Almost every shop in rural Africa stocks Coca-Cola, yet in those same areas children die of curable illnesses every day. One man decided to make Coca-Cola’s slogan a reality and show the people of Africa that life really does begin here. Anthea Ayache rep
Brenda Mudenda looked down desperately at her dying seven-monthold baby, Nchimunya, rocking her slowly in her arms as she stood outside the deserted, rural health centre. The long walk through Zambia’s sun-parched countryside to save her baby from chronic diarrhoea had been fruitless, the faint glimmer of hope ebbed out on to the doorstep of the empty clinic.
With her baby now refusing to take even breast milk, Brenda, 25, mustered all her strength to begin the trek to the next nearest clinic, some 40km away.
On her arrival at the health centre, the exhausted mother watched as her baby was treated using an odd wedge-shaped kit containing anti-diarrhoea medicine. Admitted to the centre and given the medicine over several days, Nchimunya was discharged five days later, giggling and back to health.
The strange-shaped pack was, in fact, the region’s first all-in-one anti-diarrhoea pack, called Kit Yamoyo or Kit of Life – designed specifically to fit inside Coca-Cola’s crates to be distributed to the far-flung reaches of Africa. The kits are the brainchild of Simon Berry, a British social entrepreneur.
Simon’s landline from Zambia crackles and breaks intermittently, almost making audible the many miles that separate Lusaka from Dubai. He chuckles, joking that holding a handset is no longer the norm, it’s Skype they use in Nkhata House, the offices that house his charity initiative ColaLife.
It’s no surprise that this social entrepreneur sees using an everyday phone as a thing of the past. The 57-year-old has been a leader in innovation for most of his life, and his latest creation is no exception.
Like most ingenious ideas, ColaLife and its Kit Yamoyo, appeared in a light bulb moment of clarity: If Coca-Cola can get to the most remote parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, why can’t medicine? However, as is so often the case with the brightest concepts, his plan to tackle the country’s critically high infant mortality rate didn’t get off the ground for several years. “I was aware that wherever I went I could get a Coke, then I became aware that in these same areas one in four children was dying before their fifth birthday,” Simon says.
“So I put two and two together and got really excited about it, but we didn’t have telephones in those days, certainly not in the 1980s in North East Zambia anyway – there wasn’t even a postal system, just a telex machine – so the idea didn’t get off the ground.”
Time to revisit the concept
By 2008 burgeoning multinationals were being hauled over the coals to help alleviate world poverty, and Simon and his wife Jane, 56, then back in the UK, decided the time was right to revisit their ColaLife concept.
Firm believers in the power of social media, the couple launched a campaign to rally support on Facebook. They introduced the idea for the Kit Yamoyo, a plastic container that could carry anti-diarrhoea treatments (oral hydration salts, zinc and soap), coupled with Jane’s idea to design it so it could fit between and above bottles of Coca-Cola in crates.
The concept proposed filling unused spaces to carry their medicinal products to remote areas and in order to be sustainable, they proposed a model that would allow local wholesalers who already profit from distributing and selling Coca-Cola to also make money by delivering Kit Yamoyos. The plan was that the anti-diarrhoea packs would travel across Zambia, piggybacking on the Coca-Cola distribution network paved since 1929.
People loved the idea, and after lobbying from thousands of Facebook and Twitter users and promotion by the BBC, Coca-Cola wrote to the broadcaster’s Radio 4 programme confirming it was keen to be on board.
“It was a bit like walking into a vacuum,” Simon recalls. “This work needed to be done and everyone was suddenly thinking ‘why didn’t we do this before?’”
That year, Coca-Cola gave the Berrys permission to distribute the Kit Yamoyo using its distribution chain without any extra cost.
Zambia was a natural starting point for The Berrys. They had thought of the idea
‘One in four children were dying before their fifth birthday’
Simon Berry devised a simple method of distributing antidiarrhoea kits across Zambia using Coca-Cola’s distribution network