ColaLife

Our vision is a world where people collaborate from business, public and NGO sectors so children no longer die from preventable causes through lack of access to simple medicines and the knowledge of how to use them. Our Mission is to build novel partnerships to alleviate poverty and improve health in the developing world through innovation.
Jan 6, 2015

Onwards into 2015!

Mothers happy to get their Kit Yamoyo voucher!
Mothers happy to get their Kit Yamoyo voucher!

Happy New Year from all at ColaLife and from all the families and their children who have been able to get an award-winning Kit Yamoyo AidPod from their local shop over the past two years.  Our aim is to help people help themselves, to combat the world's second biggest child-killer - diarrhoea - by making the very best essential medicines affordable, easy to use, and easy to find in communities all across Zambia - and hopefully beyond!

Our Year End Challenge on GlobalGiving raised an amazing $12,000 plus a $1,000 bonus from GlobalGiving, for qualifying in fifth place, so by the end of December, we'd reached our 2014 target of $40,000.

Thanks to your generosity, around 40% of all the Kit Yamoyo purchases so far have been supported by a discount voucher. For 2015, we plan to offer discount vouchers to at least another 15,000 mothers, so they can get our life-saving kits in a nearby shop to treat their children effectively in the home. To do this, we need raise our GlobalGiving target by another $25,000, helping us reach 65,000 children by the end of our third year in Zambia. We're also expecting to announce new grants very soon, that will support our local partner, Keepers Zambia Foundation, in their education work among communities and small-scale retailers. 

The vouchers are a great way you can help a mum or dad try Kit Yamoyo for the first time and learn to use it. Vouchers also give confidence to local small shop-keepers, so they are willing to invest in the new Kit Yamoyo product. We aim to train over 100 shop-keepers in 2015.

So far, most of our work has been in remote rural areas, but in 2015, we will be starting a new project in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, and other urban centres. Although public health services here are closer to people's homes than they are in the rural areas we have been serving so far, our research shows that many of the same problems still exist: over-stretched and poorly-stocked clinics, long queues for treatment, almost no suitable products in the many small shops people use daily, and poor awareness of how to treat children's diarrhoea quickly at home, with Oral Rehydration plus Zinc.

Our 2014 pilot showed that training local shop-keepers in Lusaka's urban 'compounds', to sell Kit Yamoyo and to pass on health messages to their communities, has real potential in urban settings.  As Mr Hamwemwe, a newly trained shop-keeper from Lusaka's George Compound told us: "I'm pushing this new product to the community. It will make a big difference, because diarrhoea is always a problem during this season." And these larger markets will provide more customers for our local manufacturing partner, Pharmanova, and help establish Kit Yamoyo as a self-sustaining independent product in Zambia.

Your donations carry on doing good - because for every ten kits Mr Hamwemwe sells, he will earn at least $2.50. That sounds a small amount, but can help send his child to school, or feed his family for a week. So, let's see if we can get to our new target of $65,000 for 65,000 Kit Yamoyo AidPods by the end of 2015!

Thanks again, and Happy New Year!

Oct 9, 2014

Sharing failures: as important as sharing success

Mothers helping to inform designs for Kit Yamoyo
Mothers helping to inform designs for Kit Yamoyo

When ColaLife set out, in 2008, to improve distribution of simple medicines by ‘harnessing’ Coca-Cola’s world-renowned distribution of fizzy drinks, the logic seemed simple:

i) Cola gets everywhere in developing countries – especially Coca-Cola

ii) Simple life-saving medicines, like Oral Rehydration Salts and Zinc for diarrhoea, don’t

iii) Within most developing countries, Coca-Cola arrives – even in remote villages - in the world-famous red plastic crates.

So: design an anti-diarrhoea kit - or 'AidPod' - that fits into a Coca-Cola crate and it can ‘hitch a ride’. Simple. Clever. Sustainable.

But the real world is never that simple, as we were to find out.

