Simon Berry gets OBE – what I feel about it

Simon Jane Charity and Jane OBE edit 2 cropped
Jane and Simon with Charity and Jane, two of the Keepers Zambia Foundation Field Officers (March 2018)

I have been awarded an OBE for services to global child health in the 2023 New Year’s Honours List. Not everyone accepts an award under the UK Honours System. Benjamin Zephaniah refused his, as he said it would be a constant reminder of the rape of his foremothers and brutal treatment of his forefathers. Fair enough. Roald Dahl turned his down, because he’d wanted a knighthood so his wife could be called ‘Lady’. I have more reason than the Fantastic Mr Dahl to wish for that option: my wife and ColaLife co-founder, Jane, should have a 50% share in my OBE, and I can well relate to the adage that OBE should actually stand for ‘Other B*ggers’ Efforts’.

Besides Jane, there are a lot of Other B*ggers. Behind the scenes are ColaLife’s trustees,[1] past and present, who have worked voluntarily to provide the organisational foundation for everything. Funders and backers have stuck out their necks and gone the extra mile.[2] I’ve been singled out for something I didn’t – and couldn’t – have done alone.

In fact, I did hardly any of it; I mostly just encouraged others.[3] For non-clinicians to design a new children’s diarrhoea treatment kit, conceive of a new way to deliver it, get it manufactured and measure its impact,[4] we needed a lot of expertise, much of it crowd-sourced from all over the world. To achieve the ORS/Zinc scale-up in Zambia required policy change, regulatory change, clinical expertise, community-based healthcare, local manufacture, logistics and much more. I have no expertise in any of these areas, but much of it was already there in Zambia – as it is in most countries.

It actually doesn’t take much to gather people around a shared vision to disrupt the status quo and do things differently. The same applied when we decided to take our findings, and others’ evidence, to WHO, to change their recommendation for diarrhoea treatment to ‘co-packaged’ ORS and Zinc.[5] It’s surprising how important one word can be – and a clumsy word at that. But sometimes words can speak as loud as actions: once we’d harnessed a global team of experts to put in our application to WHO, that simple change in the global Essential Medicines Lists has started a whole new global movement.[6]

So, yes, I am honoured. And an OBE for “services to global child health” will do no harm in the final phase of our mission to save more children’s lives by increasing access across the world to ORS and Zinc to treat the second biggest child-killer: diarrhoea. I only wish this award had come 10 years ago, when my mum was still alive. I can see her now. She would have stood up, thrown her shoulders back and said, “Today, I feel 36D.” She would have been so happy and proud. Thankfully, my Dad is still with us and he’s chuffed to bits.

Onwards and upwards.

[1] The ColaLife Trustees past and present
[2] ColaLife’s funders and supporters
[3] ColaLife’s approach for self-sustaining development
[4] Emulating value-chains of fast-moving consumer goods to improve uptake of co-packaged ORS and zinc for childhood diarrhoea: evaluation of the ColaLife trial (British Medical Journal – Social Innovations in Health supplement)
[5] Success: WHO adds co-packaged ORS and Zinc to its Essential Medicines List
[6] ORS/Zinc Co-pack Alliance (ORSZCA)


  1. Colin Wilson says

    Simon, I’m delighted to hear the news of your award and like you, wish they could be shared by people or groups. Jane and the whole ColaLife (Zinc and ORS) movement should share in the recognition – and no doubt will. But none of that can take away your immense role and service to mankind. Your dad – and your mum – are right to be chuffed to bits. I am too.

    You are a real inspiration to so many.

    • Simon Bland says

      Congratulations Simon, not an easy journey but your persistence has helped so many

  2. Charity Mshanga says

    Wao! It is great news to hear of this award and I feel so proud to have been part of this amazing journey with ColaLife (2016-2018). To Simon Jane and the ColaLife Team a big congratulations and this recognition is among the many proof of your great works in saving lives of Children. Indeed you are a real inspiration to do many.

  3. Chibale Phiri says

    Well deserved. Loved to have been a part of it even if it was for a short two and a half years.

  4. Nigel Bolding says

    I think when you say you ‘mostly encouraged others’ this is the difficult part Simon. Quite often the greatest of projects and ideas get marooned on an island of one person who cannot inspire and co-ordinate those around him/her. This you have both done brilliantly – Jane wouldn’t have had it any other way and I am delighted to have played a very small part in Team ColaLife’s achievements by helping to raise some funds at a crucial couple of times in your journey. This doesn’t get you out of a 3rd big bike ride though.

  5. Johann Tasker says

    Congratulations Simon – a truly well-deserved award for you and Jane and the ColaLife team.

  6. It was a real pleasure to have made a contribution to this. This is very well deserved Simon and Jane Berry. Congratulations