The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School
Student Perspective: Why I Pursue Business with a Purpose
Jenna Gebel, a second-year MBA candidate at Wharton, wrote about her summer internship working in sustainability at Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters.
I will never forget the moment when I found out I was accepted to the Coca-Cola Office of Sustainability internship program.
Sitting in my MBA corporate finance class, I quickly glanced at my computer screen and saw the “Congratulations!” email pop up in my inbox. I immediately shrieked with excitement and made such a scene that the professor actually stopped his lecture to make sure I was okay!
I was thrilled to receive this email because I knew it was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a glimpse into The Coca-Cola Company. As a marketing major, I was eager to learn more about the iconic brand and to better understand the company’s cutting-edge marketing strategy. But more importantly, as a young person looking to create a positive impact in the world, I could not have imagined a more perfect place to be.
This summer I am working on the EKOCENTER project, a Coca-Cola initiative that is empowering communities through social enterprise. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the project, EKOCENTERs are modularly designed kiosks that provide access to basic goods and services such as safe drinking water, solar power, health supplies and wireless connectivity.
These kiosks are planned for some of the most “off-the-grid” areas in the world – communities where people lack basic necessities we often take for granted.
Working on this project is the perfect fit for me because I have been fascinated by the social enterprise model since I first learned of the concept during my university years. In college, I worked closely with Ashoka, a worldwide network of social entrepreneurs, to equip students with the skills necessary to start their own social ventures.
In my first job at Goodwill Industries, I helped the organization sell donated goods to create job training and employment opportunities for those who needed them most. And now, through my internship I am exploring new partnerships and programs to scale the EKOCENTER model across the world.
But you might be wondering: What exactly does “social enterprise” mean? While there are many definitions out there, I like to think of social enterprise models as the marriage between profits and purpose.
Of course, corporations have a primary obligation to their shareholders to generate economic value. Still, many companies have done a great amount of strategic philanthropy, whether that takes place through foundation work, charity or volunteerism. But there are only a few organizations exploring new ways to simultaneously create value for both the business and communities they serve.
What I love most about my internship is the team’s commitment to think big and disrupt the status quo. Since day one, I have been encouraged to share bold ideas and brainstorm new ways to scale the model and bring more services to the people who visit EKOCENTERs every day.
Still, Coca-Cola recognizes it can’t do this alone. A major part of my internship has been brainstorming ways to strengthen “golden triangle” partnerships and make EKOCENTERs a reality for more communities.
As I look to enter the corporate world upon graduation, I hope more companies will explore social enterprise to create sustainable impact. In my opinion, there need to be more corporations that are willing to step up, think big and explore new ways of doing business that serve both societal and shareholder needs.