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 our name – and we don’t apologise for the difficult question it is intended to raise.

ColaLife started out, in 2008, to answer that one question, for 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 more than 40 years, yet still a child dies from diarrhoea every minute.

Even with just one question, one treatment and one killer disease, everything is more complex than it seems. But we now have a strategy, combining what we have found really works. This weaves 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 can, 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

A bit of history: ColaLife was co-founded by just two people in April 2008 as an online ‘movement’. It became an independent UK charity in 2011.

We didn’t grow our organisation. ColaLife has no employees, no HQ and owns few tangible assets in the real world. We have crowd-sourced global expertise – often for free or at low-cost. We have 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 given 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 get from association with them is 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 now using for market scale up in Zambia and in our globalisation plans.

COTZ Funders

The Legal Bit: ColaLife – the organisation – is an independent non-profit organisation run and staffed by volunteers. Whilst ColaLife seeks to work with corporates to bring about social change we are not affiliated to any other organisation and our work with others does not imply an endorsement of any product or brand. We became a registered charity on 21 June 2011. Our charity number is 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
ColaLife has thousands of supporters across the world. Without them, we would not have got the attention from the multi-national organisations (for profit and not for profit) that we needed to get going and keep going. You can help us:

  1. Subscribe to this website and get blog posts by email
  2. Join us on Facebook
  3. Follow us on Twitter and include the word “colalife” in your tweets
  4. Subscribe to the ColaLife YouTube Channel
  5. Join us on Flickr
  6. Subscribe to our SoundCloud Channel (audio resources)
  7. Help our crowd-sourcing – or nominate us on Amazon Smile.
  8. Engage with ORSZCA: comment or sign up to add information – or add to our knowledge base on ORS and Zinc in other countries.




Last edited on 21-Feb-23 by Simon Berry


  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!


    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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