What is The Coca-Cola Company’s involvement in this initiative?
Since then we have worked through a nominated contact linked with Coca-Cola’s Government Relations and Corporate Affairs department; we regularly share insights and learning, on how to transfer their expertise to our model, and what we are learning about ‘The Last Mile’ and how multi-sectoral partnerships work out in rural areas.
TCCC invited Simon to participate in a workshop in Tanzania to look at how they could add social value to their business. Contact has been regular and is on-going – it’s been about establishing a trusted relationship.
ColaLife represents a new idea – always risky – so any big corporation is going to be cautious. However, in 2010 Coca-Cola gave us an informal go ahead to develop the concept for an in-country trial, provided that we gain the support of the local bottler. Bottlers are independent companies. In Zambia, we are working with SABMiller.
Why doesn’t The Coca-Cola Company just do this?
One of the first statements we published from Coca-Cola underlined that they know they can’t ‘just do’ something like this. It looks simple, but it’s complex. To get things right, we need consultation right down to local community level, and right up to health ministries. We need partners across a range of expert areas and all sectors: Government, Business, non-profits – and during the trial phases, academia too. We’ve found – unexpectedly – that a small independent team of innovators like ColaLife can play a role as a ‘trusted intermediary’ between all those players, in a way that a single one of them perhaps can’t.
We agree with TCCC that it is an idea with such enormous potential that it is too important to rush or risk getting one or two things ‘wrong’ and setting back the concept.
TCCC is very devolved. Its bottlers tend to be large independent companies, and it is they who decide and manage in-country initiatives. Coca-Cola HQ recognises this.
How will we make sure that Coca-Cola continue to support this idea: is it just a case of growing the campaign numbers?
Having thousands of supporters online, via FaceBook, Twitter and following our blog has given a small organisation like ColaLife a great deal of ‘soft power’. So yes, numbers are important, and a well publicised, open public profile showing a track record is also helpful.
More important still, is to run a number of trials and pilots, to get the learning on what is feasible, successful, and worth developing and supporting. We hope that once we have demonstrated some key findings, the idea will ‘take off’ and be implemented in differing models, by different partnerships in a range of countries.
Is this idea regarded as “open-source”, e.g. do we mind if anyone else does it?
See above! The best people to implement the concept are those who have the long term responsibility for public health in any given country (the Ministry of Health, NGOs) partnering with those who can facilitate the distribution chain (the bottlers) and probably also with pharmaceutical companies.
The idea is more complex than it looks, and goes way beyond the idea of an ‘AidPod’ in a space in a supply chain. But what we want to avoid, is that the AidPod concept and/or the distribution chain ‘space’ is hijacked to distribute items, which do not support the public good. Legally, that’s hard to ensure in every country. Morally, we can do it. In a networked world, if we maintain high numbers of public supporters, we all have the power to ensure this doesn’t happen. We are all potentially Coca-Cola consumers, and these days, consumers have a lot of power to hold companies to account.
How can we test the idea?
A carefully designed and fully evaluated trial is the best way to test the concept rigorously and make sure that the findings are accepted. That’s why the first trial in Zambia involves UNICEF, managing the monitoring and evaluation, and Universities, like Johns Hopkins USA. A summary of the trial plan for Zambia is here.
Where is the money coming from for the AidPod itself?
One purpose of the COTZ trial is to get a clearer idea of costings, and how different business models might work. The Zambia trial funds will cover development of the packaging, with the contents coming from a mix of sponsorship and procurement. In future, there are a lot of different options, with the long term aim of developing a self-sustaining model. This model is likely to be a hybrid, to include a mix: market forces, cross-subsidy and sponsorship, rather than relying solely on international donors or public health funds.
What is the best distribution model for this idea?
We don’t know yet. We don’t know how important the space in the crate really is; or if mimicking Coca-Cola’s marketing techniques, or using their wholesalers is more important. We expect to learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t from the Zambia trial, and then pilot developments in Zambia and/or different versions in other countries. We expect different variants to work in different situations. The business model for the Zambia Trial is explained here.
Can the model be made to be sustainable – ie self-funding?
This is the ‘holy grail’ we are looking for – and learning from the Zambia trial will help to flesh out a lot of the parameters which, at the moment, are just assumptions being tested. Learning as it emerges appears on the blog.
Where does it fit in the Aid or Trade argument?
