Can Coca Cola save children’s lives?

One in five children in developing countries die before they are five from simple causes like dehydration. My friend Simon Berry believes he has an idea that could help, as we discussed when we met yesterday to talk about the 2gether08 Festival (more below on that)

Twenty years ago Simon Berry was a development worker in North Zambia, conscious that while he could buy a bottle of Coke anywhere, children were dying through inadequate distribution of simple medical treatments. In many cases they simply needed rehydration salts. Wouldn’t it be possible to reach an agreement by which Coca Cola used a small part of its superior distribution capacity to get the medicine to children? As Simon says:

The idea came to me – but I had no mechanism for sharing it with people. At least, I did have mechanisms, but they were one to one mechanisms, and the thing never got any traction. But now, with the whole Web 2.0 thing, one person can have an idea, and gather other people around that idea, very, very easily.

Simon has done just that. Starting with a blog post, and then a Facebook group, Simon has been interviewed on BBC radio, and attracted the support of New Seekers’ Eve Graham. The New Seekers original song ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’ was adopted by Coke.

Eve provided Simon’s campaign with a new one:

I’d like to fix those Burmese homes;

Give poverty the shove

Grow sustainable trees, give aid with ease

And show Africa some love..

Coca Cola, at first unresponsive, have now said they would be happy to talk to Simon. Salvatore Gabola, Global Director Stakeholder Relations, told the BBC:

This is an extraordinarily interesting discussion. And it is one which goes to the heart of the key question of how we can make better use of the successes of business to serve the development needs of the world in general and of Africa in particular. The recent Millennium Development Goal Call for Action by Prime Minister Gordon Brown stems from this simple starting point.

Salvatore Gabola goes on to point out that the challenge in coming with any solution involves more than Coca Cola, because the distribution system is owned by many small independent local distributors.

However, there is a research project and pilot starting in Tanzania that could relate to Simon’s idea. Meanwhile Simon continues to document these developments in detail on his blog – all campaign posts here – urges us to join the Facebook group here, and come up with other ways to gather support.

It is just this type of idea – using social media to address social problems – that we will be discussing and moving forward at the 2gether08 Festival in London on July 2-3 this year, where I’m developing the blog and other online communications. Come and join in.


  • May 28, 2008 - 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Simon’s campaign is building… and quick. This has to be due to the combination of the idea / story & the way the social web can amplify the buzz.

    Simon… can we get you to tell the story at 2gether?

  • May 28, 2008 - 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Steve and David. Steve – I’ve followed your lead on malaria and your earlier suggestion and have submitted something to the 2gether08 website. it’s pending approval I think


  • May 28, 2008 - 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Its a brilliant idea – getting a large corporate to take advantage of what they have, to benefit people in this way – although from reading the full response of Salvatore Gabola I can see why its a bit more complex than it first seems.

    A talk I found really interesting was Bill Clintons where he talks about the value of readjusting the markets to bring the costs of drugs down:

    Maybe if those entrepreneurial local distributors within the coca cola network were able to take advantage of easier distribution of medical supplies this also would help to bring down the costs of drugs & medical supplies etc.

    What I most liked about Clintons speech though was the concern with the whole problem – theres so much isolated aid work throughout Africa for very questionable benefit. Another person who made a good point at an event a couple of years ago was Tim Schmidt (Eden Project) – he asked the audience how many people believed in the work of ‘Water Aid’ (most hands raised) – then “how many people believe they’re capable of providing clean drinking water throughout the world?” (not many hands up!) – his point at the time was that the companies that people should be lobbying were the ‘big boys’ – the likes of Shell, BP etc. who more usually get flack for their ethics, but his point was they have the infrastructures & the weight to make a difference.

  • May 28, 2008 - 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi David and Simon
    Thanks for spending the time on this vid – it gives me more to ‘encourage’ people to join in the campaign with – and believe me I am good at ‘encouragement’!

  • June 8, 2008 - 11:45 am | Permalink

    Um . . I like the Tim Schmidt story from masyomo.

    Here’s an update. I have now had a telephone conference meeting with Coca Cola’s Global Head of Stakeholder Relations and we are meeting face to face on 16/6.

    Can I ask facebook users to please join the facebook group and invite your friends. We could really make a difference here. Before the group I was making no progress at all!

    You can also follow progress and catch up on the full story here:



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