About

ColaLife started out, in 2008, to answer one question, which raised its head when Simon and Jane Berry were living and working in remote Zambia in the mid-1980s: Coca-Cola seems to get everywhere in developing countries, yet life-saving medicines don’t. Why?

That conundrum, that affront to a fair chance at life for children, gave us the name for the charity we founded nearly 20 years after that first observation – and we don’t apologise for the difficult question it intended to raise.

ColaLife was co-founded by just two people in April 2008 as an online ‘movement’. It became an independent UK charity in 2011 and  worked until 2024, on improving access to one life-saving treatment: Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and Zinc, for one global killer: childhood diarrhoea. This simple, cheap, globally recommended treatment has been known for half a century, yet when we founded ColaLife, a child died from diarrhoea every minute. Today, that unnecessary death toll is still around half a million.

Even with just one question, one treatment and one killer disease, everything was more complex than it seemed. But ColaLife, supported by many different players, developed a strategy,  weaving together nine unlikely strands to catalyse change:

  1. asking people ‘what they want’ (Design thinking) – not just pushing out ‘what they need’
  2. mimicking consumer goods (Value Chain thinking) – see also our BMJ Paper: 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
  3. scope and plan the work locally: private, public, non-profit  (Participatory Design)
  4. bringing together local actors able and willing to make a difference (Smart Networks)
  5. plug gaps by funding training, awareness and market development (Market Shaping)
  6. including as many influencers as we could, large and small, to bring with us (Soft Power)
  7. suppressing our own brand and role, choosing to grow our impact not our organisation (Organisational Obsolescence)
  8. sharing everything we learn – data, designs, costs, mistakes (Open Source).
  9. this adds up to Disruptive Innovation: showing change is possible by thinking, designing and acting just a little differently.

We described our approach in a detailed peer reviewed case study  and it went on to be researched by a top team of academic system change analysts, with their findings published in 2024. 

We decided from the outset not to grow our organisation. ColaLife never had employees, a physical HQ and it owned few tangible assets in the real world. We crowd-sourced global expertise – often for free or at low-cost. We harnessed more than 10,000 online supporters and individual donors. Beyond this website and blog, our story is largely told by others: thousands of publications, including peer reviewed journals,  web-sites, blogs, talkshows and events. Together, these have gave us the ‘soft power’ to engage big corporations, like Coca-Cola, GSK, Johnson & Johnson and its Foundation, Janssen, SABMiller, Honda; big NGOs like UNICEF, PATH and JSI; big funders (even if they don’t fund us directly) like DfID (now FCDO), COMESA, Grand Challenges Canada, CHAI and The Gates Foundation – funding is important but the encouragement and the kudos we got from association with them was very valuable too.

We understood the importance of evidence, and with the help of our public health advisor, Johns Hopkins University and UNICEF, our locally-designed trial of ColaLife concepts (The ColaLife Operational Trial Zambia – COTZ) produced world-class evidence, which we are then used to support a market scale up in Zambia and in our globalisation plans.

COTZ Funders

The Legal Bit: ColaLife – the organisation – was an independent non-profit organisation run and staffed by volunteers. Whilst ColaLife sought to work with corporates to bring about social change we were never affiliated to any other organisation and our work with others did not imply an endorsement of any product or brand. We became a registered charity on 21 June 2011. Our charity number was 1142516. Our Memorandum is here (PDF 586 KB).

>> Read our strategy

>> See Next Steps and our Current Status

>> Use our resources


>> Learn more about our history

>> Meet the ColaLife Team

 

How you can help
Our legacy and learning is all open source and free for others to adopt and adapt. We continue, as individuals, to support the uptake of co-packaged ORS and Zinc, now recognised by WHO and other key actors, like UNICEF, CHAI and others, through the ORS Zinc Co-pack Alliance – ORSZCA. Please engage with ORSZCA: comment or sign up to add information – or add to its knowledge base on ORS and Zinc in other countries.

You can still search this historic blog,  the ColaLife YouTube Channel, review our photos and history on Flickr

Last edited on 21-Mar 2024 by Jane Berry

Comments

  1. Hello! Quick question that’s totally off topic.

    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?
    My site looks weird when browsing from my iphone4.
    I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might
    be able to fix this issue. If you have any recommendations, please share.
    Appreciate it!

  2. JESSICA MAYENDA says

    This is a great initiative and being from Zambia is quite sad I only heard about this when stumbling upon charities online. I have such a passion for global health and feel with all the years of research done to combat deaths from certain diseases its a pity thousands of children continue to die. I was doing an online course and we were told to use a venture we were passionate about and I used Colalife, one interesting question was when they asked, what was Colalife”s exist strategy? What will be the situation/ world be like for you to say you have done your job. When will you fill comfortable to walk away and say you have done good and risk doing more harm than good?

    I would love to be a volunteer for your organisation and play any role that is suitable.

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