The Buzz builds for Africa Gathering

Africa Gathering Banner Logo

Africa Gathering is a bunch of innovators and enthusiasts for the development in Africa; Ed Scotcher and Mark Simpkins are leading lights. They kindly allowed me to present the ColaLife story at their first UK event back in April (2009) >>more. Ed and Mark have also been generous with their networks and I have made some great contacts and been able to generate good publicity as a result of my involvement in Africa Gathering. A couple who spring to mind are Jane Young of Scrmblr and Tim Unwin, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D and Professor of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Anyway the buzz is building on Twitter (look out for #agathering) for this weekend’s event which kicks off this evening and runs all day tomorrow at The Hub, Kings Cross, London. Jane and I will be going along this evening and I will be there tomorrow too. My son and I are walking the Giant AidPod from NESTA to Kings Cross starting at around 4:30pm. Here’s our route. So if you’re in the Grays Inn Road area, give us a wave! Anyway, part of this buzz around Africa Gathering was a follow from @ideasforafrica which seems to be the Twitter face of Africa Rural Connect. Their follow of ColaLife drew me to their website where they are asking for ideas for the alleviation of poverty in Africa. This isn’t the core theme of ColaLife but I thought I would put it on anyway. You can see it, endorse and comment on it here.

The text of the entry for Africa Rural Connect

ColaLife: Opening Up Coca-Cola’s Distribution Network to Save Lives

The ColaLife idea is based on two facts:

FACT 1: You can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere you go even in the most remote areas of developing countries

FACT 2: 1 in 5 children in these areas die before their 5th birthday from preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea. This is not a new problem. 4,000 young children die everyday in Africa alone and this has been the case since records began.

We want Coca-Cola to open up their distribution channels to take ‘social products’ such as oral rehydration salts, high-dose vitamin A, water purification tablets, or whatever else is required in a particular locality to save lives, particularly children’s lives. What’s distributed would be decided by local expects not Coca-Cola.

Our campaign is summed up in this 30 second video

We have been campaigning seriously since May 2008. We have convened thousands of people around this idea, mainly through Facebook (initially a Facebook Group – 8,000+ members; and more recently a Facebook Page 500+ fans).

The exposure of the idea in this way has made the idea better and better. We are now focussed on the concept of an ‘aidpod’ to carry the ‘social products’. An explanation of Mark III of the AidPod is here. The AidPod is wedge-shaped and is designed to fit in the un-used space between the necks of the bottle in a crate. This has several big advantages including:

  • The AidPod concept is easily replicable (80% of Coca-Cola is distributed in 350ml bottles and crates in Africa)
  • However, at the heart of the AidPod idea is local determination. Local health experts decide what’s distributed, when and to where
  • The AidPod breaks the link between Coca-Cola and any particular ‘social product’. Some ‘social products’ would sit comfortably with Coca-Cola (eg Oral Rehydration Salts) others may not (eg condoms). The association is between Coca-Cola and the ‘life-saving AidPod’

We have very recently incorporated ColaLife as a UK not for profit and we are now trying to raise our first funding. One of the first things we want to do is engage designers, preferably in Africa, to build and test prototypes of the AidPod (full business plan available on request).

It has been really hard work involving a lot of persistence and some set backs but we have already achieved a lot. A timeline is here. We have appropriate high level contacts in Coca-Cola at a global level and we have brokered a partnership between Coca-Cola and AED to enable fieldwork to start in Tanzania. This process is described here and was published with the approval of Coca-Cola and AED.

We need our own funding so that we can inject further pace into the project to make it a reality. We won’t rest until either:

  1. the idea is proved not to be viable or
  2. AidPods are found in Coca-Cola crates throughout Africa.

The founder and leader of the ColaLife campaign is Simon Berry (me!). I have 12 years development experience and have lived and working in South America, The Caribbean and Africa. I had the ColaLife idea in 1988 while working in NE Zambia but the only communication tool I had was a telex machine and I could get no traction for the idea at all. Social media changed all of that.