Monali Shah is the Marketing Communications Director, West Africa of The Coca-Cola Company. Monali is the 2019 MarketingWorld Awards African Marketing Professional of the year. The vivacious and hardworking Monali is Kenyan born and raised, and has led with her team the most well known campaigns for the Coca-Cola company in Africa – Coke Studio Africa, Billion Reasons to Believe, Share a Coke, Copa Coca-Cola, FIFA World Cup, global Taste the Feeling campaign to name a few.


In this exclusive interview with Akin Naphtal & Taiwo Esan Monali bares her mind on professionalism as regards marketing communications and campaign experience. Excerpts…



With experience spanning almost 2 decades in Marketing, can you share your experience so far?

I’ve had quite a non-linear career journey, built through varied experiences in different industries, roles, geographies.

I started my journey as a DJ in the night and a sales person at a CD store in the day, My experience spans across Strategic Brand and Marketing Communications in FMCG, Telco, Banking and Music, football & Entertainment Marketing, both across Sub Sahara Africa.  I’ve also had the opportunity to live & work in Kenya, South Africa and now Nigeria.


What is your most memorable campaign & activation?

There are two and both drive a purpose close to my heart – Bringing people closer together and celebrating Africa.

Coke Studio Africa makes me proud of the small part we have played in bringing the African continent closer together and in showcasing Africa to the world through music. Coke Studio not only provides an experience and showcase of African Music and Talent through our TV, Radio & Digital content series, it also helps in connecting African Artists, Producers and other talent to each other in and outside of the continent.

And then there’s the ‘Phonetic Can’ campaign we launched in December 2018 in South Africa. The insight behind this campaign – It’s been 25 years since Apartheid ended, there’s 11 official languages in SA and people still can’t pronounce each other’s names. A name is very personal and the beginning to any connection. So what did we do? We set out to Introduce South Africa to South Africa through the ‘power of names’. Really simple – in addition to the names, we added phonetics to our Coke packs to ‘Invite people to step out of their comfort zone and just try’ in the words of our Creative Director at FCB, Suhana Gordhan. Again, this campaign helped us connect and bring people closer together.



What role has your brand played in CSR, and how well has it contributed to the consumers and the general community?

One of the reasons I have such a deep love and passion for our company is our purpose of Refreshing the World and Making a Difference.

I’m especially proud of our Safe Birth Initiative in Nigeria and Ivory Coast which focuses on helping tackle the high rate of maternal and newborn deaths in both countries and our 5×20 initiative where we are enabling the economic empowerment of 5 million women around the world through our value chain by 2020. So far over 1 million women across Africa have been empowered under this program.

Other initiatives include Project Last Mile which involves working with other partners, governments and local Coca-Cola bottlers to develop tailored, last mile delivery solutions to strengthen public sector ability to reliably get life-saving medicines and vaccines to people when and where they are needed most, RAIN (Replenish Africa Initiative) project which is providing access to clean water in underserved communities and our World Without Waste program that accelerates initiatives by our Company to manage plastic pollution by promoting recycling and curtail packaging waste pollution.


Aside the industry, what other industry would have caught your fancy and why?

Entertainment! Music has been a lifelong passion so if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, I’d probably have continued my journey as a DJ and in the Music Industry. I’m one of the lucky ones though, as what I do now allows me to be part of this industry in some way.




How can you describe your leadership style

Let’s start with Leadership is hard, sometimes really hard. So, I don’t know if I have a ‘style’ but through my journey I have learnt a few things that I choose to focus on:

  • Being flexible to understand the motivations and personalities of those I work with because everyone is different.
  • Humility & Kindness: Sounds cliché but one of the most important virtues of being a leader and not letting the chair you sit on get to you
  • Trying to ensure those you work with are having fun and enjoying the ride
  • And most importantly, knowing that you come second







If you are to make 3 wishes, what would they be?

Only 3?

  1. Be at the beach in Maldives right now
  2. Be a DJ again
  3. A kinder, happier, more open world. Most importantly a no prejudice world, where no one cares about age, sex, colour, religion etc.


How do you balance work and family life?

These two ways have been working for me:

Firstly knowing what’s important in both areas of my life and what is a non-negotiable for me and the people important to me. For e.g. on the family front, since they are in Kenya and I live in Nigeria, one of our non-negotiables is spending physical time together atleast once every 6 months, speaking on phone atleast once every 2 days.

Second is through integration & flexibility – in today’s world, it’s hard to say we only work 9-5. I sometimes have longer working days or weekends and at the same time, I attend to personal matters in the ‘9-5’ working day when needed.

What Piece of advice would you give young entrants who sees you as a role model?

  • It’s really important to love and be passionate about what you do
  • There’s no substitute for working hard. Even the smartest people in the world work very hard.
  • Deep down, you know what YOU are capable of – choose the uncomfortable, say yes when everyone else says no, listen to your gut
  • Figure out what your edge is, what makes you stand out, what’s unique about you and then don’t be shy about it. Embrace it even if it seems different or out of the ordinary.


You have recently be crowned as the African Marketing Professional of the year at the 9th MarketingWorld Awards in Accra, how do you feel about this honour?

Ecstatic. Thank you for this honour and I hope to continue playing a role in putting Africa on the global map.