The pace of Africa’s economic and social progress came into focus during last week’s World Economic Forum on Africa, which celebrated its 25th anniversary by “Reimagining Africa’s Future.” Bringing together leaders from across government, civil society and business, the event provided a valuable platform to exchange ideas and set priorities to ensure Africa fulfills its potential and achieves sustainable, long-term growth.

Coca‑Cola has long recognized the continent’s infinite promise, from when the first Coke was served in Africa over 87 years ago to today. We are now proud to be present in every African country. With a younger and growing population, strengthening economies, increased urbanization and improving infrastructure, Africa is accelerating into a period of growth that is certain to be most exciting time in its history.

For companies such as ours that are committed investors in Africa, supporting this growth is both an honor and a tremendous responsibility. We directly employ more than 70,000 associates across Africa, and our business is firmly centered on operating with a local mindset – we hire locally, manufacture locally, distribute locally and source locally. Yet we know there is more to be done.

Two of the key learnings we have taken from almost a century of serving African consumers are the importance of investing in community prosperity and the value of public-private sector partnership. We know that the strength and sustainability of our business is tied directly to the strength and sustainability of the African communities we serve. Businesses, including ours, simply cannot be successful if they are serving failing societies.  

We also know that partnerships across government, civil society and the private sector offer the most certain way to make a meaningful difference; each partner brings unique capabilities and together we can address the vast opportunities and complex challenges that exist

Nathan Kalumbu speaking at World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa.


At WEF Africa, I was pleased to unveil a new initiative from The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation focused on the critical area of youth empowerment. Africa’s greatest resource is its people and we need to be investing in their talent. The African continent is the youngest in the world, with 65% of the population under 35 years old and yet despite 10 to 12 million youth entering the workforce each year, there are only around 6 to 7 million jobs in the formal sector.

The new Youth Empowered for Success program will provide 25,000 young Africans in six countries with life skills training, business skills training and access to employment and mentoring. We’re making an investment of $4.5 million in the first phase of the program, but our ambition and aspiration is much greater. The partnerships we have today with the likes of Mercy Corps, Harambee, Kuza Biashara and Microsoft and those we create in future will help us accelerate and scale the initiative to meet our ambition of reaching 500,000 youth by 2020.

During WEF Africa, we also reflected on the progress since we first launched our 5by20 commitment to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020. The achievements and progress to date in reaching several hundred thousand women in Africa alone show evidence of the success of partnerships and more critically the ambition and aspiration of women across Africa.

Revisiting the theme of “Reimagining Africa’s Future”, it is clear that the greatest role that private sector, governments and civil society can play is removing the barriers that exist to success, growth and prosperity. If we hold back the energy and ambition that burns so bright across Africa, then we are holding the entire continent back. With a fast-growing population, there are already over a billion reasons to believe in Africa. And the number and promise of these reasons are growing each and every day.

Nathan Kalumbu is president of The Coca-Cola Company' Eurasia & Africa Group.