to train and universalize computer knowledge for people, especially women and children. Thereby, they can gain access to new information and practice the necessary skills.

“I expect more new services from the women that attended the 'Starting a business' training. After the course, Thanh Toan's tourism cooperative team will know how to develop new services and tours, and market effective products and services to travel agencies and tourists. Hence, it will attract more people and keep them staying longer, not just visiting the historic bridge, taking pictures and leaving,” said Ms. Duong.

Furthermore, Ms. Duong's business also plans to work with the Women Entrepreneurs Council and Coca-Cola Vietnam to organize English classes for service providers. Through communication, people will be able to introduce more about unique local products.

Extending the journey of connecting the community

Mr. Thang and Ms. Duong are two of the many people who were supported by Ekocenter by providing clean water, free medical examination and women empowerment. They are individuals who connect with each other through Ekocenter, which aims to create a more civilized community with improved quality of life.

From the first center formed in 2015, Ekocenter has expanded to 12 locations, contributed US$ 36 billion and created 576 jobs by 2018. Instead of awarding existing results, Coca-Cola Vietnam tends to look towards the future of more sustainable development by building a foundation of health and knowledge for the people. And the efforts of this foreign business on the journey for the community are not only supported by local people, but also recognized by the society.

Significantly, Coca-Cola has recently been awarded at En Xanh 2019 - Vietnam's program to seek business initiatives for a humane and sustainable community. One of Ekocenter's biggest impacts lies in addressing issues around water use and the effects of climate change. By the end of 2018, the project has contributed to providing 2 billion liters of clean water to more than 70,000 residents, preserving and rehabilitating 450 hectares of floodplain livelihood land.

Ms. Le Tu Cam Ly - Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability (PACs) Director of Coca-Cola Indochina, shared that “The Ekocenter project has been receiving a lot of support from social enterprise partners, local governments as well as local people. This is one of the leading corporate social responsibility activities of Coca-Cola, and the 2019 En Xanh award htestifies to our relentless efforts. Coca-Cola hopes to continue bringing the best solutions and constantly creating more positive changes for the community and society.”

In the future, Coca-Cola will continuously spread the inherent values of the project by building more Ekocenters in the remaining provinces and at the same time providing digital technology activities such as online library, audio book, etc.

To prepare for the sustainable development journey, Coca-Cola needs to be prepared in terms of economic potential, a team of experts and solutions ready for a series of challenges ahead. However, such difficulty does not seem to stop this foreign enterprise on the endless journey of helping the community.