Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed recently traveled to the fast-growing community of Soweto, South Africa, where he met with two female entrepreneurs – Naomi Masilo and Bathini Tati – who have benefited from Coke’s 5by20 women’s economic empowerment initiative. We caught up with Mayor Reed to learn more about his visit:

How would you compare the entrepreneurial spirit you saw in Soweto with the entrepreneurial spirit of the city of Atlanta?

Atlanta is a city of dreamers, filled with creative people driven to improve the lives of their families. I felt the same spirit in Soweto, where so many women, especially, have become entrepreneurs because their survival depends on it. These women are strong and resilient, but they need support to grow their businesses and thrive. That’s one reason we came up with the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI), an incubator for emerging businesswomen that provides a safe, collaborative work space in a technologically advanced environment. It’s a place designed to address the unique challenges women have as entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Atlanta is quickly developing a reputation as a space that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation for people of color, and African-Americans in particular, as well as immigrant communities.

Had you been to South Africa before?

This was my first visit. I was honored and delighted to join Ambassador Andrew Young and his wife, Carolyn, on the trip. Andy and Carolyn were married in South Africa in 1996 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was honored to join them as they celebrated 20 years of happiness together. This trip is one I will not soon forget. South Africa has a special connection to Atlanta because of the fight against Apartheid. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it is still a country facing urgent challenges.

What inspired you most about your meetings with Naomi and Bathini? What did you learn? What surprised you?

When our group arrived at Bathini’s home, I was at the back of the group. She was searching our faces, asking, “Where is the Mayor?” When she saw me, she lit up and then turned quickly to go back into her house. She took off her apron, checked her hair and freshened up, then came back outside. She was radiating with pride as she showed us the little shop she operates out of her home, selling Coca-Cola, snacks and original dishes she prepared in her small kitchen.

Naomi was just as proud to show us her shop. Both she and Bathini demonstrated their professionalism and character throughout our time with them. While we were standing outside Bathini’s home, a group of kids were playing soccer in the alley. Bathini told me how they play soccer and spend time near her shop every day. In the evening, she gives them her unsold products, bringing smiles to their faces. Through the success of her business, in part due to the 5by20 business skills training courses she attended, she is able to feed more than a dozen children who would otherwise have gone hungry. As I was listening to Bathini, I could not help but think of my own daughter, and how powerful the actions of one woman can be in improving her community.

Naomi and Bathini are two individual women, but the skills they’ve learned through the 5by20 courses have changed their lives and supported them in changing their communities. Meeting them underscored for me how important the 5by20 program is. The scale at which this initiative can change our world cannot be understated. The 5 million women entrepreneurs Coca-Cola aims to enable by 2020 are just the beginning. The power of those 5 million turn is multiplied when they turn around and mentor young girls, feed hungry kids, invest in the education of their families and bring pride to their communities. I am so thankful for the opportunity to meet Bathini and Naomi and see the work of this essential program first hand.

Scott Taylor (left), president of Carter; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Bathini, an entrepreneur based in Soweto; Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall; and Michael Green, founder of Pansophy Capital.

Were there specific moments, interactions – or things you saw – that stood out?

These entrepreneurs’ homes and shops became community centers as children and families gathered around them, talking, playing soccer, sharing a meal. They were marketplaces for fellowship and connection, as well as for commerce. In a place like Soweto, I can imagine having a safe, comfortable space is a special, valuable thing worth protecting.

What did these women entrepreneurs have to say about the impact Coca-Cola/5by20 has had on their respective businesses?

Bathini, in particular, was so proud to share what she has learned through the 5by20 courses. She and Naomi had no choice but to become entrepreneurs – their survival was in the balance. But through their work with 5by20, they have done more than survive. They have thrived. Because of the business and marketing skills they learned through 5by20, their shops are among the most successful, and they have real hope for their future. Naomi shared with us that, thanks to the success of her store, she is able to send her son to private school and provide adequate care to her disabled little girl, changing their path forever.

5by20 is changing their lives and the lives of their families. Their work is also having a positive impact on their neighbors and the larger community. And they are offering role models for girls, showing them what is possible for women entrepreneurs by offering some hope and opportunity.

What can Atlantans – or all Americans, for that matter – learn from Naomi and Bathini?

Self-reliance. Perseverance. Getting back up when life knocks you over. Never giving up, even in the toughest moments. These are the lessons Bathini and Naomi have taught the young women and children who look up to them.

Why are programs like 5by20 important?

Naomi and Bathini are perfect examples of why Coca Cola’s 5by20 program is so important. With the support extended to them by The Coca Cola Company, through access to education and training, access to credit and mentorship and through their work in the Coca-Cola supply chain, these women have been able to operate profitable businesses. Then, they are able to turn around and put those profits to work improving the lives of their own children and the children in their communities. Study after study shows us that when we invest in women, that investment ripples across the community. The results are more powerful when we work with women. Through their partnership with the 5by20 program, they have developed business skills they can use beyond their stores, if they choose. And I can’t say enough about these two women as role models. A generation of young people will grow up knowing that a better life is possible, because they have seen someone just like them who showed them what success looks like.

5by20 is The Coca-Cola Company’s global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020. Specifically, that means the small businesses the company works with in over 200 countries around the world. Since the initiative launched in 2010, it has reached more than 1.2 million women across 60 countries.

5by20 programs are implemented with key partners to help address the barriers that prevent women entrepreneurs from succeeding in the marketplace. Together, Coca-Cola and partners increase access to business skills training courses, financial services and assets and networks of peers or mentors. The program that Bathini and Naomi participated in is in partnership with Coca-Cola, UN Women and Hand in Hand. Learn more.