An old African proverb says "If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together."

When our Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent launched EKOCENTER in 2013, this idea was central to our vision for the EKOCENTER concept

Connecting the “Golden Triangle” of business, government and civil society in EKOCENTER communities, could we address all our sustainability priorities (Water, Women, Well-Being) in one place? By joining forces, could we provide a variety of goods, utilities and services, and by doing so uplift communities in an economically self-sustaining model? 

Two years later, we are well on our way to making this vision a reality. We’ve deliberately taken our time to learn how to best implement our concept.  

Now, as we get ready to take EKOCENTER to more and more communities, here are five lessons that will help shape the future of our journey. After all, we’re only getting started:

1.  A shared vision is key to a successful partnership. Along the way, we’ve encountered people and organisations who saw EKOCENTER either as a business proposition or as a philanthropic endeavor. Yet, our most successful partnerships – ones that have added the most value to our communities – have been with those who understand and share our vision to combine profit with purpose. This shared vision is around the concept of sustainability itself, a belief that for true sustainability to happen everyone must benefit.   

2.  EKOCENTER is about empowerment. At the beginning of our journey, we tried to do and create almost everything ourselves. What we’ve learned is to leave it to the experts. Let your partners do what they are good at, and you will be more successful. Take SolarKIOSK, a Berlin-based company that designed and built the current version of the EKOCENTER – the small, light-weight, durable modular design that is easier to ship and much cheaper than the earlier versions, which were made from a repurposed shipping container.

3.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution for providing safe drinking water. While there are a number of advanced technologies and organisations that specialise in the process of water purification, no single one fits all communities. We’ve learned to be “technology agnostic” in order to provide the best fit for the needs of a particular community. We’ve also learned that, in our current system, it’s simply not possible in some places to provide access to safe drinking water. For example, the water table may be inaccessible, or it may be polluted beyond usability. For these reasons, not all EKOCENTER communities today have access to safe drinking water, but we remain committed to finding solutions through the social enterprise model and have already provided over 50 million liters of safe drinking water to EKOCENTER communities. 

4.  Complete buy-in from the local community is essential to an EKOCENTER’s success. In places where we’ve prioritised speed over community support, we have experienced slower, more limited success. Today, our best EKOCENTERs are in places where together with our local bottling partners we engaged the community before we ever broke ground – where we made an effort to help them understand how they can utilise EKOCENTER to help develop their community. 

5.  One EKOCENTER = infinite possibilities. An EKOCENTER is more than a kiosk that provides water and employs a woman entrepreneur. By having a physical, solar powered space in a community, you can really help communities thrive and develop. Education, entertainment, 3G services, or uninterrupted refrigeration – the possibilities are endless for what any one EKOCENTER can provide. 

Some of these lessons and learnings are not new. They’ve been with us for the past 129 years, and have been at the foundation of our continued success. The only difference is that now we’ve been granted the opportunity to see them through a new lens, in new context, with new people and new technologies at play. What’s never changed is the fact that if we want to go far, if we want to succeed, we need to go together.