[Excerpted from a speech delivered by Ishteyaque Amjad at the AIF Clinton Fellowship Endpoint Public Seminar, on 28th June 2019, in New Delhi]
Recently, I had the privilege of being in Cannes, for an international festival on creativity. I was honored to be part of the Jury for a category on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
This Festival is all about advertising, communications, film-craft, communications and related fields, inclusion of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ was an extremely welcome change. The entire process of judging over 900 entries was a humbling, and yet enriching, experience.
The Jury for this category comprised of 10 people. I was the only Indian. Apart from me, there was one more person who came from the corporate sector. I had the unique distinction of representing two interesting walks of life: Coca-Cola, the company that has defined creative brand communications over one century and takes pride in being a top-notch creative marketing communications company. And I also represented my country, India.
When introducing myself, as I put my thoughts together, I realized that I represent a country that is one of the fastest growing large economies in the world but unfortunately, it is also home to millions of poor children who are malnourished or do not have access to basic needs like education, healthcare and food. A country which is a beacon of hope and a symbol of unfulfilled aspirations. That is the paradox we live in and we have a collective responsibility to address these issues.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can be largely categorized into people, planet, peace, prosperity and most important to me, partnerships. What distinguishes these Goals from the earlier MDGs – to me, it is the 17th Goal of Partnerships. We live in the connected world, where we co-exist with each other. We all represent the same world and exactly the same causes. This is why the idea of partnerships, between multiple agencies, makes so much of sense.
At Coca Cola, we make beverages, a basic need of human life. Our packages also leave footprints, a reality we must accept and work together to tackle. One of the issues we are facing is plastic. We will have to enforce the Sustainable Development Goal # 12 Responsible Production and Consumption and look at the complete life-cycle of plastic – how we consume it, how we discard it, how we put it in the right bin and how it goes through the process of recycling and recovery. We will have to look at the complete picture else, we will never ever be able to accomplish that goal.
Some of you may ask, why don’t we ban plastic? If we ban plastic, it will have a massive impact on the way we live. Plastics are extensively used in our everyday life, wherever you look you will probably find something made of plastic. Whether it’s medical equipment, aircraft, building and construction, automobiles and household appliances. However, the same material that is popular for a wide array of products, also has its disadvantages. We must come together to find out how these issues can be addressed in a sustainable way. To me the impact of responsible consumption is far more sustainable!
With the American India Foundation, we are running a very interesting program called ‘Support My School – Mission Recycling’. In 2011, when we started the program, it had a different purpose. We did things like revitalizing toilets and hand-wash stations, installed filter systems, rain water harvesting structures, and libraries in rural schools. When we completed 1000 schools, we asked ourselves, what next? We had this huge infrastructure-based program we were doing, and we could probably scale it to 5,000 schools or 10,000 schools but that’s not enough.
That’s when the American India Foundation and we at Coca Cola came up with the idea of evolving it into a mission for a cleaner, progressive India. In 2017, we looked at schools to become the change agent. Today we are working in close to 5,500 schools, reaching out to a million plus children. We are essentially using these schools to become the community change agent in making sure that the waste is segregated and properly handled. These children go back to their community and tell them how plastic and other waste needs to be handled and segregated.
That alone is such a powerful idea. If 50,000 schools are reached through this program, we are looking at a transformative movement in some of the most marginalized communities in the world through these schools, one that which will change lives and the ecosystem in the country.
In conclusion, I wish to congratulate you all for the successful completion of your program and urge that we need to move, in the humblest way, from being a part of the problem to becoming part of the solution! Fairly basic things like taking a smaller shower, not wasting water, not littering on the road, using a bicycle, just doing the simple things goes a long way in this cause. This applies to all of us, regardless of whether you represent the government, academia, development or corporate sector. Each one of us is a potential polluter or a positive contributor to this world. The choice is there for us to make and when we choose to partner together, the effect will be there for all of us to see!!!
Thank you for listening…
Vice President of Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability at Coca-Cola India & South West Asia