Coca-Cola seems to get everywhere in developing countries, yet essential medicines don’t. Why?
ColaLife uses the same principles and networks that Coca-Cola and other commodity producers use, to open up private sector supply chains for a new, easy-to-use, affordable anti-diarrhoea kit, containing oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc supplements. We began with the concept of using space in Coca-Cola crates – but have extended into a range of innovations, some based on Coca-Cola’s expertise and networks – but many based on questioning the status quo.
You can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in developing countries but in these same places, 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from preventable and often neglected causes like dehydration from diarrhoea. That’s more than 16 times the average for developed regions (1 in 152).
ColaLife started as an online ‘movement’ in April 2008, and became an independent UK charity in 2011. We have more than 10,000 online supporters, who give a tiny organisation the power to bring together unlikely partners like Coca-Cola, SABMiller, UNICEF and health agencies. We have now completed a locally-determined adaptation of the ColaLife concept, in Zambia – The ColaLife Operational Trial Zambia (COTZ). Based on astounding results, we are now helping local partners to scale-up Zambia-wide distribution of the successful Kit Yamoyo (‘Kit of Life’) and its value chain. Academics estimate that 3 lives are saved for every 1,000 kits distributed. >> Become a supporter
Why ‘unlikely alliances’? To move from a tiny, voluntary-run campaign to getting something big happening on the ground, we needed serious support from big organisations – and to foment real change and avoid ‘business-as-usual’, we wanted to put together some ‘unlikely’ partners. Coca-Cola agreed to advise us, but the first organisation to support the ColaLife Operational Trial in Zambia (COTZ) with funds, as well as training and advice, was The Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust (J&JCCT) and Janssen EMEA. Next to come on board was our majority funder for the COTZ trial in Zambia: the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). Other COTZ funders were COMESA/TMSA, Honda and Grand Challenges Canada. We continue to draw on huge support from packaging experts Amcor and PI Global, collaboration from UNICEF and other health agencies, far-sighted help from the Zambian Government Ministries of Health and Community Development and thousands of individuals who offer everything from expertise to regular donations.
Funding continues to be vital as we move from the trial to market development, but the encouragement and the kudos we get from association with funders is very valuable too. Funders now supporting market development to underpin the Kit Yamoyo scale-up plan include the SUN fund (Scaling Up Nutrition), DfID and ColaLife’s Innovation Award from GSK/Save the Children. Over the next 2 years, we expect the new Kit Yamoyo design and its value chain to be self-sustaining in Zambia, through local manufacture – now underway – and independent distribution and sales through existing channels to market, with all profits going to local actors, including the micro-businesses that serve local communities in towns and villages. We have learnt a lot about supporting mothers and carers who cannot afford the sustainable market price of Kit Yamoyo with discount vouchers; people from across the world contribute to our voucher fund, from individuals to start-ups like Everly. Our international dissemination work is supported by GSK/Save the Children and the Ceniarth Foundation, amongst others.
ColaLife – the organisation – is an independent non-profit organisation run mainly virtually, with very low overheads, and staffed by volunteers. We work through partners in-country, supporting them with project management, communication and innovation skills, as well as funding. Our work is currently in Zambia, but we actively seek to transfer learning, designs and processes elsewhere. Whilst ColaLife seeks to work with corporates to bring about social change we are not affiliated to any other organisation and our work with others does not imply an endorsement of any product or brand. We became a registered charity on 21 June 2011. Our charity number is 1142516. Our Memorandum is here (PDF 586 KB).
ColaLife has thousand of supporters across the world. Without them, we would not have got the attention we needed from the multi-national organisations (for profit and not-for-profit) that we needed to get going and keep going. Hundreds of individuals support our voucher fund – designed to help the poorest customers and strengthen existing supply chains. You can engage with ColaLife online in the following ways:
- Subscribe to this website and get blog posts by email
- Join us on Facebook
- Follow us on Twitter and include the word “colalife” in your tweets
- Subscribe to the ColaLife YouTube Channel
- Join us on Flickr
- Subscribe to our SoundCloud Channel (audio resources)
Key Milestones: 1985 to Dec-13
View on Slideshare
The ColaLife movement is based on three observations:
- You can buy a Coca-Cola almost anywhere you go in the world, even in the most remote parts of developing countries
- In these same places 1 in 9 children die before their fifth birthday from preventable causes. Diarrhoea is the second biggest killer, globally.
- Child mortality is still unacceptably high, despite the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015. In most developing countries less than 1% of children have ready access to simple, affordable, life-saving treatments like ORS and Zinc for diarrhoea – a global recommendation for a decade.
ColaLife in 100 words
You can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in developing countries but in these same places 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple, preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea.
ColaLife, an independent non-profit, worked with Coca-Cola, learning to use the same distribution channels they use in developing countries, to carry a new anti-diarrhoea kit, Kit Yamoyo (oral rehydration salts and Zinc), to save children’s lives.
A short history of ColaLife
ColaLife worked with Coca-Cola to understand and open up the distribution channels it relies on, in developing countries to save lives, especially children’s lives. We began by experimenting with carrying a newly designed anti-diarrhoea kit (Kit Yamoyo, containing oral rehydration salts, Zinc and hand-washing soap) in spaces between cola bottles in crates, as they are carried from district towns to villages by small independent retailers. This is how many fast moving consumer goods reach villages – through ‘pull’ mechanisms based on brand, affordability and desire.
ColaLife was launched by Simon Berry, who had the idea while working on the British Aid programme in 1988, and his wife Jane. However, no real progress was made until Simon floated the idea on FaceBook in May 2008, and Jane won support from UnLtd for the couple to find a way to take the idea forward…
The Aidpod concept
Since May 2008 the original idea has developed in an on-going iterative process. From Simon’s original idea to ask Coca-Cola to remove a bottle from selected crates, Jane suggested a wedge-shaped pod that fits in the unused space between the necks of the bottles in a Coca-Cola crate: the ‘aidpod’ package. This then further developed through customer and stakeholder consultations – understanding the power of design to truely meet the needs of the poor and how and why Coca-Cola and similar products reach as far as they do, in remote markets. Here is a video describing the features of the original AidPod. See also: The low-down on AidPods.
At the heart of ColaLife is the principle of local determination. ColaLife must be implemented in a way which empowers and strengthens the local public health and private sector infrastructure. Here is our very first illustration of that principle:
This is explained in more detail here. Our key principles have developed over time, but have not wavered far from the original list here.
Simon Berry on the BBC’s iPM Programme
On 25/4/08 Coca-Cola committed to ‘trial the ideas behind Colalife’ on the BBC’s iPM Programme. To hear the essential commitment made in the interview click on the play button below:
This is the full 25/4/09 interview:
Subsequent to this interview, Coca-Cola began work with the Government of Tanzania training those involved in the distribution of drugs and so it was suggested that we look elsewhere to undertake the ColaLife pilot. In the summer of 2010 we researched a range of countries for the pilot and chose Zambia. We went on to work with local partners, including the bottler of Coca-Cola in Zambia, SABMiller, on the first trial: COTZ.
If you would like to help ColaLife please do get involved.
Last amended: 1/6/15