Life be­gins

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

Friday - - Society -

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

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