Design, Health

Clever Packaging: Essential Medicine Rides Coke’s Distribution Into Remote Villages

Simon Berry is piggybacking on Coca-Cola’s distribution system to bring life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

You can buy a Coke pretty much anywhere on Earth. Thanks to a vast network of local suppliers, Coca-Cola has almost completely solved distribution, getting its product into every nook and cranny where commerce reaches. There are places in the world where it’s easier to get a Coke than clean water. In the 1980s, Berry was an aid worker in Zambia, and when he looked at Coke’s success, he saw an opportunity.

Child mortality was very high and the second-biggest killer was diarrhoea, which is simple to prevent, he says. The standard treatment is oral rehydration solution, or ORS, which is essentially salt, sugar and water. I had the idea of transporting ORS through the Coca-Cola system.

Unfortunately, the idea didn’t get off the ground. We had no telephone, let alone the internet, so it was hard to share the idea, he says. Five years ago I thought I’d have another go. It was much easier to do that through Facebook.

In April 2008, he began a campaign on Facebook. A groundswell of support gave his project, dubbed ColaLife, the attention it needed to get noticed by the BBC and, through the British broadcaster, by Coca-Cola itself. ColaLife began collaborating with one of Coca-Cola’s African bottler/distributors, and the beverage giant shared advice and information about how its distribution network operates.

Eventually, ColaLife registered as an independent U.K. charity in 2011 and began a pilot program in Zambia — via

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