Over and Out – ColaLife’s final blog post

Kit Yamoyo Wall Painting George Compound, Lusaka - with children
Children of George Compound, Lusaka, Zambia. Image credit: Laurence Wilbraham

This is the 800th and final ColaLife blog post.

We have been telling our story here for nearly 16 years! The website will stay for historic interest and the full blog archive – a blow-by-blow account of the ups and downs, by month, is here: ColaLife Blog Archive. ColaLife may be gone… but we are still here with a few things still to do! We have a few more papers to publish and networks to chivvy. We’ll be doing this work on a voluntary and personal basis.

So, as first announced on 5-Sep-2023, ColaLife is closing today (31-Mar-2024). We’ve achieved far more than we ever anticipated. Both we and our innovative and supportive board of trustees have always been determined, from the outset, that the charity would not outlive its usefulness. Our trustees have been a pleasure to work with over the years – and they deserve our fulsome thanks! You can read about them here.

We are proud of WHAT has been achieved but also HOW we’ve operated. Taking a radically different approach to most development actors, we stayed small, acting as a catalyst with the objective of ensuring that the change we’ve helped create is self-sustaining. This has been noted by others and is the subject of a recent paper in the Journal of Management Science (see Social Entrepreneurs as Ecosystem Catalysts: The Dynamics of Forming and Withdrawing from a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem) and documented in books. We’ve also written about this catalytic approach ourselves, on this blog, in our Playbook and in a published case study (see Institutionalizing Innovation: From Pilot to Scale for Co-Packaged Oral Rehydration Salts and Zinc—A Case Study in Zambia).

Our approach has been academically rigorous; our public health advisor, principal investigator and surrogate ‘son’ Dr Rohit Ramchandani, who first reached out to us in 2010 as a post graduate student, has stayed the course! Rohit built his Doctorate in Public Health thesis on our work; our approach also featured in Professor Paulo Savaget‘s PhD and in film maker Claire Ward’s MA. Our latest young expert, statistician Dario Domingo, has done an amazing job on our soon-to-be published work on how co-packaged ORS and Zinc improved dispensing behaviour in Zambian health centres.

We do hope that others will adopt and adapt these catalytic ways of working, which are ‘lean’, impactful and empowering for local partners. The legacy we left in Zambia continues without us – the award winning ORS/Zinc co-pack we embedded, to stop kids dying from diarrhoea, is locally and profitably manufactured and distributed by the Ministry of Health, NGOs, supermarkets and shops –  managed by colleagues we have had the pleasure of working with, over the last 15 years. The changes we’ve brought about are now lodged within the appropriate, local mainstream organisations – much more powerful and long-lasting than we could ever be.

As we sign off, we’d like to highlight a few things:

  1. If you’ve enjoyed this blog please sign up to the ORSZCA Mailing List – this is where the story continues. We would love to remain in contact.
  2. We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us on this amazing journey. Without our supporters – and there are thousands of you – we would have got nowhere. You gave us the soft power we needed to get going; initially engaging the BBC and then, through the BBC, The Coca-Cola Company. You’ve gone on to provide encouragement and technical support and many of you have provided donations. Thank you very much.
  3. We thank all our funders over the years and would like to give a special mention to Diane Isenberg and Greg Neichin of the impact investors Ceniarth and the Isenberg Family Charitable Foundation. They have entrusted us with their money ever since Diane heard Peter Day’s feature – The Kit of Life (listen again) – on BBC Radio 4 and have helped us keep going through thick and thin and the vagaries of project funding.
  4. And finally, we’d like to thank the people of Zambia and our friends – both Zambian and ex-patriot – who live there. You have shown us such kindness and respect over the 10 years we were privileged to live in your beautiful country – and since. The ColaLife impact is your impact.

So, what do we leave behind?

  1. Zambia
    1. Changed systems in Zambia, to manufacture ORS/Zinc co-packs and distribute them through the public and private sectors.
    2. An increase in ORS/Zinc coverage rates from <1% in 2012 (our own baseline survey) to 34% in 2018 (Demographic Health Survey, DHS 2018), taking Zambia from a non-runner to the Top Three in Africa.
    3. Increasing levels of production, which have continued to expand in the years after we left Zambia in 2018. Close to a million co-packs left the factory in 2023 alone. This should have increased coverage rates even further and we await publication of the 2024 DHS for confirmation of this.
    4. The institutionalisation of free distribution of ORS/Zinc co-packs in Zambia by the government.
    5. These changes will have led to reduced morbidity and mortality in children in Zambia.
  2. Globally
    1. We instigated and secured a change to the 2019 WHO Essential Medicines List to recommend that ORS and Zinc should be ‘co-packaged’ for the treatment of diarrhoea. First suggested by UNICEF in 2009, our Kit Yamoyo was one of the first to do this.
    2. Since the above change, three countries so far have so far added co-packaged ORS/Zinc to their national Essential Medicines Lists.
    3. We drove the foundation of the ORS/Zinc Co-pack Alliance (ORSZCA) – an informal global network seeking to accelerate the uptake of the 2019 WHO recommendation that ORS and Zinc should be co-packaged for the treatment of diarrhoea. We acted as its secretariat and will continue to support its website and curate its online resources on a voluntary basis.
    4. We leave the ColaLife Playbook (now renamed the Co-packaged ORS/Zinc Playbook) as a resource for local champions.
    5. Many aspects of our work are now in the peer reviewed, open access academic press:
      1. 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 – BMJ Innovations.
      2. Design thinking to improve rational use of oral rehydration salts: lessons from an innovative co-packaged diarrhoea treatment kit – BMJ Innovations.
      3. Institutionalizing Innovation: From Pilot to Scale for Co-Packaged Oral Rehydration Salts and Zinc—A Case Study in Zambia – Global Health: Science and Practice.
      4. Social Entrepreneurs as Ecosystem Catalysts: The Dynamics of Forming and Withdrawing from a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem – Journal of Management Science.
      5. Coming soon: How the introduction of co-packaged Oral Rehydration Salts and zinc for diarrhoea affected dispensing behaviour at rural health facilities in Mongu District, Zambia.

Thank you again for your support. It’s been an exhilarating and impactful journey.

Simon and Jane Berry