Monday, July 13, 2009

Thoughts on Coca-Cola and Infrastructure

An interesting thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve been in Kisumu is how prevalent Coca-Cola is. No matter where you are, even if you’re in the middle of a rural village, there is always Coke, Fanta, and Sprite available. Whenever there is a special occasion, Coke is the drink of choice. The fact that Coke was able to reach every household in the country, something that few other brands have achieved, is very interesting. Their supply chain has been tailored to each region in all countries, so that in different parts of Kenya, there are different flavors of sodas and different amounts of sugar in their soda, but everyone still has access. It makes me feel like Clarice really is on to something and understands the system so well because she spent 10 years as Coca-Cola’s head of engineering, so she managed all of the plants in the continent. She has 6 patents from her work in the private sector, which includes working for a water treatment company in the U.S., Unilever in Africa, and finally Coca-Cola in Africa. I try not to let her accomplishments prevent me from challenging her ideas and asking lots of questions because I know that in order for ACESS to succeed, we all need to challenge one another to come up with the best program that we can.

Another thing that I’ve struggled to truly comprehend is the lack of infrastructure here. It makes everything that much more difficult. In the U.S. we have access to so many different kinds of things. We take for granted how easy it is to pick something up at the grocery store or head to Wal-Mart. Outside of the city area of Kisumu, many people have never been to a grocery store and a place like Wal-Mart that sells everything is something that they would never even think could exist. It’s not just that people don’t have the same access that I do at home, it’s that they would never even know that it was possible, which means that it isn’t a goal in their minds. Providing information and knowledge about what is out there is a big hurdle to overcome when you’re working with families who have never even been into Kisumu city, which is hardly a city in Western terms. It’s sort of hard to explain, though, the way the people are. It’s something that you just have to experience.

And it’s not just access to material things. People have no access to the wealth of information that is out there on the internet. Their access to books is also limited because there aren’t really places to buy them. Most of the books they use in school are old ones from the U.S. and Europe that are donated by NGOS. They wear clothes that have been shipped over in bulk from the U.S. because we made too many and so many people don’t even have a pair of shoes, especially kids. Everyone has to pay for uniforms if they want to go to school, so some people can only afford the uniforms if they don’t buy shoes for their children.

They also don’t even have good roads to travel on. There is one main paved road and that’s about it. All other roads are dusty, bumpy, and poorly maintained. It’s not like dirt roads in the U.S. It’s like off-roading for us. You can’t drive around here without a four wheel drive car. You wouldn’t make it to any of the villages. Every time people want to buy or sell anything, they are forced to walk long distances on these roads. The people with a bit more money have bicycles, which are very prevalent around here, but many people do not even have bikes. This means that no one has cars except for government officials and wealthy people who have come from other parts of the country to visit. It’s just so different from the things that we have in America that we are always complaining about. The people here are so used to the way things are that they don’t complain about the roads. Most of them are still trying to get access to clean water and power. I take both of those so much for granted that I can’t imagine being in their position.

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