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South Asia: Public-private partnerships provide Tsunami relief and reconstruction - A deepening collaboration

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The tragedy and magnitude of the 26 December 2004 tsunami disaster touched our common humanity and prompted an outpouring of help from across the world. An unprecedented amount of support came from the private sector, and Coca-Cola was among many companies that quickly provided assistance.

The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC), its bottling partners and employees contributed over $20 million, including both financial and in-kind donations, to the tsunami relief and reconstruction partnership efforts. Local company volunteers worked around the clock to help transport bottled water and emergency supplies to disaster areas. Of the direct cash support from TCCC, over $1 million was contributed to and matched by the United Nations Foundation (UNF). Both the United Nations and TCCC were also keen at making this more than a cash contribution. As partners, the idea was to support the longer-term reconstruction effort, with a focus on sustainable, community-based water and sanitation activities. In early discussions, for example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asked whether Coca-Cola could loan a staff member on a full-time basis to help build and manage new partnership activities. TCCC agreed and that was when my career at Coca-Cola took a new and unusual turn-in November 2005, I began a one-year "loaned executive" assignment at the UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok, Thailand.

The secondment is something of an experiment for Coca-Cola and UNDP, indicative of how both are looking to be more creative in their approach to public-private partnerships in a way that goes beyond the traditional check-writing mentality. At the heart of this partnership is an opportunity to support the ongoing tsunami recovery efforts, learn more about "partnership for development" and contribute to an issue of particular importance to TCCC, the United Nations and the international community, namely water and sanitation. The project activities build upon ongoing UN tsunami recovery efforts and are assisting affected communities in remote areas of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives. The projects, designed and implemented in close collaboration with local authorities and community leaders to ensure local relevance and ownership, support the goal of "building back better".

In Thailand, the project fits into a broader partnership between the Government and UNDP to bolster the recovery of Lanta Island in the southern part of the country. Our activities are helping tsunami-affected communities like the fishing village of Sanga-U to plan, operate and manage a series of initiatives to alleviate water shortage problems. For example, ten check dams have been built along the Sanga-U village stream to collect and retain rainwater for use in over 100 households. Says local fisherman Young Hantalay: "Normally this stream dries up in the dry season. Now we have some water to spare. It is a big relief!" In Sri Lanka, the UNDP-led project activities are reaching two badly-hit areas of the country: Kattankudi in the east and Kalupe, Hikkaduwa in the southern district of Galle. Work in both locations is focused on providing improved access to water and sanitation, as well as building greater community awareness on water, sanitation and hygiene issues.

In the first phase of the partnership work in Indonesia, The Coca-Cola Foundation Indonesia provided $300,000 in parallel funding to the German Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources to help the Indonesian Government obtain comprehensive hydrogeological data on water resources in the Pidie and Sigli districts of Aceh. This resulted in the first-ever comprehensive mapping of freshwater supplies in the hard-hit region. Building on these results through a joint UNDP/United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) initiative, the second phase provides safe and regular water supply and sanitation facilities to roughly 7,700 people in six villages in the districts of Pidie and Aceh Besar.

In the Maldives, the project, jointly implemented by UNDP, UN-HABITAT and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), is providing a sustainable sanitation system in Dhambidhoo, one of the first islands in the country outside of the resorts and the capital city to provide sustainable sanitation services for all its residents. Lessons learned are intended to provide the Government and the development community with a model that can be applied to future island-based environmental sanitation projects in the Maldives and beyond.

The partnership activities between TCCC and the United Nations have involved a lot of "learning by doing". Here are a few of the initial lessons we have learned together:

- In addition to providing support towards immediate disaster relief activities, it is important that resources are invested in helping communities rebuild and respond to longer-term needs. In partnering with UNF, TCCC in the immediate aftermath of the disaster was able to allocate funds to be set aside for targeted rebuilding projects that fit into the overall national recovery plans.

- Multi-stakeholder partnerships require lots of time, patience and ongoing efforts to build mutual trust. From the outset, a shared commitment is essential, as is clarity regarding what each partner brings to the table. The UNF/TCCC post-tsunami water and sanitation efforts were built on the collective trust formed over many years of partnership activities between the UN agencies and Coca-Cola operations around the world. This partnership has provided the foundation upon which UNF and TCCC have since developed and launched The Global Water Challenge, an initiative that brings together corporations, foundations and aid organizations. The aim is to save lives and reduce suffering in the developing world by providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education.

- When it comes to public-private partnerships, one promising area for continued focus centres around what companies can contribute to the development agenda in a way that goes beyond writing a check. This can be in the form of employee volunteers and secondments, access to distribution networks and making available technical expertise and marketing, and communications skills. What are the prerequisites for this work? For starters, new thinking, willingness on both sides to experiment and constant, open communication between the partners involved.

- Ensure that everything is anchored locally and demand-driven. Multi-tiered partnership projects need to have ownership at both the headquarters and country levels. Project activities must be locally driven, taking their cues from the needs and aspirations of the communities they are seeking to serve. As in the Sanga-U example, this means constantly listening and responding to community demands and priorities, and involving community leaders from the outset in decision-making, planning and project design.

- One further observation is that partnerships between UN agencies and companies like TCCC are more likely to work when there is a fit with the company's vision, goals and core expertise.What has been clear is the excit-ing point of intersection between where the UN system is heading in its partnership approach and where the Coca-Cola system is going in its vision around sustainable growth, water stewardship and stakeholder partnerships. For the United Nations, the partnership imperative has been articulated in a series of reports and leadership statements, while at the same time TCCC continues to change and evolve.

A great deal of work has gone into developing and rolling out our sustainable growth vision worldwide. This new framework centres on five "Ps"-people, profit, partners, portfolio and planet-all interlinked and underpinned by a series of shared values, such as collaboration, innovation and leadership. Under "planet" and "partners", efforts around water-an area of considerable focus at TCCC-will continue to offer a point of convergence in our partnership work with UN agencies and the wider development community. Our "Manifesto for Growth", as we call it, is a vision of where we want to be and what we want to accomplish over the next ten years and beyond. Now, it's all about action.

Building on this new thinking around sustainable growth, and the increased spirit of collaboration between Coca-Cola and the UN system, TCCC became a signatory in March 2006 to the United Nations Global Compact. In many ways, this is a natural extension of the company's work on sustainable growth and part of its commitment to deepen the way it engages. I believe there is much TCCC can and will contribute in terms of advancing the goals and principles of the Global Compact. There is plenty of work ahead, but the resolve and commitment is there. Through this secondment assignment, I have been privileged to work with and learn from some outstanding colleagues in the UN system and I am definitely enthused about our deepening collaboration ahead and the continued opportunity we have through partnership to make a real difference in people's lives.

This is part of a series of articles exploring the many facets of partnerships supported by the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP). In the series, some of the UN private sector and foundation partners will convey their views on how partnerships with the United Nations are being built and are achieving impact on the ground.