Some things, we did right: we began by sharing our idea with as many people as possible, both professionals and people living and working in Africa, to see if it really was a good idea, if it could be improved, changed – or should simply be thrown out.  We began our research in earnest in 2008. We took advice from experts in logistics, from specialist staff at Coca-Cola, and most importantly, from people on the front line, such as mothers, carers and - in Tanzania - small distribution businesses, called MDCs (Micro Distribution Centres). Our first ideas included removing a bottle from the cola crate, and putting a tube in its place, or putting a wedge-shaped pack in the space between the crated bottles. Generously, Coca-Cola itself made no objection. But what did the frontline think? Simon visited several MDCs in Tanzania to find out

Removing even one bottle was our first fail, immediately seen by small retailers as a potential lost sale. But the ‘wedge’ idea fascinated people: “It’s a good idea,” Benito, an area sales manager, tells us in this video clip. “Coca-Cola gets everywhere but medicines don’t. It would be good if we could be doing something to help with people’s health.”  We also spoke to mothers in Uganda and Zambia, as well as health professionals, Ministries of Health and even UNICEF and WHO. Emboldened by wide-ranging support, we went ahead to work on prototypes of an aspirational new anti-diarrhoea kit that fitted into cola crates. So far, so good.

Failure number two was a communications conundrum, which, despite our best efforts, persists to this day. This first raised its head as The Coca-Cola Distribution Myth. Many people imagine that this powerful global giant owns and controls its channels to market. People thought we were proposing international distribution: inserting anti-diarrhoea kits into crates in factories in America or Europe, and then shipping the entire crate into Africa. What a powerful myth that is!

In fact, Coca-Cola is manufactured locally, in over 200 countries in the world. Amazingly, they are one of the biggest employers in Africa. Lorries may carry crates between major towns, but Coca-Cola owns no mules, bicycles, oxcarts or buses, and this is how a myriad of products is carried into villages. Anywhere a lorry can go is fairly straightforward - we were interested in those carts and bicycles: the 'last mile'. On top of this myth, the fact that we ‘dared’ to work with Coca-Cola returned to haunt us again and again. We regularly receive heavy criticism for proposing distribution ‘dependent’ on a global giant that ‘peddles’ unhealthy sugar-water. But, in fact, people everywhere make their own choices on what to eat and drink, and what to buy – and this includes the poor in Africa. The ‘magic’ of Coca-Cola distribution is conjured by millions of humble, independent shopkeepers like Shadrick (pictured) who make their own decisions on purchases, and on Shadrick’s customers, who make choices on how to spend their money. The lesson here: understand the complexity, but keep your messaging simple, and keep repeating it, again and again. Be patient. The world has many pre-conceptions, and you cannot change those overnight. Were we wrong to work with and learn from producers of an unhealthy commodity? We think not. But choose your battles – you can’t fight them all.

In spite of these recurring challenges, the idea of the anti-diarrhoea kit in the crate took off.  Journalists contacted us; awards rolled in. Almost without our realising it, the photo of the 'clever packaging' that fits snuggly between bottles of Coca-Cola went viral, and quickly came to represent our work: a classic case of the 'double edged sword'. 

By early 2013, we knew that the ‘Kit Yamoyo’ (Kit of Life) and the distribution trial was a huge success. Before we began, less than 1% of children in our trial areas were getting the world-recommendation of ORS and Zinc for diarrhoea. Within 12 months, we had increased that to nearly half of all children in our trial areas: 45%. We had set up the trial to measure, observe and learn - and we soon found that, in spite of astounding successes, it contained at its very heart our biggest failure to date: only 4% of kits were actually carried back to the village in cola crates. Yes, retailers bought them, and carried them on bicycles, carts and buses; but in cartons and bags, not slotted into crates. Coca-Cola was losing out to cheaper sodas in rural areas; and in any case, demand for Kit Yamoyo was higher than could be accommodated in the crates going out to villages. Could we have found this out before design work started? Sometimes the only way to find something out is to try it in practice. Innovation is unpredictable. You end up in places you didn't expect.

So, we were back to managing the communications conundrum: even one of our kindest commentators, Peter Day of the BBC, asked if our award-winning design was ‘a bit of a con’.

Some of the criticism was a lot worse

What to do? We had to face up to the fact that fitting the kit into cola crates wasn’t important after all. The easiest route would have been to keep that finding under wraps, to stick to our story, hang on to our now-famous photo of the kits in the crate, and defend our award-winning design. But how would that have helped our beneficiaries? Most of the 25,000 mothers and carers we had helped had no idea that the kit was designed to fit into a cola crate – but we had listened and learnt from them: we had introduced many benefits they really did want: smaller sachets for the Oral Rehydration Salts (200ml instead of the traditional 1 Litre); an easy way to measure the water needed; better tasting medicine; easy to understand instructions; and, as well as the vital Zinc tablets, a small bar of soap for hand-washing. 

