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The Cola Road Documentary and what's next for Colalife

The RSA Great Room, with its James Barry paintings of The Progress of Human Knowledge,  was a fine setting yesterday for the launch of The Cola Road Documentary telling the story of the Colalife mission to deliver medicines to poor mothers in isolated Zambian villages. There was lots of learning for us – not least more on how the original idea of delivering the medicines in Coke crates has changed.

As you can see from the applause pictured in my panorama, and the tweets below, the film by Claire Ward was very well received, with further news coming through during the evening about Colalife being presented to the UN General Assembly as one of 10 breakthough innovations to save lives.
The original Colalife idea, that captured people’s imagination, was to use Coca Cola’s unique supply chain to deliver ant-diarrhoea medicines to save children’s lives. That has worked in trials, and the Kit Yamoyo won a Design Museum Product of the Year award. However, the real innovation proved to be designing a value chain that rewarded people all along the line, without necessarily using crates, as I reported earlier.
The change in design approach was highlighted by BBC global business correspondent Peter Day in a programme broadcast on Radio 4, and yesterday Peter chaired the panel discussion after the showing. Here’s his account of finding a better business story than he expected from the Kit Yamoyo award.

Later in the RSA Gerrard Bar I was able to catch up with Simon Berry – who created Colalife with his wife Jane – for an update on future plans, and also meet Ali who cycled from Cairo to Cape Town with Lizzie to raise money. Their story here.
As well as explaining how the Colalife programme now aims to move from pilots to national coverage, Simon highlighted the importance of social media in developing Colalife. As you can see from the Colalife blog, he has done an extraordinary job of openly chronicling the programme.

Here’s a selection of the tweets during and after the showing.

Earlier posts about Colalife

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Further insights from Colalife into design innovation – and how (not) to report it

Simon Berry blogs a nuanced account of how Colalife is changing its award-winning package – originally designed to use spare space in CocaCola crates – to deliver medicines to poor mothers in isolated Zambian villages, and how this has been reported. His headline: Our learning journey so far and accusations of failure and abandonment.

The original Colalife packs are still being produced, but a new design for Kit Yamoyo, under development, will not fit into the crates, because the real innovation turned out to be learning from Coke’s end-to-end value chain for distribution. As Simon says, the space was in the market, rather than the crates, and retailers were prepared to buy kits by the box-full. Coke crates were not the best way to get kits to the store.

In the end, hardly any of our kits have been put into Coca-Cola crates. Instead, what has worked is copying Coca-Cola’s business techniques: create a desirable product, market it like mad, and put the product in a distribution system at a price so that everyone can make a profit. If there is demand and retailers can make a profit, then they will do anything to meet that demand.

Simon adds:

We will not be abandoning the current design. Mothers like it. In fact we are about make up another 20,000 kits using this format – however, if we remove the design constraint of the kits needing to fit in the crates then we can reduce the cost of the packaging considerably which will make our kit even more affordable and strengthen the all important value chain.

However, when the change was reported, a couple of design magazines followed up with stories about failure and abandonment. Although the reports did deal with the value of learning from trials, the headline writers could not turn away from traditional mainstream news “values” to sell the piece.

The headline messages were: “They thought they were smart, but they got it wrong”. “They won an award, then changed the design”.

I recommend reading Simon’s piece in full as yet another example of openness and the sharing of experience in his reporting of the Colalife learning journey. I think he has taken the stories in good part, and by blogging a full explanation ensures that the reports become another part of the learning journey.

That’s a good lesson in innovation reporting: tell your own story, honestly.

I’m looking forward to the premier of the The Cola Road document that tells that story in detail, at the RSA on September 23. Details here, including a trailer.

I hope to grab an update interview with Simon. My earlier Colalife reports here.

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Colalife update – moving to $1 million trial

Yesterday I had a chance to catch up with Simon and Jane Berry for an update on the amazing Colalife project, which started with the germ of an idea about how the Coca Cola distribution system could help save children’s lives. When Simon and Jane worked in Africa some 20 years ago they saw that one in five children died before their fifth birthday, often through the lack of simple medicines, because these just weren’t available in their villages. At the same time, you could buy a Coke anywhere.

It was only with the advent of social media that Simon could start a Facebook group “Let’s talk to Coca Cola about Saving the World’s Children” with the idea:

That Coca-Cola use their distribution channels (which are amazing in developing countries) to save children’s lives by carrying ‘aidpods’ that fit in the unused space between the necks of bottles and carry ‘social products’ such as oral rehydration salts, malaria tablets, vitamin A, water sterilisation tablets or whatever else is required locally.

read more »

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Dr Dance creates the Colalife routine. Now we can all join in

The highly successful Colalife campaign, which aims to save children’s lives in Africa by getting AidPods of medicines carried in crates of Coca-Cola, now have another tool in their promotional kit: The Colalife Dance.

Last night Simon and Jane Berry, together with their team of volunteers, staged a reception at the British Film Institute that was part celebration of achievements so far, and part update on future plans. Plus some mass engagement, courtesy of “Dr Dance” Peter Lovatt. He and Simon met at a Berlin TEDx event.

As you’ll see in the second of the videos here, Peter is a dancer turned psychologist, who now heads the Dance Pychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire. Fascinatating ideas and activities, which you’ll find on his site here.

