Encouraging freshwater conservation in Belize and beyond

Cindy Noe’s summer internship at The Coca-Cola Company showed her the ways in which public corporations can partner with non-profits to make a positive environmental and social impact.

During the summer of 2016, Cindy Noe found herself exploring the mangrove forests of Belize, meeting manatees, and learning about the impact of river water quality on nearby reefs. She was interning at The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC), and joined a company site visit to Belize for one week of research. There, she witnessed firsthand the fruitful collaboration between Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for freshwater conservation in the catchments of the Mesoamerican Reef. 

During her time at TCCC, Cindy was a member of the Global Sustainability Team, working to support Greg Koch, Senior Director of Global Water Stewardship. She researched projects that integrate watershed conservation with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions in underserved communities to inform Coca-Cola’s future water stewardship strategy. In addition, she worked with the other interns to recommend sustainability strategy improvements to the Chief Sustainability Officer and Global Sustainability team. Cindy also had the opportunity to present her water stewardship research at Stockholm World Water Week.

“Cindy transcended the typical stereotype of an intern,” Koch says. “She hit the ground running, added tremendous value and quickly established herself as a peer. Her synthesis and primary research on the integration of WASH and freshwater conservation contributed to the global state of practice, and we are now using her work to advance such integrated projects, starting in Central America.”

Cindy’s visit to Belize showed her the various ways in which public corporations such as Coca-Cola can partner with non-profits like WWF to make a positive environmental and social impact in the communities where they have strong relationships. She also learned about the various mechanisms to foster innovation at Coca-Cola, and the challenges of investing for the long-term given quarterly reporting pressures.

“I learned about the difficulties for public companies, in particular, to fund and support innovation, specifically sustainability innovation,” Cindy says. She believes this objective can best be accomplished with clear goals, empirical evidence, and values-based leadership.

Cindy was interested in TCCC from the get-go, given the company’s expertise in water stewardship, her primary interest. She attended the 2015 Net Impact Conference in Seattle, introduced herself to the Global Sustainability Team recruiter, and then applied to the internship through the posting on the national Net Impact website.

Cindy was Co-President of Net Impact at Sloan and Co-Director of the MIT Water Innovation Prize. She is also a candidate for the MIT Sloan Sustainability Certificate. She is a three-year dual degree student between MIT Sloan and the Harvard Kennedy School, and will graduate in 2017 with an MBA and in 2018 with a Master in Public Administration (MPA). She is also currently working with the Sustainability Initiative’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Julian Koelbel, and Paul Reig at the World Resources Institute on a project to standardize and publish global data on watershed management to help improve water governance.

 “The most important aspect of my time at Sloan has been the community of like-minded Sloanies in the Sustainability Certificate, who have helped me develop my ideas about sustainability and supported me to take risks,” Cindy says. She knows this community will continue to support her after graduation.

This network is precisely what drew her to MIT in the first place. “I was attracted to MIT Sloan because of the humility of the students, and the fact that Sloan is very learning-oriented,” she recalls. “I’ve learned lessons I will carry with me as I develop as a manager and lead organizations.”