Report on trip to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Beerse, Belgium

Last week (26-Aug-15) we visited the Janssen Pharmaceuticals HQ in Beerse, Belgium. We were invited jointly by Janssen and Johnson & Johnson to address the staff who work on the Beerse Campus at a ‘Townhall” event (200+ people). We also contributed to a Janssen Management Board Meeting and led a discussion with members of the Global Public Health Team across the globe using Janssen’s group working system. The Townhall presentation can be viewed and/or downloaded from SlideShare here.

Townhall audience, ColaLife Presentation, Janssen PhramceuticalsIt felt a bit like going home. It was in Beerse where our relationship with Johnson & Johnson and Janssen began when we were the first external organisation to be recruited into their ‘Innovation Boot Camp’ and subsequently successfully pitched our idea for the trial in Zambia to a panel of Vice Presidents for support. The Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust were the first to commit funding to the trial in Zambia (COTZ – the ColaLife Operational Trial in Zambia).


The feedback from the Townhall presentation on our Facebook Page was very positive, including:

Amazing story! It’s incredible what you can achieve with relentless (com)passion and motivation. And saving thousands of African children along the way… Speaking about impact on the lives of many families… what a success! Good luck with all your future endeavours. I hope they will be as successful as this one. Very happy and proud that J&J and Janssen were able to contribute to this project.

Great presentation of an inspiring project! Still a long way to go but an incredible achievement so far. Thank you so much for sharing the ColaLife story with us Simon!

“It’s not about what they need, it’s about what they want…”
Truly inspiring – thank you!!!

It was also a privilege to be able to contribute to a Management Board meeting and a discussion with the Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health Team. Although you wouldn’t expect any commitments to be made during visits like this I am sure we will have some impact on the way some people will think within Johnson & Johnson especially with the company’s move to consider ‘impact’ as a key performance indicator not just ‘profit’. We will continue to build our already strong relationship and will wait and see what happens.

Key lessons

So how was it for Janssen? It was very interesting to read a summary of the day produced by an employee for the Janssen intranet. This summary pulled out the following learning points:

  1. It’s about listening to target customers
    • Patient centric design – design with target customers through early consultation.
    • It is not about what the population needs but about what they want.
    • Aspiration, awareness & branding are key.
  2. It’s about creating value along the value chain
    • The product is affordable but everyone who touches the Kit Yamoyo product along the distribution chain adds value and makes a profit.
    • ColaLife has used a ‘cost plus’ approach rather than a ‘price minus’ approach to pricing with the price set at a level that the majority of target customers can afford.
  3. It’s about building a wide ecosystem
    • ColaLife has engaged with hundreds of stakeholders along the way both at international level with big global health players as well as local retailers in rural Zambia.
    • The breadth of this engagement has allowed ColaLife to bridge the commitment of the ‘Global Access to Medicine Community’ to the reality on the ground.
  4. It’s about iterative innovation
    • The packaging and the design of the kit has been an iterative process. From testing the concept of piggy backing the Coca-Cola supply chain to realizing that the pull of the supply relied in creating value and designing a desirable product.
    • ColaLife has experimented with different approaches, different packaging, different model of supply chain, different manufacturers.
    • It’s not about getting it right straight away to prove your concept, it’s about improving your concept along the way.
  5. It’s about collecting evidence
    • ColaLife has invested a lot of time and resources in collecting evidence, tracking impact and improving their model. The founders have given a particular attention to documenting their journey from pilot to scale.
    • All impact data collected (quantitative and qualitative) are being collated in a “how to” manual.
    • The aim is to use the model as a catalyst for change and disseminate the data to inspire others to adopt and adapt the kit to further improve access to medicine at the last mile.
  6. It’s about open innovation
    • ColaLife has been a firm believer in the open innovation process – where you don’t come forward with a finished idea but you share an initial concept widely for people’s input and feedback.
    • ColaLife has dedicated time and investment in defining a business that is open-ended and continuously improving.
    • The aim was to build a strategy and a plan that shows continuous innovation, leading to follow-on complementary and transferable solutions well into the future.
    • ColaLife is not looking at expanding but believe that the model can be transposed by local organisations working within the health/food ecosystem in a given country.
    • ColaLife’s strategy for impact is to make their findings freely available to others so that they can adapt them to their own circumstances to solve the problem of access of ORS and Zinc.

I wish to thank the people at the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust and Janssen Pharmaceuticals for all the work they did organising this visit and making me feel so welcome.