Peter got everyone to put down their drinks and follow through the routine he devised, as you’ll see in the third video … then did a further demonstration with a smaller group so we had something that would enable anyone to learn the dance and perform it for themselves. Might it make Strictly Come Dancing? Maybe. Stanger things have happened. read more »

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Twittermobbing Trafalgar Square for Colalife

If you are in central London this afternoon with a little time to spare, I suggest … no, urge you …. to pop along to Trafalgar Square and support the amazing Colalife campaign, which I’ve written about before. Simon Berry, family,  and many, many friends are organising a Twittermob rally to celebrate the appearance of the giant aidpod on the fourth plinth. Full explanation here.
Brief recap: about one in five children in Africa dies before they are five because of lack of basic medicines; just about the only outfit with a distribution system to every village is Coca-Cola; the campaign has designed a mini aidpod of medicines to fit into crates; Coca-Cola is talking.
Today at 3pm Russell Tanner will use his part in the One and Other project,  under which a different person occupies the plinth every hour for 24 hours over 100 days, to put the pod on the plinth… and no doubt do a little more to keep us amused.

I took a look around recently with this video, and will be reporting later in the day.
The giant aidpod was constructed in Sheffield for just such a promotional opportunity, and for the last few weeks has had a home at NESTA as you can see above.

If you can’t make it to the Square, there a live stream here, and a wealth of suggestions here on how to connect online. #twittermob tweets are already flooding in, and Sarah Brown has added her support from No 10.

Oh, and if you do make it, wear something red to be supportive and sociable. Like everything else associated with Colalife, it’s going to be fun!

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Simon checks Colalifesaving pods on the front line

I’ve written before about Simon Berry’s extraordinarily effective Colalife campaign using social media to encourage and persuade Coca Cola to use their distribution system to get simple medicines to children in Africa. Simon has used Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogsand the BBC – to recruit support, engage Coca Cola, get to understand how their system works, and then receive an invitation to Dar Es Salaam. The trip was partly to join a 2-day stakeholder meeting about research into wider use of the distribution system. read more »

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A lesson in co-design: why the walk to the river beats a trip to the well

The importance of doing things with people, rather to them or for them, has cropped up a few times in my recent posts … whether designing technology for a better later life,  re-inventing a knowledge hub, or re-learning the lessons of community architecture.

The general point is that users, customers, residents probably best know what they want – and even if they don’t at the start, then testing of developing your offering will provide insights you may not arrive at yourself.

However, what’s often needed to get across the idea of co-design or co-production is a really good story, and I’ve just found an excellent one from the Colalife team in Zambia – or rather from Claire Ward, the film-maker who has produce the ColaLife documentary, The Cola Road.

The story, clipped from the film, is about an international nonprofit organisation with good intentions, mothers who walk a long way from the village to get water, a well … and why obvious solutions may miss the point if you don’t ask.

Simon Berry says in introducing the film clip:

Claire Ward followed us in August 2012 as we prepared for the current trial. While she was here in Zambia she was joined by two colleagues: Guy Godfree and Tracy Levy.

The voice on the clip is Albert Saka from Keepers Zambia Foundation. Albert manages the community-based marketing in remote rural communities of Kalomo and Katete.

I do recommend reading about the Colalife story here, because it provide bigger lessons about developing solutions with people. It’s about how Simon and Jane Berry had the apparently simple idea of using the sophisticated distribution system of Coca Cola to deliver medicines to mothers and their children in remote villages. The story shows many time over how simple ideas may well be complicated to implement, and the best way to deal with the complexity is to work with the people who have the many parts of the solution.

Open innovation reporters and a Social App store are needed to complement local news hubs

In my last post, on Big Lottery’s investment of some £10 million in five projects to support the People Powered Change programme, I said I would come up with ideas on how to fill what seems to me to be some of the gaps around helping community groups and citizens share experience and get the know-how they need.

On reflection that’s rather presumptuous – so my best idea is a pretty obvious one … look at the assets and skills we have already,  and open the process up to those are already bubbling with suggestions, and create some innovative solutions from there. We might build a Social App Store.

Here’s the backstory: Big Lottery have made grants to the Young Foundation, Unltd’s Big Venture Challenge, NESTA’s Neighbourhood Challenge, and Your Square Mile, announced in March. None of these was competitive. Then last week BIG announced a further non competitive grant, this time to the Media Trust for a network of local community news hubs. read more »

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Double inspiration at Chain Reaction


I had a splendid day yesterday at the Chain Reaction event, including a chance to catch up with Simon Berry and the Colalife campaign, and an opportunity to run the Social by Social game near the top of one of the office blocks in Canary Wharf. A double dose of inspiration.  I’ve posted a piece about the game over here explaining how we took as our scenario the community below us.

I’ve written quite a bit before about Colalife, as you can see here. Simon and supporters have done an amazing job of gathering support, using social media, to engage Coca Cola with the idea of using their unique distribution system to get life-saving medicines to African villages, where one in five children die before the age of five. The campaign has reached a crucial phase – and I hadn’t caught up with the fact that Simon is giving up his Civil Service job to concentrate full-time on the campaign … even though no funds are yet available.

He keynoted at the event, and then talked to me afterwards. Why the move? His reply: “I’m going to try and make this happen – I think if I don’t do it now, I’ll regret it forever”. Let’s get fundraising.

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Coming to London soon: the giant AidPod

I’ve been meaning for a couple of weeks to provide an update on the great news that Coca Cola have agreed to trials of the Colalife AidPods in their distribution system in Tanzania. I wrote earlier about Simon Berry’s campaign … and his front-line visits to distribution plants to see what might work, and help save children’s lives.

I met up with Simon today, so I pulled out my iPhone and did a quick Audioboo interview … learning in the process the likely location of the giant AidPod built in Sheffield, coming soon to London.

Listen! read more »