In 1988, U.K.-born development worker Simon Berry, his wife, Jane, and their three children were stationed in northeast Zambia—a highly remote rural area where one in five children died before the age of five. “I was bouncing around in a Land Rover in this very remote place, yet wherever I went, it seemed I could get a Coca-Cola,” Berry explains. “I thought, if you can get Coca-Cola to these places, why can’t you do the same with basic medicines?” Today, the Berrys run their own organization, ColaLife, which aims to use Coca-Cola’s wide-reaching supply chain to distribute basic medical supplies to remote regions in Africa. The supplies, encased in wedge-shaped “AidPods,” fit snugly into the spaces between the bottles in the crates—five wedges per crate. Coke has recently sanctioned a pilot program in Zambia with local stakeholders; the Berrys are currently seeking funding and have their sights on the Bill & Melinda Gates and Clinton foundations.
While ColaLife has garnered support, some feel sending aid via Coke is like dealing with the devil. “There seems to be a potentially huge payoff [for Coca-Cola] in terms of PR and attitudes to Coke in rural areas,” warns Jonathan Crush, professor of development studies at Queen’s University. Berry’s view is more pragmatic. “In order for a partnership like this to work, there has to be something in it for all,” he says. “The 20 per cent child mortality has remained basically unchanged for decades. We need to try something a bit more innovative.” Berry stresses that ColaLife wants to take its time to establish a sustainable process—not a one-off—and hopes to launch in June.