By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta Women’s Foundation’s annual “Numbers Too Big to Ignore” luncheon on Thursday was exactly that.
The keynote speaker was Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Co., who spoke about women being the economic drivers of the 21st Century.
And then in a most dramatic fashion, at the end of his talk, Kent announced that the Coca-Cola was giving $500,000 to the Atlanta Women’s Foundation — half as a grant to help empower women and girls and the other half as a challenge grant — a challenge that the hundreds of women attending the lunch at the Georgia World Congress Center seemed more than willing to meet.
Even Barbara Mosacchio, CEO of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, had no clue that Kent and the Coca-Cola Co. would be making that financial gift.
Before the lunch started, the chair of the event — Danita Knight — announced that the event already had raised $430,000. And at every place-setting, there was an envelope attached to a cookie so all the attendees could make a contribution on the spot.
A few men at the luncheon were visibly impressed by the powerful women in the room and their ability to raise money for the 25-year-old organization.
Kent, who was introduced by Coca-Cola senior vice president Ingrid Saunders Jones, described the power of women on a global scale. The Coca-Cola Co., which will celebrate its 125 anniversary in the coming year, is now in 206 countries around the world.
When he became CEO nearly five years ago, Kent said that he found out that 70 percent of the company’s customers were women, but that profile was not reflected in the company’s management team. “There was a mismatch between that 70 percent and that leadership team,” he said.
So Coca-Cola has now established a “Women’s Leadership Council” within the company to help promote careers of women inside the company.
It also has launched another major initiative — Five by Twenty — to empower five million more women “outside the walls of the company” by 2020. “These are goals that we believe can be achieved,” Kent said.
In the past 25 years, the Atlanta Women’s Foundation has raised $10 million, which it has distributed to about 250 “worthy” organizations, Kent said, adding that the foundation has “created real and lasting positive change in our community.”
Speaking more globally, Kent said that “women will play a very transformative role in shaping our economy and society in the next decade.”
The number of women entrepreneurs are increasing both in the United States and in other key countries around the world.
“Instead of talking about it being the China Century or the India Century or even the BRIC (Brazil, Russia India and China) Century, I believe it’s much more appropriate to talk about it being the Women’s Century,” Kent said. “Women’s economic empowerment, economic growth is going to drive the world’s economy in this century.”