The ColaLife concept is a hybrid. We don’t believe that ‘Aid is bad’ or ‘Trade is good’. In some situations, like emergencies and relief work, aid will always be needed. The poorest in society will always need extra support – relying only on market forces will exclude the vulnerable and take too long to ‘trickle down’. On the other hand, there is a growing understanding that aid-only initiatives may not be ideal from a whole range of standpoints.
We favour using market forces and the profit motive as far as possible, to build local livelihoods and to make the distribution chain a ‘win-win’ for all the players. Subsidies may come from donors or corporates, and that may look like aid. But subsidies and incentives are not the same as disempowering ‘hand-outs’; they have potential to support trade. Please see this blog post on subsidies.
How can we make sure that it is not used in any negative way or misused?
Any model that is going to work effectively will need checks and balances.
Will corporates ‘sell’ the unused space in their distribution chain to the highest bidder? Not if you, their customers, demand that they remain true to the ColaLife ethos of using the space for medicines, social products and the public good. Using social media, we can hold corporates to account.
Will local traders or distributors open up the AidPods and take out what is valuable? Not if it is against their interest: that is, they earn from each AidPod safely sold or delivered. And not if their customers know what to expect in their AidPod and refuse opened or damaged ones.
Will there be tampering or ‘leakage’ in the distribution chain? Probably – but there are ways to keep it to a minimum: tamper-evident labels and a customer-base educated to refuse opened or damaged AidPods. Tracking delivery – for example, incentivised feedback from retailers and customers using mobile phone texts to check authenticity of packs.
Is there something that already exists that we could use rather than manufacturing from scratch?
There are several issues here:
- the current design maximises the usefulness of the space
- the AidPod shape is very distinctive, and that will help with branding
- with novel packaging, fitting in a small space we looked at ‘designing in’ elements that make it re-usable, recyclable, multi-purpose. The most important design factor so far, seems to be that the pack measures exactly the water needed for one of our new, small, ORS sachets, designed for home use.
If it needs to be manufactured then what materials are appropriate to manufacture in Africa? (environmentalist hat)
Local manufacture is one of our main tenets, once we have proof of concept. Clear benefits include local job creation, cost reduction and environmental benefits in terms of transport. Other benefits could include skills transfer and innovation. But we will have to align design requirements with affordability, materials availability, skill-base and infrastructure. That’s a step we will take when we have gathered more learning.
Does the AidPod itself need to exist at all? What is being added other than the easy ability to put them in and take them out of crates.
- The use of space in crates has excited everyone – but this may or may not be the key innovation. The trial will tell.
- We have designed a composite kit – a new commodity. In the case of the Anti-Diarrhoea Kit, several elements can go together to give better immediate and long-term results: Oral Rehydration Salts, Zinc supplements, soap to encourage handwashing, and even items or processes for cleaning water.
- The packaging offers security of contents, tamper-evident protection and tracking
- Mothers seem to like the idea of a re-usable container
- A pack allows distinctive branding
- A pack allows us separation from the Coca-Cola brand or other brands
- The pack offers possibilities of using the product in more developed markets, for example, the growing middle-class African market, Europe, the USA and Japan, to raise any subsidies that may be required in the future.
What would the health organisations want to distribute – Information? Tablets? Condoms?
Each adaptation will be different, to fulfil different needs. The key thing is that each adaptation is driven by those in the locality with the long term responsibility for public health. The principle of local determination is one of several principles that guide the development of ColaLife.
How would the AidPod be introduced into the Coca Cola distribution network?
At the moment, in the COTZ trial, this happens when the retailer decides to buy BOTH Kit Yamoyo AidPods and a crate of cola at the wholesaler. That’s up to the retailer – the purchases are not linked, and the Kit Yamoyos are bought, and can be carried, in bags of 5. At wholesaler level, systems are more manual and so easier to adapt. Any lorry can cover the distances on tarmac or on better roads – it doesn’t matter if it’s a Coca-Cola lorry or a Medical Stores truck. The logistics ‘gap’ isn’t here. The most valuable part of the Coca-Cola distribution chain, from our point of view, is the so-called ‘secondary distribution chain’. This isn’t ‘owned’ by Coca-Cola at all. It is run by independent retailers and entrepreneurs who use bicycles, carts, buses and so on. We want to incentivise them to pick up AidPods when – and if – they pick up crates from their wholesaler. These networks hold the key to the wide penetration of consumer products into rural and remote areas. So we want to make it as easy and as attractive to them as possible: they can add Aidpods to the crates they are going to carry anyway; or they can buy a bag of 5 AidPods, or a box of 35. A fuller explanation of the business model we will use in the Zambia trial is provided here.