So, we publically announced we were ditching the award-winning packaging design – but were keeping all of the benefits that mothers, carers and retailers value. We’d learnt it was the space in the market, not the space in the crate, that was important. And the space in the market was a much more complex story, about how to design with the poor, for the poor – to better meet their needs. So we went back to the drawing board, to unpick what we had really learnt, and bring in cost reductions as well as more design improvements. We now have two designs: cheaper, better and more fit for purpose. 

This change of direction could have been a huge embarrassment. But amazingly, by ‘coming clean’ straight away about the failure, we have won more praise, more friends, and more understanding. One of our award-givers even asked us back to the presitgious event we had won the year before, to hear more about our failure.

What the journey so far has shown us, is that it is OK to fail, as long as you are prepared to learn. Find the parts that do succeed and build on those. More than that: if at least some elements of your innovation don’t fail, perhaps you have not been brave enough. And unless you are equally proud of your failures as your successes, no-one will learn. But most important of all: listen to those you set out to help, what they want and need. If you stick to that, you can’t go far wrong.

Accusations of failure
Accusations of failure
Differing views....
Differing views....
Sep 11, 2014

What a milestone - 50,000 Lifesaving Kit Yamoyos sold!

Shopkeeper Christine with new stock
Shopkeeper Christine with new stock

During a busy summer break back in UK, Simon and I were delighted to hear from Rakesh, who is managing Kit Yamoyo manufacture in Zambia, that 50,000 Kit Yamoyos have been sold since we began the project, just 2 years ago, in September 2012. Just under half of these kits (21,823 to be precise!) were sold with the help of vouchers - and a BIG thank you to all our supporters for helping us to achieve this. As we move forward, towards a sustainable market, we are also delighted that over half of all sales have been for cash. And, as production is now all undertaken in Zambia by our local manufacturing partner, Pharmanova - where Rakesh is Marketing Director - all the profits are going into local pockets: from the factory to the shop.

Shortly afterwards, our fieldworker in remote Katete district, Elias Lungu, confirmed that 30 cartons had arrived at the local wholesaler. These contain just over 1,000 kits - and we know that will save at least 3 children's lives. As we come into the end of the dry season, good fresh water sources can become scarce and diarrhoea becomes a real issue.  Elias told us that, in just 2 days, 7 of these cartons were sold to local shop-keepers like Christine, pictured, who can improve their livehood, as well as the health of their community, by bringing Kit Yamoyo to sell to local mothers.

Now that Kit Yamoyo is available for anyone to buy, in a free market situation, it's amazing to see what happens. Six of our newly trained retailers in remote Eastern Province are from villages that border Malawi: Muchenjeza and Sindamisale. And with Africa's porous borders, Malawians are coming across into Zambia to buy Kit Yamoyo, and taking it back into Malawi - where access to good, simple medicines is, if anything, worse than in Zambia. So, market forces are helping distribution to expand - all by itself. Our big hope for the end of this year, is to get another fully-funded project, so that we can boost this process - and get Kit Yamoyo established in two more countries.

Meanwhile, the same market expansion is happening on Zambia's border with Mozambique. At Mr Phiri's shop, in Mtandaza, he adeptly shows our fieldworkers, Albert and Elias, how he teaches Mozambican customers to use Kit Yamoyo. Donations from Global Giving are helping us to continue this simple but vital training of local retailers - often miles away from any clinic - so they can show customers how to treat potentially deadly dehydration from diarrhoea using Kit Yamoyo in the home; as well as the importance of using the soap provided for hand-washing; and how to make water safe to use. He tells us he now has equal numbers of customers from Mozambique and Zambia: "Those that are Zambian, and those who come from outside, they are same-same. They like this Kit Yamoyo."  Even in this far flung remote rural area, Mr Phiri has successfully transitioned from sales using just vouchers distributed by the project, to cash sales.

We know though, that not every mother can afford the full retail price needed to make the product sustainable for every one in this 'value chain' (about $1), so we were also delighted, last month, to recieve our 350th donation via Global Giving! We are now working on a simplified voucher system to help the poorest in rural areas.

Please keep the support coming - and we hope to reporting more exciting news at the end of the year! Watch this space!

Mr Phiri demonstrates Kit Yamoyo to new customers
Mr Phiri demonstrates Kit Yamoyo to new customers
Albert (left) and Elias (right) visit Mr Phiri
Albert (left) and Elias (right) visit Mr Phiri

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