The Cola Road

ColaLife 1 in 5 children die before their 5th birthday from simple preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea. In these same places where clean water and medicine are hard to find, people can still buy an ice-cold Coke.

In 1988 Simon Berry was an aid worker in Africa and questioned if Coca-Colas local distribution networks could be used to deliver life saving medicines to hard to reach places.

Twenty years later, Simon and his partner Jane launched ColaLife, an independent not for profit to work with Coca-Cola to do just that.

‘Reducing child mortality; in certain areas carrying on as we are doing isn’t good enough because it is not going to produce results that we need quickly enough. What we are currently doing isn’t going to solve the problem for 100s of years so we do need a step change.’  Simon Berry, ColaLife

Simons first idea was to remove a coke bottle from one in 10 crates and put a tube filled with medicines in the space. With the help of online networks, Simon’s idea evolved into a wedge shaped ‘aid pod’ that slotted into the unused space between the bottles. Today the ‘aid pod’ is a transparent box, which is also serves as a measurement tool. And if that wasn’t enough It has also won several design awards.

ColaLife aid pod

This year, Zambia has become the first African country to embrace a trial of the ColaLife concept; to use Coca-Cola’s distribution model to deliver life-saving medicines to far-flung, rural communities.

‘We have changed a lot; and accepted input from others, open innovation has given us a lot of strength.’  Simon Berry, ColaLife


I’m a big fan of ColaLife for two main reasons:

  1. Simon and Janes’ passion and unwavering commitment to succeed.
  2. How ColaLife has used online networks to gain support, develop their concept and make it happen.

I’m really excited that Simon and Jane are coming to the UK and sharing their journey at the RSA on Monday 23 September with a special screening of Claire Ward’s documentary The Cola Road.

Unsurprisingly the event is sold out. You can join the waiting list here. Or watch the event live on the 23 September on the RSA website.

This article was originally written for Innovation (Still) Rules. You can download the full report for free from the nfpSynergy website.




Make someone’s day – every day

A guest blog by Matthew Sherrington….

A little girl was walking along the beach hand in hand with her grandfather. The beach was littered with stranded starfish that had been washed up with the tide, at the mercy of the seagulls, and the burning sun. They wouldn’t survive until the next high tide. As they walked along the girl stooped to pick up a pink starfish, and ran to  the water’s edge to throw it back into the ocean. “Why did you do that?” asked her grandfather, “there are so many, I’m afraid it won’t make any difference”. “It made a difference to that one”, replied the girl. *

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” 

Howard Zinn

I talk a lot about exceeding expectations for supporters, what I call “wow” moments. Sometimes I’m asked about delivering “surprise and delight” magic moments (though not as much as I’d like to be asked about it). And often, when people realise that magic moments are more about attitude and approach, and aren’t easily scheduled– though they can be – they lose interest. Too  hard. What’s the point?

When I was Fundraising Director at Greenpeace USA a few years ago, we had a supporter who gave a huge amount of money in memory of her grandson, who had died tragically. With it, we bought a RIB – one of those orange inflatable boats Greenpeace is famous for. It was enough to pay for quite a state-of-the-art RIB, so it was sent to join the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which was on a mission to  stop Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Southern Ocean. And the RIB was named the Billy G, after her grandson.  Here’s a picture of the Billy G in action. Jaw-dropping stuff.

As it happened, Celeste Stewart, the manager of our Partners in Action mid-donor programme, got the chance to join the Esperanza’s mission for three months as Assistant Cook. (I know, I know, don’t even ask).  Celeste knew Billy G’s grandmother, knew the whole story. And even knew Billy G’s birthday, which came up while she was on board. Off her own bat, she organised the crew into the Billy G for the photo below. One photo, used only once, as a gift to Billy G’s grandmother to mark his birthday.

Greenpeace Billy G

Can you deliver the same magic moment to everyone, all the time? No. But if you can make sure you have an attitude and approach aimed at giving supporters a better experience than they expect, magic moments will come. We had that attitude at Greenpeace, and Celeste came up with the goods.

What you can do is make sure you set out to make someone’s day, every day. Just one person, whether family, friend, colleague, supporter or stranger. Believe me, it will make all the difference in the world to them.

Thank you Matthew Sherrington for this guest blog.  Matthew is a non-profit expert in fundraising and strategic communications. Follow him on Twitter @m_sherrington.

*variation of a story from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley

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