Who takes responsibility for producing the Aidpod packaging and where can this happen?
For the trial, we have a specialist organisation managing this for us: PI Global. They have helped us pro-bono through the early stages.
Later on, we hope to localise manufacture of packaging.
What happens to the Aidpod after it has been used? Does it have another function?
There are a lot of ideas, around secondary use, re-use, recycling, return and so on. But we want to get the findings from the first trial first which will inform the different options. So far, mothers in Zambia seem to like that the pack is re-sealable and re-usable. It is made of rPET and is currently being tested to see if (like all clear PET bottles) it can be used to purify water using sunlight (SODIS).
Who should pay to implement this idea?
Like many of our answers: this depends. We need to separate out this question, into ‘Who pays for the trials and pilots’ and ‘How do you finance a roll-out?’
Trials need controls and scrutiny, monitoring and evaluation, data collection and analysis – these are expensive, but invaluable. Set-up and development costs – like originating the packaging, and producing ‘short production runs’ – are also expensive. This is why we needed donor investment. The main outcomes will be learning and proof of concept, rather than ‘lives saved’.
Roll-out will be something else: main-streaming what we have learnt, bulk buying to get economies of scale, localisation of production, simplification of systems. The ColaLife model is adaptable to different circumstances, different needs and different business models. Different backers or investors will be interested in different aspects. There may be options for cross-subsidy and sponsorship, as well as income generation.
Who would administer the medicines in the AidPods?
This will depend on the model – which should be decided locally – and on the ‘medicines’ involved. At the moment we are testing the feasibility of the distribution system with the simplest, cheapest ‘medicines’ possible. Oral Rehydration Salts may be very familiar to most people in some countries, like Zambia. They do not cause harm. Distribution of other more expensive, complex or prescription-only medicines may be the subject of future trials – or this route may not be suitable for those. Certainly, for medicines which require cold-chain, the distribution model we currently envisage would not be appropriate.
In Zambia the AidPods are bought by retailers and put on their shelves to sell, or exchange for redeemable vouchers. Another model to test in future, might involve the AidPods being collected by a community health worker and administered under their supervision. In this scenario the retailer would be paid once the community health worker confirmed safe receipt. Both the confirmations could be done by mobile phone.
How do you ensure that the sellers at the receiving end don’t sell whatever is in the AidPod?
Depending on the business model adopted locally, selling the AidPod might be exactly what we want. Market driven systems have their own benefits (see next question!). As well as making sure the retailer or carrier has a vested interest in keeping each AidPod safe, a retail model has potential to improve the livelihoods of micro-entrepreneurs (retailers, wholesalers and micro-distributors).
In a model that only channels through the public sector, different tracking and security systems would be needed.
Who distributes (within communities themselves) products such as hydration salts and condoms? How can one ensure this is transparent?
Distribution systems vary in different African countries – which is one reason it is so important for local agencies to determine how – and if – the ColaLife concept would be useful, and how it can best be adapted to local circumstances and needs. In Zambia, ORS packets are free in health centres – but in rural areas, a mother may have to walk up to 30km to her nearest outlet – and then find none in stock. Stock-outs of simple medicines are common in developing countries – especially in rural areas – in both public and private sector outlets. With vast distances, poor roads and many competing demands, public health systems can struggle.
Some countries, Zambia included, have developing networks of community health workers and some – unlike Zambia – have growing networks of small drug stores, like Tanzania’s ADDOs – but both still need ways to access stock. There is interest in training up the owners and staff of these small drug stores – ‘para skilling’. This is something we are doing in Zambia; here the retail private sector pharmacy network is not well developed – there are fewer than 70 pharmacies, nearly all in main towns. We want to investigate the impact of supporting small rural kiosks to sell AidPods (branded ‘Kit Yamoyo’ in Zambia) to local mothers and carers – at an affordable – discounted – price. In developing countries, transport costs can be 40% of medicine costs and anything that could bring that cost down, or improve reach at the end of the distribution chain, is worth looking at seriously.