Let's talk to Coca Cola about saving the World's children

Vipul B

Last updated 8/4/2008 9:14:39 AM

After 120-something years Coco-Cola still pushes all the campaigning buttons in remaining to be a leading global soft drink.

Its red andwhite ‘flag' can be found anywhere, and anywhere being on the largest plasma screen over-looking a major world 24-hour living capital city or on corrugated metal store in some foot-hills where several homes make a community.

From the most densely commercial populations to the remotest, the fizzy drink can almost be guaranteed to be available to quench the planet's thirst to go pop. Coca-Cola is far-reaching because its distribution channels go those extra miles to get to those that are furthest. And this is what Simon Berry realised 20 years when he was a development worker and found himself in aremote part of north east Zambia where 1-in-5 children under the age of fivedie from dehydration through diarrhoea.

Berry has had the simple idea of lowering child mortality by this preventable causeby using Coca-Cola's distribution network to supply rehydration salts to save young lives.

However, campaigning the awareness of this idea has been astruggling effort. That is until Berry set-up a group page on Facebook to gain more support and strengthen his efforts.

Last month the Coco-Cola campaign was featured on BBC World Service where Berry pointed out that the Facebook group has ‘changed everything'.

"Before ... I was getting nowhere.

[The group] is the reason we've made such rapid progress ...Continuing support for the idea is vital if we are to turn this idea into reality and actually save some lives".

Since setting-up the group on Facebook three months ago the campaign has gained almost 4,000 members and even been nominated for the New Statesman's New Media Award in June. Another breakthrough in the campaign has been Berry's meeting with Coco-Cola's global head of stakeholder relations, Salvatore Gabola, in June.

Several issues were addressed with an outcome of both individuals taking on different responsibilities for the campaign to progress. One of the action-points was to identify one or more non-governmental organisation that could work with Coco-Cola to trial and implement Berry's idea.

Another issue addressed was the significant risk posed by infected water which could result to harmful effects on the consumption of oral rehydration salts.

A solution for the safe-use of the salts with non-infected water would be sanitation tablets, or a powdered form of the same ingredients, being mixed with the salts to avoid any adverse reactions.

Berry is planning to seek advice from The Rehydration Project in India toexplore the idea to overcome this risk, who also is a supporter of the Coco-Cola campaign. Gabola and Berryboth agreed that it would fundamental to carry out research and development at local conditions from organisations, to structures and processes to successfully implement the idea.

In Coco-Coal's 2006 Corporate Responsibility Review the soft drink company's chairman and CEO E. Neville Isdell high-lighted that the Company is a ‘local business on a global scale.

He added that " ... the issues that challenge the sustainability of communities in the more than 200 countrieswe serve also challenge the sustainability of our business. [We] cannot hope to thrive long-term unless our consumers do". Last year Coca-Cola pledged to replace every drop of water it used in its beverages and their production.

The Coco-Cola campaign continues to develop and progress off and online. A research project and pilot is underway in Tanzania analysing Coco-Cola's distribution model and to "examine how it can be used to enhance its development model," according to Gabola. He added that that the company hopes the research will find solid measures to successfully apply them to its distribution systems across Africa and beyond.

Part of Coco-Cola's strategic vision is to ‘identify and address existing and emerging social and environmental issues, as well as potential solutions' according to the company's 2006 review. It has been identified that this campaign is different from the drink company's traditional corporate responsibility-type projects being based on ‘practical action' and the commercial sector working with government and NGO's with a common vision.

Berry's campaign continues to strengthen daily as more supporters join the online effort. As with any campaign, the taste of an idea is realised through awareness even if it means pushing the button to ‘Invite People to Join'.